Once upon a time, Manzanar National Historic Site was called Manzanar War Relocation Center. It was one of 10 camps where Japanese American citizens were incarcerated during World War II. I had never been there, and I knew little about this site, though I knew that it is managed by the National Park Service, for which I once worked at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, just west from there over the Sierra.
Manzanar National Historic Site, established on March 3, 1992, can be found along a section of US 395 known as the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, about 10 miles from Lone Pine, CA. Lone Pine is a springboard to some amazing motorcycle routes: the towns of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, Death Valley National Park, Yosemite National Park, Devils Postpile National Monument, and Lake Tahoe. This story begins at the Lone Pine Campground, one of my favorites. The campground sits at an elevation of around 6,000 feet and has a birds-eye view of 14,494-foot, snow-laced Mount Whitney on the eastern Sierra mountain range. There are over 40 campsites located next to a babbling creek.
The campground is virtually empty as I circle the loop looking for just the right site. Every campsite has a yellow “reserved” sign that expired last night. Then a pattern begins to emerge. All the names were reserved with Japanese surnames. Why so many? Surely, the campground host approaching in his golf cart would know. “Why are there so many Japanese names?” I ask as he removes the signs.
“They were here for a pilgrimage of sorts. They went to Manzanar for a special celebration. They reserved all of the campsites yesterday, and left early this morning,” he explains. “You’ve picked the best site,” he adds.