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

October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure Part Three

On October 4, 2020, we packed up and moved to Zion Wright Family Ranch Campground about ten miles northeast of Virgin, Utah. The Wright Family has owned the ranch and eco-camp for six generations.

Red sandy field with camping sign
Zion Wright Family Ranch Camping

Don’t expect a staffed office for check-in or restrooms. Just drive through the fence opening, find a spot near a campfire ring that’s not already occupied, and set up. Oh, and pick a site away from the road and position your unit to avoid drifting sand from vehicles roaring down the dusty road.

Fifth wheel trailer, white pickup, gray Lexus, and yellow tent
Sunrise at Zion Wright Family Ranch
Red mountain cliffs and trees
Afternoon view of Zion Wright Family Ranch

Porta-Potties are the only other amenity available. We can’t vouch for their cleanliness since we preferred our onboard facilities. Be prepared like a Scout with plenty of water, food, and fuel. It’s a long way back to town.

View of V-shaped tree and Zion NP mountains
View from campsite at Zion Wright Family Ranch

Amenities were not what attracted us to the place. Our goal was to enjoy the clear star-gazing skies and find a hike or two. We were not disappointed on either account.

View of Zion NP peak from Zion Wright Family Ranch

The sky our first night was amazing. It had been decades since I’d seen the Milky Way so full of stars. It looked as though I could reach out and touch it. The big dipper hung above the horizon while we munched s’mores, dripping chocolate and marshmallow all over our hands. I can still picture in my mind all the stars, constellations, and Milky Way when I think of that night.

Zion NP mountain peaks
View of Zion NP peaks from campsite

The next day we found two hikes to keep us busy. The first was Lamb’s Knoll, a popular cayoneering site in the Kolob Terrace area of Zion National Park.

Three hikers walking through bushy trail
On the Lamb’s Knoll Trail

We lacked the gear and knowledge to scale any of the boulders and cliffs, so we hiked around them and through slot canyons. On the backside of the knoll, we found a beautiful view of the valley below.

Three people standing next to rock cliff
Peek A Boo
Rock cliffs and formations
On the Lamb’s Knoll trail
Two hikers standing next to red leafed shrub
Kevin and Bailey strike a pose
Pointy peak and mesas with shrubs and yellowed grass in foreground
View from Lamb’s Knoll parking lot
Rock cliffs and formations with shrubs and yellowed grass in foreground
View from Lamb’s Knoll parking lot
Closer look at rock formations
Closer view from Lamb’s Knoll parking lot
Landscape view of valley and cliffs in the foreground
View from backside of Lamb’s Knoll

The second hike was the Left Fork Trailhead that leads to the Subway. The entire trail to the Subway and back is nine miles, which was too strenuous and long for us after our time at Lamb’s Knoll.

Reddish rock formations
Site along the Left Fork trailhead

The Subway is rated a semi-technical slot canyon hike that requires hikers to wade and swim through the river, scramble over boulders, and climb down waterfalls. For hikers wanting to go all the way to The Subway, they must pick up permits at one of the Zion NP visitor centers.

Prickly pear with bloom
Prickly pear at end of blooming season

We stayed on the well-maintained trail that passed through pine trees, shrubs, and prickly pear until we reached the technical part, which was a steep descent into the valley. We stopped to take in the views and watch a couple navigate up the cliff.

View of canyon with blue sky and streaky clouds
View into canyon that leads to the Subway

On our way back to the parking lot, a wrong turn led us on a half-mile or so detour down a dry riverbed between canyon walls, then back again until we found the correct turnoff.

Two kikers taking a break in a rocky riverbed
Taking a break along our riverbed detour

No one was interested in cooking dinner after our hard work of hiking, so we drove into Hurricane for a Mexican dinner at Las Lupitas Mexican Grill. We’re always on the lookout for good Mexican food, and Lupitas fit the bill.

Two horse sculptures atop a sign
Las Lupitas Mexican Grill in Hurricane, Utah

A layer of thin clouds foiled our expectation for a repeat of the celestial skies of the previous night. That was okay with us. We enjoyed another night around the campfire before it was time for bed.

The morning we left, I woke up early enough to capture this colorful sunrise.

Sunrise over Zion peaks
Sunrise over Zion peaks

Coming up, we pull into Hitch-N-Post Campground in Panguitch, Utah, our base camp for Bryce National Park and Red Canyon State Park.

Stay Safe

2020 COVID Adventure Zion National Park Part Two

Yikes! One step forward and two steps back. This week California sent our county back to start in the game of “Open Up the Economy.” The current virus surge triggered feelings of sadness, despair, and grief for the many people suffering under the weight of COVID-19.

Virgin River flowing over boulders
Virgin River

Then, while preparing the photos and narrative for this post, sadness turned to thankfulness. How lucky are we that so far our family has escaped infection and illness? How lucky are we that we have a home to keep us safe? And how lucky were we for the opportunity to visit Utah before the virus worsened across the nation? Pretty dang lucky, I’d say, and for that, we’re very thankful.

A path, trees, and balancing rock
Balancing Rock on the Riverwalk Trail

While traveling we thought we had found a way to “live with the virus” that was safe for the people we encountered and for us. Unfortunately, it looks like we won’t be able to put our newly learned skills to the test anytime soon.

Virgin River with low water level
Virgin River

Instead, we will abide by the new restrictions the health department has placed on us and look back on our trip to Utah while reminding ourselves that someday we will again travel the roads and continue exploring the United States. We can wait a few more months. Hope it won’t be a year. If only we had a crystal ball to tell the future.

Skinny tree trunks growing in a swamp
Zion National Park’s Swamp along the Virgin River

So, join us as we look back at our second day trip into Zion National Park.

Zion National Park adopted a reservation system for their shuttle into the canyon where many of the hikes and sites are located. The reservations are required for two reasons. The first is to reduce the number of people on the shuttles, and the second is to avoid the crowded long lines of people waiting to board them. Our attempt to snag four tickets the day before was unsuccessful, so we signed up for a private shuttle, costing $30.00 per person rather than the $1.00 the parked charged.

Ferns clinging to a cliff
I call this Fern Wall. The Weeping Rock is 100 times more impressive, but it was closed.

We parked in the South Entrance visitor center parking lot and took the short walk across the bridge to Springdale. The gear store and our shuttle stop were in the shopping center close to the park entrance. I wasn’t too happy about sitting behind, in front of, and next to strangers in the van. The concept of social distancing was not adhered to on this shuttle as it was on the one the park ran. Everyone did wear a mask, though. I hoped it would be enough protection.

Virgin River pools and boulders
Virgin River

Our first stop was the Temple of Sinawava, which leads to the Riverside Walk and the Narrows trails. We took the Riverside Walk to the Narrows (photos above), and waved goodbye as Kevin and Bailey, wearing their special boots and grasping their hiking staff, continued their trek in the Narrows.

People standing in a rock riverbed with mountains towering in the background
Random visitors at entrance to the Narrows Walk

Jon and I decided keeping the virus at bay was enough to deal with. No need to add the toxic cyanobacteria bloom in the Virgin River to our risk of possible illnesses. So we hopped back on the shuttle and got off at The Grotto. From there we took the Kayenta and Emerald Trails to Zion Lodge.

Trees, grass, picnic tables, and building
Visitors will find picnic tables and restrooms at The Grotto
Towering canyon cliffs and mountains above the Virgin River
Virgin River and canyon cliffs from Kayenta Trail
Trees, canyon cliffs, and Virgin River
Virgin River from Kayenta Trail
Shrubs, towering cliffs, and blue sky
Lower Falls from the falls trail
Waterfall stained rock cliff
Hard to see the waterfall from this spot

Zion National Park did not receive the normal amount of snow and rain this past year, so Lower Falls was more of a trickle than waterfall.

A trickle of a waterfall
October 2020 the fall was like a trickle

This is a photo from October 2017 when the park received more precipitation.

Larger waterfall
October 2017 there was more water flowing

The trail under the waterfall’s overhang is slippery. Use the fencing to prevent falls.

Red path to the waterfall with ferns growing on the cliff
Lower Falls trail

When we reached the lodge, Jon’s attitude turned grumpy when he realized our shuttle didn’t stop there.

Bridge across the Virgin River
Bridge across the Virgin River from trail to the Lodge

We had another mile to go on The Grotto trail. The trails we took made a loop, normally our favorite. This time, it subjected me to bouts of grumbling as Jon trailed behind me.

Read rock towering cliffs and blue sky
I think the mesa on the left is the Sinawava Temple

We went back to where we picked up the shuttle that morning. A mocha frappuccino and protein bar perked us up as we recovered and waited for Kevin and Bailey to return from the Narrows hike.

So how was it hiking under the threat of COVID-19? Mostly I felt safe. The majority of hikers on the Riverside Trail wore masks. There were a few groups with college-aged people who walked around like, “Virus? What virus?” And other groups where there was one, maybe two, holdouts in a family of seven or eight were like, “No mask for me. Don’t tread on my rights.”

red rock towering cliffs and building
Back at the Grotto

That was okay because the trail was fairly wide, and it was easy to keep our distance. The Kayenta and Emerald Pools Trails was another story. The narrower path made it difficult to keep our distance from the “mask-less” folks.

View of craggy cliffs behind a courtyard
Sitting under the overhang, drinking our shakes and enjoying the view

Our hike took us much longer than it should have since we had to step off the trail and let people without masks pass before we continued. We thought for sure one of us would end up infected. We’re happy to report our fear did not materialize. After that experience, we only hiked in places where there weren’t a bunch of people.

Man and woman relaxing on beach chairs.
Kevin and Bailey relaxing after their walk through the Virgin River

So was it worth the $30.00 shuttle ride? We have to say yes. Hiking the narrows was an item on Kevin and Bailey’s bucket list, and we got to see a few sites in a different light than we did before. Besides, with our Lifetime Senior Pass, we entered the park for free.

The next day, we moved to Zion Wright Family Ranch for a couple of nights of dispersed camping to see a different side of Zion.

Stay safe.