October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure: Bishop, California and Manzanar National Historic Site

We left Alamo, Nevada, on October 21, 2020, with Bishop California as our destination. Welcome to the smoky Eastern Sierras. When I made the reservations, the dirty air had not yet filled the Owens Valley with ash and smoke that obliterated the mountains from sight.

The only spot I could find in Bishop was at the Inyo County Fairgrounds. The best part about the campground was the high-speed Wi-Fi connection, which allowed us to stream Netflix. We treated ourselves to dinner out on the patio of Whiskey Creek Restaurant, a place we sometimes visited when passing through town on our way to or from Mammoth Lakes decades ago.

Brown building, green grass, boulders, and sign for Whiskey Creek Restaurant
Whiskey Creek Restaurant Patio Dining
Street corner, semi trailer, cars, and setting sun obliterated by smoke in the air
Smoke shrouds the Sierra Mountains

The next morning, the air quality was worse, reducing visibility to about a quarter mile. Lone Pine’s air quality wasn’t as bad, so we headed south to see Manzanar National Historic Site. We had driven by the property for years when all we could see was a gate, fence, and a sign listing it as a historic landmark. We were eager to find out what was behind the fence.

Wood sign for Manzanar War Relocation Center
Manzanar War Relocation Center is close to U.S. 395

A driving tour took us around the camp where there were places to park and explore different sites with information panels to tell us what we were looking at. Only a few buildings had doors open that we could peek into but not enter.

Desert landscape with large green building and signs
Visitor center closed during pandemic

In reaction to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942. The order authorized the Secretary of War to remove individuals deemed a threat to the war effort for relocation at one of 10 centers in seven states around the country.

Sidewalk, rocks, sandy area with a few trees and brown buildings in the background.
Baseball and basketball were favorite sports the internees enjoyed

It turned out the threatening individuals were 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry living in the United States. Whether they were American citizens by birth or lived in the country for decades, they entered the camps with only a small amount of what they had owned.

Man standing near a wood and tar paper clad building, white pickup truck, basketball hoops in background
Jon checks the exterior walls made of only thick tar paper instead of stucco or siding.
Inside wood barracks with cots, bedding, hanging clothes and information signs.
Reconstructed barrack room depicts life in camp
Inside wood framed barracks showing information signs
The building was closed so we couldn’t go inside to read the information panels in the Block Manager’s Office

Manzanar was not one of those fancy summer camps near a lake. Military police manned eight guard towers with searchlights and patrolled a barbed wire fence that enclosed a 500-acre housing section comprising 504 barracks arrayed into 36 blocks. The remaining 5,500 acres outside of the fence included housing for military police, a reservoir, a sewage treatment plant, and agricultural fields.

Wood and tar paper building used as women's latrine
Women’s latrine

Several Japanese American men and women arrived in Manzanar in March 1942 as volunteers to help the Army build the camp. It was the first camp to open. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) took over operations on June 1.

World War II era red delivery pick up with wood framed tar papered brown buildings in background
World War II Era Mess Hall
Dishes, cups, pot, and counter inside mess hall
Inside recreated WWII mess hall

Around 10,000 Japanese American internees occupied the camp by September 1942. Imagine the disappointment on their faces as they descended the bus steps and encountered 110-degree weather. Carrying their meager belongings, they walked along paths, sand filling their shoes.

Sign for John Shepherd Ranch, blocked off road, and clumps of trees
The location of the camp was near the former John Shepherd Ranch, who settled in Owen’s Valley in 1861, and the former Town of Manzanar, a once-thriving community filled with fruit orchards.

When they reached their assigned barrack, they found it divided into four 20-by-25-foot rooms to be shared by eight individuals. The only furnishings included an oil stove, a single hanging light bulb, cots, blankets, and straw-filled mattresses. Families shared a laundry room and mess hall and endured communal toilets and showers lacking any kind of privacy.

Large veritcal rock with painted Japanese characters, Pleasure Park, and 1943
Pleasure Park is one of many parks and gardens built by internees
Coins, bracelets, origami and other trinkets at foot of Pleasure Park 1943 sign
Trinkets and origami left by visitors
Sandy area, boulders, wooden bridges, cement pond with no water
Water features, bridges, and shade at Pleasure Park

As if the hot temperatures weren’t enough, the weather dropped below freezing during the winter months. During the year, the internees dealt with strong winds blowing dust and sand through the camp and into the barracks and up through the floorboards.

White obelisk with black Japanese characters, Soul Consoling Tour, smoky skies
Manzanar Japanese erected the “Soul Consoling Tower” in August 1943 as a permanent tribute to the 150 people who died there.
Round gravesite outlined with rocks in the sand and headstone
Family members relocated most of the graves after the camp’s closure, but a few remain.
Origami wedged among rocks
Origami and other trinkets decorated the gravesites

I admire the way the Japanese Americans managed during their incarceration. With ingenuity and cooperation, they established boys and girls clubs, churches, and temples. They built gardens and ponds, developed recreational activities, sports, music, and dance, and even published the Manzanar Free Press, a newspaper, even though the people were not free. Growing vegetables and raising chickens, hogs, and cattle were among their enterprises. Through the pooling of resources they operated a general store, beauty parlor, barbershop, and a bank.

Kendo Dojo sign, cut yellow shrubs, and trees in the background.
Site of the Kendo Dojo

The way the Japanese Americans prospered under such an oppressive situation impressed on me how we humans are a resilient lot able to overcome adversity.

World War II ended with Japan’s surrender on August 14, 1945. Manzanar War Relocation Center closed on November 21, 1945. In 1972, California established Manzanar as a California Registered Historical Landmark. It became a National Historic Site on March 3, 1992, and the interpretive center opened on April 24, 2004.

Wooden guard tower in a field of desert shrubs and grasses, and smoky sky.
One of the eight guard towers

I’m embarrassed when I learn how our country has mistreated groups of people during our history. Places like Manzanar National Historic Site tell the stories of what happened there, what people endured, and how they survived and thrived. They bring light to the darkness of those days to future generations who hopefully avoid a repeat of our misguided actions.

Stay tuned for more Bishop, California, fun coming up next.

Stay Safe

October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure Part Seven

Welcome back to our 2020 COVID-19 Adventure after the holiday pause. I thought I could finish up the series of posts this week. Silly me. With twelve more days of travel and sightseeing, there was no way I could fit it into one post. This week we focus on Alamo, Nevada, where we made a three-night stop on our way to Bishop, California.

Before we left Utah on October 18, 2020, we stopped in Cedar City so Jon could get his second shingles shot at Walgreens and a supply of Blue DEF for the truck. The next day in Alamo, he woke up with mild reactions to the vaccine that lasted about half the day. This reduced our poking around time, which turned out okay. We found only two places to explore while in Alamo.

Extraterrestrial Highway

The Extraterrestrial Highway (Nevada SR 375) cuts off of SR 318 at the Crystal Springs Rest Area and continues for about 98 miles to US Route 6 in Warm Springs. At about half the distance sits the area of Rachael, where travelers will find the Little Al’e’inn restaurant, bar, and motel.

Road, two tall trees, blue sky, and hills
Crystal Springs rest area at the Y

The rest stop was a good place to eat lunch. It’s near the ghost town of Crystal Springs. Before white settlers entered the area, a Native American village used the spring. People traveling the Mormon Trail stopped there to replenish their water supplies. The thermal spring, with an 81 degree Fahrenheit temperature, still supplies water to ranches and farms up to 5 miles away.

Heavily vegetative site
Crystal Springs hides in the vegetation

The Alien Research Center is easy to spot from the road. Look for the giant metal alien figure on top of a hill and in front of a Quonset hut. The center is nothing more than a gift shop for the delight of tourists and alien seekers. It’s worth a stop to see all the items they sell, even if you aren’t interested in buying anything.

Aluminum space alien statue in front of a Quonset hut with woman standing up to its knee
Alien Research Center Gift Shop

Our next landmark was the Black Mailbox. Not sure what we were looking for, we stayed alert and watched the south side of the road, trying to find the box. A bare spot up ahead caught our attention. Sure enough, there was a black mailbox out in the middle of nowhere.

Black mailbox in the desert
The Black Mailbox. A link to Aliens from outer space?

So what is so special about the mailbox? Apparently beginning in 1973, Steve Medlin, a local rancher, used it to send and receive mail. Sixteen years later, Bob Lazar claimed the Airforce was hiding alien spacecraft that crashed in the desert near Area 51. ET-seeking enthusiasts swarmed the region and turned the mailbox into a communication device, leaving messages for Aliens and expecting return mail.

Black mailbox, broken stand for another black mailbox, and painted rock.
Who thought a plastic mailbox was a good idea?

Since then, visitors shot up the mailbox. It was replaced with a white box. Someone stole the white box, and it was replaced, then it was vandalized and replaced again. It appears that Mr. Medlin long ago gave up using the mailbox as his own.

Snacks, rocks, and random stuff inside a black mailbox
Random snacks, rocks, and cans left for the Aliens?

You’d think we would have been disappointed by what we found. Not so. We had no expectations starting out and enjoyed the ride through the lovely desert.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

The next day we visited The Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, which gave us an opportunity for an easy hike. Along a creek, we enjoyed the abundant flora and fauna along the way.

Tree, dirt road, and sign for Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
The Pahranagat Visitor Center was closed
Dike , creek, and shrubs
A dike in the Riparian Habitat

Thousands of migratory birds and endangered species use the refuge as a waypoint on the Pacific Flyway. The refuge includes three distinct habitats that provide rest, food, and nesting spots for the traveling birds.

Yellowed plants lining a gravel trail
The trail connects the Upper and Lower Lakes

Cottonwood and willow trees grow at the lake shores and springs, inviting birds to nest and feed. Meadows and grasses attract rodents, reptiles, and small mammals that find shelter and food in the desert uplands. Coyotes, raptors, and roadrunners find plenty of prey to satisfy their hunger in all three habitats.

Yerba Mansa plant and spent flower
Yerba Mansa
Branch covered with spider's web
Spider’s web?

The Desert Uplands portion of the refuge contains lava rock hills and yucca trees and other cactus.

Lava rock hill covered with dry grass and yucca plants
Lava Rock Hill in the Desert Uplands

None of the fifteen free primitive camping sites were available. The sites are spaced along the east shore of Upper Lake. Good luck finding a spot. There were none when we were there. And come prepared because there is no electricity, water, or sewer facilities, only vault toilets. Many of the sites can accommodate RVs or multiple tents. The campground below was a cluster of campsites at the end of the lake.

Large trees, an RV, cars, and canopies
A campground cul-de-sac

Seasonal boating, fishing, and hunting are available. Or enjoy guided walks and wildlife observation at Pahranagat.

Lower Lake of Pahranagat NWR with row of trees and yellowed grass
Upper Lake
Trail on the top of a dike, bunch of trees and brown hills.
Trail across Upper Lake
Birds on a branch
These little birds (finches?) did not want to pose. They preferred flitting back and forth.

There may be more to Alamo, Nevada, than what we found during our three nights there, but we were ready to move on.

Up next is our 7-day stop in Bishop, California, which served as our base camp to see Manzanar National Historic Site, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and other locations.

Stay Safe

Goodbye to the Year 2020

Red poinsettia flower

Happy New Year!

Tonight we say goodbye to the year 2020. A year we will not soon forget. At midnight our booming stock market and the devastation of the coronavirus rolls into the year 2021.

Although we are in the midst of the darkest days of the pandemic with countries throughout the world locking down their borders, reinstating restrictions and stay-at-home orders, closing schools and businesses that only recently welcomed back their students and customers, we must remember our country has been in similar straights before, and we survived.

News headlines in 2020 centered on runs for the presidency, house, and senate seats; Black Lives Matter protests that morphed into riots and looting; and the rising virus cases that encouraged pleas to wear masks, keep a safe distance, and stay at home also overwhelmed medical personnel, hospitals, and deaths. Other major stories included the bushfires in Australia, and the wildfires in California and other western states.

The glimmers of positive news stories struggled to cut through the noise. Those stories include the groups who created and donated masks when supplies ran out, the astronauts shuttled to the International Space Station by SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, and the landing of a spacecraft on an asteroid by NASA. Then there were the thousands of people who risked their health by volunteering for the experimental vaccines, the technology company Zoom that connected millions of people with family, friends, coworkers and even doctors, and don’t forget the drive-ins that made a comeback.

One of the bright spots for me was the election. There’s been a lot of talk about what a terrible thing it is for the president to challenge the results. Thirty-six of the 40 cases were withdrawn or lost and four are still pending but not expected to go anywhere. Those challenges prove that our democracy stands strong and that the will of a majority of voters cannot be squashed. Whether we agree or disagree on the outcome of the November 2020 election, the United States democracy works.

Now that the vaccines are rolling out, we wait patiently for our turn to have our arms poked. We understand it will take several more months before we can resume activities without wearing masks, without avoiding people, without fear of illness or death from the virus.

So, as midnight approaches, we prepare to ring in the year 2021, and think about our ancestors, what they experienced in similar situations and how they survived, and that gives us hope.

Hope that someday soon we will hug and kiss our family members again.

Hope that we will meet our friends in person again, shake their hands, and give them hugs.

Hope that children will resume their studies safely in the classroom.

Hope that restaurants and other businesses will once again thrive.

Hope that the unemployed will find work.

Hope that all goes well with the vaccines and the promised effectiveness holds true.

Hope that we will travel again, be it by auto, RV, train, plane, or ship.

We trust all our hopes become reality.

We wait for that day.

Stay Safe

October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure Part Six

We finish up our time in Panguitch, Utah, with two more easy hikes: Arches Trail in Dixie National Forest near Red Canyon State Park and the Kodachrome Nature Trail in Kodachrome Basin State Park.

Blue sky and hikers standing near pine trees
Trailhead for Arches and Other Red Canyon Trails

Hikers can access the Arches Trail two miles east of SR 12 off US 89. Look on the north side for a gravel road and sign that says Lossee/Casto and follow it to the Lossee Canyon parking area.

Rocks and tree limbs form a cache
A cache of some sort, for food perhaps? Too small for a person.
Pine trees, rock formations, and blue sky
One of those rock formations looks like a Hershey’s Kiss.
Rock formations, rock arch, and dead looking tree
An okay sign?

The arches trail is north of the parking lot. I was determined to capture every one of the 15 arches along the three-quarter-mile loop trail when I started out.

Red rock formations, arch, and blue sky
Kissing rocks
Red rock formations and landscape view in the background
View from the top
Red rock formations, blue sky, and wispy clouds
A far view

I soon lost count and missed a few on the way, so ended up with only a handful. Well, let’s make that a handful and a half.

Red rock formations, blue sky, and wispy clouds
A close view
Red rock formations, hole in the rock, blue skies, wispy clouds
Why did the formation erode in the middle of the wall?
Bulbous red rock formations
Totems at play

I spared you the boredom of viewing all the photos I took. You’re welcome.

Landscape view through arch in rock formation, a person hidden in the shadows
Hiding in the shadows
Red rock formations, trail, pine trees, and landscape view in background
The return trail

The nature trail at Kodachrome State Park gives hikers a chance to learn about the park in less than 1/2 mile. Informational signs explain the various points of interest that include trees, bushes, soil, monoliths, and other features seen along the trail.

Trail, red rock and tan and white rock formations, and shrubs
Nature Trail at Kodachrome State Park
Monolithic chimneys that look like Terracotta Army sculptures
The park is filled with monolithic spires and chimneys. These remind me of Terracotta Army sculptures.
Dried Fourwing Saltbrush
Native Americans grounded Fourwing Saltbush seeds to make flour for bread. Birds and rodents also eat the seeds.
Dead Bristlecone pine tree against red rock formation and blue sky
A dead Bristlecone pine tree provides a home for animals and birds, a food source for insects and fungi, a lookout for raptors, a hiding place for rodents, and nutrients for the soil.

This trail is a good place to slow down, take in the sights, and imagine what it must have been for explorers as they encountered the area for the first time.

Mormon Tea
Mormon Tea is used as a beverage or medicine. It may quench thirst, boost energy, or ease stomach ailments.
Red rock formations against back drop of tan and white formations.
The rock mound only looks smooth. It was coarse enough to skin a knee to a bloody mess.
Kodachrome spires and chimneys and rock formations against blue sky
One last look of the chimneys and spires.

To learn more about Kodachrome Basin State Park, visit our post dated November 9, 2017, here.

As our time in Panguitch came to an end, the virus began its worse infection and death surge across the nation. As county after county and state after state slammed their doors shut on visitors, we started our trek home.

Next up, we make a few stops on our way home.

Stay Safe