Manzanar in the Eastern Sierras

We spent last night in Independence, California in the Owens Valley. The arid valley is bordered by the Sierras to the east and the White Mountains to the west. We felt like the mountains were pressing on us.

Independence is a trail town for the Pacific Crest Trail. The town is a few miles north of Manzanar National Historic Site, where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. The area was desolate, dry, and forgotten.

Here’s a bit of history, which you may legitimately have never learned in school. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In February 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order, which forced Americans of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast into internment camps. They were moved to one of ten relocation centers; Manzanar was one of them.

The site shows how the Japanese American families lived in barracks and tried to make a life surrounded by barbed wire. They had little privacy and ate in mess halls. But in the three years they were there, the internees created schools and play areas for their children. They built gardens, organized baseball teams and social clubs, and published a newspaper.

The park service created a 3.5-mile loop, which took us to a couple of barracks, rock gardens, and the cemetery. Most of the other facilities are long gone. All that’s left are signs for the baseball fields, hospital, and temple. Unfortunately, the adults in the camp felt shame for being interned. It took the next generation to bring this period of history out in the open and to eventually save the land. It became a national park site in 1992.

The visitor center explains Manzanar much better than the outdoor site. My big question is how the families regained their lives after they were free to leave. It wasn’t easy because they had only a couple of weeks to dispose of their farms, houses, and businesses. They lost everything and had to start over again. Groups like the Quakers and Japanese American groups outside the west coast helped families relocate and rebuild their lives.

When we told people, both tourists and locals, that we were visiting Manzanar, they praised us. I thought that was weird. Maybe the historic site is not as appreciated as it should be.

All good things must come to an end.

Our national park travels are over. We’re now heading for San Francisco for a couple of days. I probably won’t blog about going to Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf or visiting relatives – fun but tourist stuff. Then our granddaughter will join us for our yearly Family Nature Summit adventures. Stay tuned for that.


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