“This Year Marks Our 10th Winter RV Trip”
There’s only one place I want to go and it’s to all the places I’ve never been.
Sunday, January 21, 2018: Arose with the morning sun as we made preparations for departure from our extended stay in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Following a nice breakfast, Kit and I were on the road by 0945 hours. We headed north on US-95 under cloudless skies and temperatures rising from the low 60-degree mark.
Yesterday, after much discussion, and double checking the weather forecast, we decided to head Northwest into California and spend time in the Owens Valley which is located just to the east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The shortest distance to this spot on the globe is to drive over two mountain ranges divided by Death Valley National Park. Certainly, doable from a logistics point of view, but some idiots in our nation’s capital decided to stop paying the bills and most of the government is shut down!?!? However, since the US Highway we will be traveling bisects the National Park it should be passable…just have to make sure we have enough fuel and supplies before venturing into Death Valley.
As we ventured further from Vegas, the terrain became more desolate.
Those yellow caution signs read “Open Range” and to amplify the point we passed over numerous cattle guards crossing the highway and spotted a fair amount of wandering cattle, but they gave us little notice…however these fellas were very curious.
I’m guessing tourists that who have passed this way before have offered these burros a handout as they stood alongside the road posing for photos.
Hated to disappoint them but don’t believe in feeding wildlife people food…makes them lazy and dependent, and therefore can be aggressive towards humans when hungry. Burros are prevalent across the American Southwest being brought to the region as pack animals by early prospectors. After the mines played out, many were turned loose and now their offspring roam about in small herds and live off the land.
Shifting over to US-190, we headed west and soon began climbing the Funeral Mountains. I find it interesting that this macabre sounding mountain range borders Death Valley.
After stopping in the dusty little town of Beatty, Nevada for fuel and a break, Kit and I were back on the road. Then climbing into the mountains and topping out at 4,404 feet the temperature registered 44 degrees.
A few minutes later found us heading down into Death Valley and at 1234 hours, crossing the California border. Leveling out, we noticed that our elevation had slipped to 104 feet “below” sea level and the temperature had jumped to 63 degrees. An elevation change of 4,508 feet and a temperature change of 19 degrees…all in about twenty minutes!
If it wasn’t for those mountains in the distance, and a few other obstacles, this road would be 104 few under seawater!
Kit and I extensively explored Death Valley National Park a few years ago, so on this trip we just enjoyed the scenery along the main east/west highway, which by the way at 65 MPH, has the distinction of possessing the highest speed limit of any National Park road in the nation.
The mountain range in front of us is the Panamint Range and the steep and winding road over it is an exhilarating experience…so much so that Kit kept her eyes closed for a significant portion, so no photos were captured of the narrow twisting highway.
At Stovepipe Wells we stopped for a break and topped off our fuel tanks at a very remote, and very expensive gas station…you do not want to run out of fuel in this isolated area of the country.
Upon reaching the 4,956 foot summit, I set the truck’s Exhaust Brake which kept the rig’s speed in check during the 6-mile steep, narrow and winding downgrade.
Once in the Owens Valley, we took US-395 a few miles to the south and checked into the Boulder Creek RV Park for a few days stay.
It’s been a long and tiring day on the road…good night!
Monday, January 22 and Tuesday, January 23, 3018-Lone Pine, California: Woke to cold but sunny weather…last night had dropped to 25 degrees but our camper stayed warm and cozy.
Boulder Creek RV Park turned out to be a very nice, and well-maintained campground.
Within sight of the sierra Nevada Mountain range, most sites had a spectacular view as the rising sun illuminated the hillside.
Kit and I wanted to visit this area during last year’s excellent adventure trip. But it was logistically very difficult, so we’ve made a concerted effort to visit Lone Pine this year primarily because we wanted to visit Manzanar National Historic Site.
Why go to all this trouble to visit a remote National Park unit? Well, when we lived in San Diego back in the early 1970’s, there was a Japanese family that lived nearby, and the father had been “relocated” to Manzanar as a child. He didn’t talk much about it, but the experience had a major impact on him. Ever since, Kit and I had been curious about this chapter in our nation’s history.
However, currently the government is shut down due to our clowns in DC not being able to get their collective act’s together…Grrrr. This shutdown affects the National Park Service as well as other important institutions we sometimes take for granted. So, until our representatives start representing us and Manzanar reopens to the public who, by the way owns it in the first place, we decided to poke around the area a bit. The town of Lone Pine, California with its 2035 souls lies in the Owens Valley nestled up to the Eastern foothills of the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
Sitting at 3727 feet in elevation, the winters can be cool by California standards, and indeed…it dropped below freezing each night of our stay.
The town features a typical frontier type downtown area with covered boardwalks and mercantile stores selling everything one might need in this isolated community.
The one and only hardware story is a blast from the past in this age of huge mega home centers.
Cramped and crowded with merchandise, Kit and I spent a bit of time in here roaming the aisles and both of us picked up needed items.
A fishing, mountaineering, and tourist town, there are numerous craft and gift shops…some hidden in quaint back alley shopping clusters such as The Lone Pine Pocket Park.
Where Kit made friends with the resident guard dog.
Kit and I always like walking the streets of towns and villages we come across. You meet some of the most interesting folks, get a real feel for the towns vibe, and pick up interesting tidbits about the town and places to explore.
We discovered that the countryside around Lone Pine has been used for filming since the silent movie era. The unique and varied terrain coupled with the relatively short trip from Hollywood, made it a perfect venue for western movie and television productions.
Over 400 feature films, and an even higher number of television shows and commercials, have been produced in this rugged countryside. At the southern end of Lone Pine lies a unique attraction…The Museum of Western Film History.
The museum profiles films featuring such notable actors as Hopalong Cassidy…
…the Lone Ranger…
…and others such as Roy Rogers, Tom Mix and Randolph Scott…what ever happened to Randolph Scott, anyway?
Many of the folks of Lone Pine had second careers playing movie extras or providing room and board to the production companies. In addition, a few became outfitters providing animals and props when needed.
The museum was very well exhibited, and it was fascinating to learn about the many films that were produced in and around this small town.
Later Kit and I took a leisurely drive through the countryside that parallels the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.
Along this path lies views of the highest peak in the continental United States…Mount Whitney.
Can you pick it out in the photo above? Nope, not the peak to the left, that’s Lone Pine Mountain. Mount Whitney is visible at the exact center of that photo. It appears shorter due to an optical illusion…Mount Whitney is 13 miles further west than Lone Pine Mountain. Here is another photo taken from a closer vantage point.
Yep, decided to go all Ansel Adams in this photo, but Mount Whitney can be clearly seen through the couloir on the right near the two sharp spires.
An interesting factoid about the geography of this region, is that the highest point, 14,505 foot Mount Whitney and the lowest point, -282 foot Death Valley’s Bad Water Basin, are only 85 miles apart!
Driving about, Kit and I came upon an interesting looking dirt road…so decided to see where it led.
Most of these roads were laid down by the movie production companies in order to get their camera trucks and other equipment into the preferred locations and many are used today by off road driving enthusiasts.
I was having a great time, but as the roadbed became a bit rough while we were heading downhill, Kit reminded me of the other times I had pushed too far and got into trouble…like the infamous Bay of Fundy Fiasco, or the Lost in the Desert at Night SNAFU. I need to learn that owning a high clearance vehicle possessing a four-wheel drivetrain, a one-ton truck is not a suitable off-road exploration vehicle!
On the second day of our stay, the Washington DC monkeys decided to reopen the government for three weeks which gives us enough time to enjoy some of our public lands before they take it all away again. So, to the north up US-395, Kit and I motored toward the National Park Unit we had come all this way to see…Manzanar National Historic Site.
One of the few National Park facilities that does not charge admission, this relatively new Historic Site is very well exhibited. The visitors center contains many photos, personal stories, and artifacts
We learned that as the United States was being drawn into WWII, folks of German, Italian, and Japanese heritage were becoming ostracized around the country, however when the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were looked at with greater suspicion. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the sitting senators and congressmen decided to leave the Western Defense Commander, General John L. Dewitt to fix the “Japanese problem”. His solution was to ignore the US Bill of Rights and forcibly relocate all Japanese people away from the west coast…for their own good.
Manzanar was one of ten Japanese “relocation” centers that ultimately “incarcerated” over 120,000 people from 1942 through 1945, and it became the largest and most infamous of them all. Located on barren desert 230 miles from the west coast, Manzanar confined over 10,000 US citizens and legal immigrants…just because they were of Japanese descent.
The “evacuees” were quartered in hastily built relocation camps. Upon arrival the detainees were greeted by barbed wire, guard towers, and armed soldiers with fixed bayonets patrolling the perimeter. It became apparent to folks that they were, in reality, political prisoners.
These Americans citizens, many pillars of their community and owners of retail shops, restaurants, and laundries, were given orders by the US Army to report to a collection center and only bring what they could physically carry. As a result, those that could, sold as much as they could and left everything else where it sat, only to be looted by others. And mothers with infant children often could only manage to carry their baby and the child’s necessities.
In the photo above, the tags hanging from the clothing of mom and baby contained their “number” and identified who they were and where they came from.
The camp was made up of 504 barracks arranged in 36 blocks.
The barracks were tarpaper shacks…
…with bare studs for interior walls and no insulation.
Each 20’ by 100’ building was divided into four apartments with army beds and linen but very little in the way of heat. To provide some furniture for their families, detainees used scrap wood to create tables, chairs and bookcases.
Each block unit contained its own mess hall building, a laundry, and a community latrine.
Given their circumstances, the political prisoners began to try and make this desolate, windswept corner of the desert into a community. They built baseball fields and basketball courts and erected a Dojo to learn and practice the ancient art of Karate. Others built places of worship and community vegetable gardens, and even started to raise chickens for food. Some even found employment as cooks and defense contractors when the government decided to put them to work making camouflage netting for the war effort.
Ironically, many of the offspring of the Japanese American internees were serving in the US Military, so when they returned on leave from combat they had to visit their family in places like Manzanar.
And, at the rear of the camp was placed the cemetery.
Where over 80 folks that died in captivity were laid to rest.
This sad chapter in American history came to an end on November 21, 1945. Many of the former detainees had nowhere to go, and their fellow citizens did not want them in their towns, so adapting to a civilian life and relocating to a new area was difficult.
After the last person had been removed, the government tore down all the wood structures leaving only the foundations. This city of slabs remained like that until March 3, 1992 when president George H. W. Bush designated it Manzanar National Historic Site and the National Park Service oversaw the reconstruction of some buildings as they would have existed fifty years earlier.
Oh, and the nearest inhabited town to Manzanar? Independence, California…kind of ironic, huh?
Kit and I have visited hundreds of National Park units in our 10 years of RV travel, and we can say this is one of the more emotional and poignant sites we have experienced…we highly recommend visiting Manzanar National Historic Site when you get a chance.
Kit’s Bit’s: Visiting Manzanar has been very interesting. I never paid much attention to history while in school but, this place has always been in the back of my mind for many years. It’s amazing to me that, when people are forced in to a place like this, they begin to create a home like atmosphere as best as they can, under the circumstances. Most of the people lost everything they left behind and had to start all over once they were released. However, during their time in the camp, children were sent to school, churches were established, a makeshift First Aid Station was created, activities for the children were started, gardens were planted, all the things that a normal community would have were created as best as they could under the circumstances. The resilience of people taken from their homes with little or nothing, is amazing to me. Other than Manzanar, the next best place here is the hardware store! They have a sign hanging outside that says, “The Everything Store”. It really does have just about everything!