Have you been to Manzanar? If not, go. Go soon. It is worth the trip on so many levels. I had the good fortune and opportunity to visit Manzanar National Historic Monument this past spring. First, the ride there.
To get to Manzanar from either the north of the south, you have to take the historic U.S. Route 395. This road starts at the tip of the south Sierra Nevada mountains and goes straight up the length of California, through Oregon and Washington, right to Canada, if you have a hankering to drive that far. It is simply one of the most beautifully scenic roads that I’ve ever driven. The route along east California, especially near Manzanar, is a simple straight shoot of smooth road with a very few small towns dotting it along the way. Translation: a very relaxing drive with time to safely enjoy the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains scenery. Here is a time lapse of the route:
From the road, the first thing you’ll notice is one of the guard towers, reconstructed from an original. On both the east and west side of Manzanar and Route 395 are absolutely gorgeous mountain ranges. At first, my breath is taken away by the beauty of the scenery, but then as I realize that this location was clearly chosen as a way to put huge natural barriers between the Japanese Americans and the rest of America, the natural beauty is tainted by the sinister manipulations of human will.
The main gymnasium that was used for social events and meetings at Manzanar houses the main museum exhibits:
Inside, there is a lovely bookstore with a wonderful selection of books about American history, Japanese Americans, Asian Americans, and America’s national parks.
There is a theater next to the store that plays a 22 minute film telling the story of Manzanar and the WWII American Internment Camps from the perspective of the people who experienced it. All the exhibits in the museum are profoundly heartbreaking to see. Here are a few:
Around the gymnasium museum are the remains of Manzanar, slowly being restored, one camp block at a time, one bunker at a time, one garden at a time. You can take one of their guided motor tours or drive yourself around with a paper that explains what route to take and what you’re seeing around you.
After driving past blocks and blocks of the camp to the back of the site, you will come to the Manzanar cemetery in the back, with the Easter Sierras as a backdrop.
Below is a little video I made of my trip there to give you a taste of place:
Manzanar would be a very meaningful Memorial Day Weekend trip.