We were back on the road and headed west on 190 to the exit of Death Valley and into the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. It is a beautiful drive, but for us “flatlanders” it was a little nerve-wracking! The views were spectacular, the guardrails barely there, and people flying around switchback turns that made us a just a hair uncomfortable. We had to get used to it though as it was just the beginning of the mountainous portion of our trip!
Once on 395 North, it is a relatively short drive to the town of Lone Pine and and then Manzanar National Historic Site.
Unfortunately, we arrived after 5 pm, so we were unable to tour the museum and other exhibits. There is a self-guided driving tour that is available after hours with a map of sites and short descriptions.
Manzanar was a “relocation center” or interment camp for Japanese Americans (US citizens) and resident Japanese aliens during World War II. Nearly 120,000 people were relocated to 10 camps throughout the United States and forced to live here until World War II was over. Two-thirds of those people were US citizens by birth. Without notice or due process, the government gave anyone of Japanese ancestry, days to dispose of possessions and property. Houses and businesses had to be rented, abandoned or sold at a significant loss. They were put on buses and traveled for hours without having any idea where they were going. 11,000 people were processed through Manzanar and lived in 504 crowded barracks. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire, had 8 guard towers with search lights and was patrolled by military police. For more history on the people visit the NPS site People of Manzanar.
Manzanar is the most well-preserved of these camps. It was made a national historic site and serves as an important reminder of a dark part of US history and the fragility of American civil liberties. Every American needs to know that there were interment camps on our soil that imprisoned our citizens. I am not sure that many know that.
Most of the sites within the park are just foundations or cleared sites where buildings used to stand. They have recreated some buildings and a few of the better built facilities still exist. There are some remnants of life at Manzanar such as orchard trees and rock gardens that have been preserved.
The evening had become smoky due to the wildfires burning in Sequoia National Park. We visited the Manzanar cemetery. 150 people died while at Manzanar but most were sent to hometown cemeteries or were cremated to be sent back with relatives after they were released from the camp. 14 people, mostly men without families and infants, were buried here. Only six remain here as family members had the others removed and reburied elsewhere. It is a sadly beautiful,serene place and definitely a good place for reflection.
There was even a pet cemetery where people had left origami birds in remembrance and respect of pets lost.
Daylight was fading and it was time to say a quiet goodbye.
We drove past the last guard tower as we left.
Visit the NPS site on Manzanar to learn more.
Next up: The trials and tribulations of going from 282 feet below sea level to 10,000 feet above sea level in a few hours! Welcome to Mammoth Lakes!