Homer's Travels: Past Vacations #18: Yosemite, Manzanar, And Death Valley

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Past Vacations #18: Yosemite, Manzanar, And Death Valley

This was a strange but satisfying vacation. We decided to go to Yosemite. The decision was a little spur of the moment - at least for us - we only planned about a month ahead or so instead of the year or two ahead as we usually do. The plan was to drive to Yosemite and spend three days enjoying the beauty of the park.

We left on a Wednesday. The drive to the park was uneventful. We checked into our hotel near the southern gate to the park. We then drove into the park to get information that we would need to plan our visit. As we drove in I saw a sign that said "Ride The Logger!" I read the sign out loud and the wife almost squirted Diet Mountain Dew out her nose! HA! Unfortunately we never rode the logger (a train) so I have no pictures, magnet, or a T-Shirt.

Our first day was a preview of the next - HOT! It was easily in the 90s. We spent part of the evening in the hotel pool cooling off.


The next day we entered the park and made our way towards the valley. Before entering the valley we stopped at Glacier Point which offers a panoramic view of Yosemite Valley. From here you can see all of the valley, El Capitan, and Half Dome. The views are breathtaking. We tore ourselves from the heavenly vistas and drove into the valley. Traffic, as usual, was pretty crappy. We reached the end of the valley and stopped at the Ahwahnee Lodge Dining Room for lunch - one of the wife's goals. Pictures of Yosemite are here.

After lunch we were going to do a short hike but after reaching the trailhead, the 100°F+ stopped us in our tracks. This irritated the heck out of me and the ugly side of my temper came out. We stopped at Yosemite Falls and I sulked and really didn't enjoy the beautiful falls. Me and heat do not go together and I was really disappointed about not being able to hike. On the way back to the hotel we decided that staying in Yosemite was not going to work. The forecast was for temps in the 100s and no relief.

We weighed our options and decided to look into going to Manzanar. We had talked about visiting this WWII Japanese Internment Camp for awhile. We had been interested in going since they opened the new visitor's center in 2004. At the hotel we asked the counter person about
Manzanar. The counter person didn't have a clue about Manzanar (as do most Americans unfortunately). She managed to pull up some information on the Internets and gave us a print out.
The next day we checked out of the hotel and drove back into Yosemite. To get to Manzanar we would drive through the park and leave by the eastern exit. The drive through the park is really awesome. After reaching the eastern exit we turned south. As we drove south it got hotter and hotter. The Honda's AC worked overtime. We stopped in Bishop for a quick lunch. It was 100°F outside and I saw this poor Goth girl in full BLACK goth regalia. She must have been roasting in that getup.


We made it to Manzanar mid-afternoon. It was hot (did I say it was hot?), dry, and the wind was whipping. Manzanar is located in the middle of hot dry Owens Valley. The only structure standing is the old gymnasium which had been converted into a visitors center. We walked through the exhibits learning about how the Japanese - even the US born - were rounded up and moved to intern camps similar to Manzanar - 10 camps in total. It is sad how little Americans know of this dark stain on our history. Along with the exhibits, there is a movie that tells the history of the camp. The wife and I were the only people in the theater. When the film reached the attack on Pearl Harbor, the electricity went out and alarms sounded. We both looked around wondering if this was part of the show. Turns out the wind had knocked out the electricity - a common occurrence in the area. The power was soon restored and we finished the movie.

One of the exhibits was a list of names of those who were in the camp. The wife once taught a student whose Grandmother was interned at Manzanar. She doesn't talk about that period of her life. Another exhibit told of a son of one of the interns who joined the army, fought bravely, and died in Europe. His medals were granted after his death and had to be delivered to his mother at Manzanar because she was not allowed out of the camp to receive them. Sad.

We then got back in the car and took a driving tour of the camp. The buildings are gone except for some foundations. One interesting remains are of fountains and rock lined ponds created by the internees - bringing some beauty and civilization to their imprisonment. The most memorable part of the park is the cemetery marked by an obelisk. Many of the graves are small - Children presumably. There is evidence of visitors as most graves are decorated. The cemetery fence is decorated with origami cranes left by visitors. Along with the gymnasium/visitor's center and the cemetery there are a couple of guard shacks and a restored guard tower.
Some Manzanar pictures are here.

We spent the night in the town of Lone Pine. Many western movies were filmed near here. This town is also the gateway to
Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. I know a guy who will be climbing it this August.


Since we had one more day left on our vacation, and it was hot everywhere we had been, we decided to take the temperature to the extreme. We left Lone Pine and drove into Death Valley. The temperature in Death Valley was 117°F (It had been 125°F earlier that week). We visited Scotty's Castle where we toured the impressive home. It's pretty cool - even in the desert heat. When we reached the car, a bird had dropped a load on the top of the car -It was the size of my thumb!! We laughed that somewhere that bird was screaming in agony. Ha!After the castle we drove to the Ubehebe Crater. It was so hot that we only jumped out of the car, took some quick pictures of the volcanic crater, and jumped back in. It was pretty neat though. We got back to the main road and headed for Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. I decided to walk out on the salt flats. It was like walking through a furnace. It had rained recently (yes it rains in Death Valley) and the salt stuck to the bottom of my shoes. My feet got heavier as I walked. The salt formed little stalagmites standing a quarter to a half inch off the ground. The scenery was a little surrealistic. I had two bottles of water with me and they were getting hot. I turned around and started back to the car. I had to put my camera in my pocket because the metal case was getting to warm to hold in my hand. The wife was in the car with the AC running. I got in and we made our way out of the valley. We were going to stay in the valley but all the hotels were full so we set our sights on Ridgecrest. Some Death Valley pictures are here.

We drove out the west park exit and turned south. The road drives through hills and dry lake beds. We stopped in the town of
Trona. Half of the buildings in Trona were boarded up. It was a little weird. I should have taken pictures but I didn't. We stopped at the local gas station but the electricity was out and we couldn't fill up. We got back in the car and continued on our way to Ridgecrest.

Ridgecrest, at the time, was a very important place for me. They were talking about moving my job to the China Lake Naval Weapons Center. China Lake refers to the dry lake bed where the center is located. The wife had joked that she would move there if we had a pool. After visiting she said that a pool was not enough. I agree. Fortunately It turned out that my job wasn't going anywhere and the scary prospect of moving to Ridgecrest no longer haunts us.

Our vacations are usually planned ahead. This one was planned on the fly which resulted in many unexpected discoveries.
This turned out to be a great vacation full of American history and Nature's extremes of beauty and desolation. There is something to say for spontaneity.