Morning didn't bring completely clear skies, but dang if it wasn't nice to wake up to more blue than gray, the sun streaming in beneath the clouds that still filled the eastern horizon.
Temps were chilly - in the low 30s °F - but I was a happy camper since the weather forecast had suggested a good chance of rain, but the tent was dry. I set about eating breakfast and packing up as soon as I was down the ladder, since I knew this would be my most busy day of the trip. Not only did I plan to make the couple hour trek north to the Volcanic Tablelands, but I knew that there were at least a couple stops along the way.
I rolled out of camp a few minutes after 8:00am, the clouds already starting to cover more of the sky. I'd expected this, really - the same had happened the previous day - and I could see that there were fewer clouds to the north, which was a good sign for me!
I'd already aired up in camp the night before - figuring that it would be a more pleasant task to do dry, in case it was raining in the morning - so when I hit the pavement of Movie Flat Road, I was able to just keep rolling. And, though it meant more pavement, I'd decided to head out through Lone Pine as opposed to heading north on dirt, just since I hadn't been that way before. Boy, was I glad I did - because on the way out of Alabama Hills, I ran across this monstrosity.
I'm sure there's some great story behind Face Rock, but I can't imagine what it would be. I carried on, feeling like it was actually a reasonably fitting way to exit an area that was beautiful, but clearly overrun due to its proximity to civilization. Ironically, it's hard to tell that it's overrun as you drive by on the highway - in fact, it looks pristine - since everyone hangs out on the west side of the first set of hills.
One final look - boy, those Sierras get me every time!
Half an hour later, I reached my first stop on my trip north - the Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp. @mrs.turbodb and I have driven by Manzanar on a few occasions, but never with enough time to stop in and take a look. Today that would change for me - and as I pulled off the highway, the sole remaining watch tower was a stark reminder of the shroud of darkness that originally surrounded this place.
There are two entrances to Manzanar - one to the visitor center and parking area, and the historical entrance. I opted for the later, following in the footsteps of those who'd had no choice in the matter.
For anyone unfamiliar, in 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated during World War II. And, while much of the camp fell into disrepair after the war, some who'd experienced the oppression first hand began annual pilgrimages to the site in order to raise awareness of this tragic chapter in American history.
Due to COVID-19, only the self-guided auto tour was open as I arrived, and I was early enough in the day that I had the place to myself. I entered the loop near "Block 14," one of 36 residential blocks, each consisting of 14 barracks as well as a laundry, latrine, mess hall, and several outdoor spaces to recreate - swimming pools and basketball courts seemingly the most common as I made my way around.
Building 1 of Block 14. Nearly 300 people at a time would call this one building home.
Markers for the remaining buildings in Block 14 that were demolished.
Manzanar was designated as California Historical Landmark #850 in 1972, and was eventually added to the National Register of Historic Places. In February 1985, Manzanar was designated a National Historic Landmark, and on March 3, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed House Resolution 543 designating it a National Historic Site, "to provide for the protection and interpretation of the historical, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II." Manzanar was the first of the ten camps to be achieve this designation.
My next stop on the loop was at one of several parks that existed throughout the camp. Originally named Rose Park, and then Pleasure Park, this 1.5 acre space contained meandering paths, waterways, flower gardens and bridges. One resident described it as, "...a lovely land you could not escape from yet almost didn't want to leave." After the camp was abandoned, the high winds of the Owens Valley buried the park under several feet of sand. In 2008, the children and grandchildren of Kuichiro Nishi (an interned resident, and the designer of the park) returned to assist the NPS in uncovering the park that had been a glimmer of hope for those imprisoned here.
Pleasure Park, 1943.
Blown sand is once again reclaiming portions of the park, the waterways beginning to fill in.
My final stop was at the Manzanar Cemetery. Located outside of the security fence - a simple barbed wire fence surrounding the 540 acre developed space of the camp - it's unclear to me if residents were allowed to visit this cemetery. Today, only a few headstones of the approximately 150 people who died in the camp, remain.
For anyone visiting this place, I think the most important thing to take away from it is well captured on the memorial sign now located near the flagpole. We as a people - our country - our world - is better than this. We must be better than this.
"May the injustices and humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism, and economic exploitation never emerge again."
From Manzanar, my next stop was - conveniently - right across US-395. In fact, the Manzanar-Reward Road was a good indicator that my two destinations of darkness were forever linked by a thin line snaking across the valley.
Unlike Manzanar, the Reward Mine - or more properly - the Eclipse, and later Brown Monster Mine, operated by the Reward Mining Company - had a more uplifting history. A gold and silver mine snaking into the Inyo Mountains, the complex was a major producer while it was active between the 1860s and 1970s, producing nearly 50,000oz of the shiny yellow material!
While the road across the valley - now grazing land, full of cattle - was nothing to write home about, I started to get excited as I approached the Inyo Range. There, high on the hillside, I could see an enormous wooden structure - even from a distance, obviously an ore chute. I headed that way first, to check it out.
Still fully aired up, the loose, base-ball sized rocks on the steep road made for a slippery trip up the 25° incline, and as the road narrowed and it was clear I'd be backing down, I eventually stopped to hike the final quarter mile or so up the ravine to the remains.
Unlike any ore chute I'd seen before, this one had two levels, connected by a long metal pipe. I found myself wondering how the miners kept material from clogging up in the pipe as it made its way between the two bins - a good set of grizzly bars must have been used at the top level!
As cool as this old contraption was, it was not what I was here to see! Nor was the view that I got as I made my way back down the canyon to the Tacoma - though, like the mining equipment, it was nothing to complain about! Boy, the Owens Valley really is a beautiful place!
I'd apparently gained significant elevation over a short distance!
No, what I was here to see was something else entirely - something that even thinking about it, makes my skin crawl just a little. I was here to drive into the Inyos! To do that, I had to make my way around a fold in the mountain, the road here getting a bit rougher and serving as a bit of a gatekeeper for those who may be a little less sure of their vehicles capabilities.
And there is was - the mouth of the main shaft. Miles of tunnel exist deep into the mountain as miners followed an enormous vein of gold bearing material, and this main shaft allows for nearly a mile of driving - if I could keep from freaking out!
I was too excited as I went in, so the only photo of the entrance is me coming out!
Not totally sure of the situation, I walked the first hundred feet or so of tunnel. It looked like I'd be OK - the truck just short enough to fit through some of the low-hanging boulders on the ceiling - and so I headed to the entrance and drove myself in.
Am I crazy?
After the first 150 feet, which are reasonably flat, the shaft begins a descent. This, in conjunction with the curvy nature - to follow the gold - mean that you can't ever see where you're going for more than a hundred feet or so. There are - for anyone who gets nervous - several turn around points along the way, where vertical shafts lead away from the main tunnel.
My guess is that these vertical shafts were built slightly off to the side of the main tunnel so that as material dropped down, it wouldn't block passage through the primary thoroughfare, allowing work to proceed in parallel at several areas in the mine.
Eventually, I found myself at a larger "room" and figured that it was time for me to boogie back to the entrance. I wasn't all that worried - this tunnel hadn't collapsed in over 150 years - but why push my luck, really. I turned around, and for a moment, turned off my lights. Wow, that was dark! Lights back on.
Not a place for anyone who doesn't like tight spaces.
Going out wasn't really any more or less stressful than going in. The logical part of my brain continued - in its calming fashion - to remind me that the likelihood of anything bad happening was miniscule at best. The rest of my brain was like "MOVE IT!" Personally, I'm a fan of the photos, but in case you're wondering a bit more about the experience, here's a short clip of the final bit of mine shaft.
Well - while a whole different kind of darkness than Manzanar, the Reward Mine had proven itself to be quite the experience! I'd eagerly do it again, ideally with someone a little more squeamish in the passenger seat. Because boy, it would be fun to glance over every now and then. Maybe stop a time or two.
As I reached the mouth of the shaft, there were already a few other folks waiting for me to come out. They'd walked up - rather than driving - but still wanted to wait until there weren't any vehicles before entering. We chatted for a few minutes and I relayed how cool the mine was before heading back down the rocky road towards US-395. Clearing the rough section, I picked up speed - once again glad I'd been relatively early in the day, as a caravan of explorers hurdled towards me!
I'd crossed over it coming into the Reward Mine as well, but just before I got to the highway, I paused for a final moment as I crossed over the eroding runways of Manzanar Airfield. Used by the United States Military to resupply the Internment Camp, it was abandoned like the rest in the 1950s. Today, it sits idle in the desert, another reminder of those less pleasant times.
And with that, I headed north - the sky there, sunnier - clouds seemingly following me as I sped along. A quick stop to top off the fuel tank, and soon I was driving through Bishop. Schat's Bakery - a favorite of @mrs.turbodb's, which has had extremely long lines our last couple times through - was lineless, but I refrained from stopping, wanting to limit my interactions with the community during these crazy times, as much as possible. Soon, I found myself at the north side of town, and at the southeast corner of the Volcanic Tablelands, where US-6 begins it's long meander across the country.
I wasn't far from where I'd run over my camera less than a week earlier, and as I aired down the Tacoma to start a new exploration of the Volcanic Tablelands, I wondered to myself - would the third time be the charm?
The Whole Story
Love Owens Valley? Check out
for all the amazing places I've been in and around this special place over the years.