Our last post spoke to Death Valley flora, and ended with our departure up the long grades across the Panamints and the Argus Ranges. Our trusty Ford V-10 made these long climbs without protest, at 25 mph in first gear. Our greatest concern is actually the long, steep downgrades, where the brakes can easily overheat, especially with the Outback pushing us down the slope. The outback has auxiliary braking, but it is set to activate only in panic braking, so doesn’t help on these long downgrades. We descend in first and second gear, touching the brakes occasionally to control speed. Another concern is the narrow, winding patch of road across the Argus Range. Vehicle length is limited to 30 feet because of the narrowness of the road and the hairpin turns. The driver must be constantly on alert for oncoming vehicles appearing suddenly from behind the blind corners.
When Keith drove the nation in 1965, gas was typically around 30 cents. The highest price was 45 cents, at Panamint Springs, CA. Last Saturday, 3/29/2008, the price in Panamint Springs was $5.16. Talk about sticker shock! We felt like we were getting a bargain in Lone Pine, at $3.87.
But we made it ,in one piece, and are now enjoying the area around Lone Pine, Ca. This small eastern California town is located in the Owens Valley, which nestles into the eastern face of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The Sierras are sort of like a huge granite cookie, snapped in half, with the western half tilted down toward the Sacramento Valley. The western surface of this rock slab slopes gradually upward over 80 miles, from the valley to the peaks of the high Sierra. The eastern face of this fractured slab drops precipitously, from the 14, 494 ft. altitude of Mt. Whitney, to 3729 ft. at the stoplight in Lone Pine. These two locations are only 10 miles apart! Needless to say, the view from Lone Pine is breathtaking.
Home, Sweet Home!
Sunrise over Diaz Lake
Our Morning Friends Come to Call
So what’s to do in Lone Pine, besides wallow in the scenery?
About 10 miles north of Lone Pine is Manzanar, a former apple orchard which became the site of a WWII concentration camp. The US government euphemistically referred to it as a “Relocation Center”; but if it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck…. Kathy was aware of Manzanar from her School Mar’m days, when she taught a book titled Farwell to Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. This autobiographical story was written by a girl who was incarcerated in Manzanar for four years, starting at the age of 7.
Early in 1942, the US army and the FBI arrested all West Coast men, women, and children of Japanese ethnicity, including a large number of American-born US citizens. All personal and real property was confiscated, except what each individual could carry in a suitcase. One hundred ten thousand people were forcibly removed to ten concentration camps in isolated locations across the central and western US, including one in the Owens Valley, at Manzanar. Confiscated property was sold to finance construction and operation of the camps.
During the first winter, while wooden barracks were being constructed, about ten thousand people were housed temporarily in unheated tar-paper sacks. Over the four years from early1942 to late 1945, 504 barracks, a hospital, schools, churches, and an auditorium were constructed by the internees. Barbed wire enclosures, guard posts, and eight armed watchtowers were constructed by the Army. All of these facilities were required because internees were not permitted to leave the compound for any reason, except those who volunteered or were drafted into the US Army, to fight in Germany. The government offered this opportunity to young male internees, to prove their loyalty.
Late in 1945 most of the internees were released with $25 cash and a ticket to any US destination of their choice. A few “troublemakers” (defined as persons who felt the government had treated them unfairly) were isolated to a camp in Tule Lake , CA, then deported to Japan.
Over the past 60 years, all of the buildings have disappeared, except the large auditorium, which was used as a County Garage. In 1992 the site was taken over by the National Park Service. The auditorium/County Garage has been restored as a museum/interpretive center, opening in 2004. Reproductions of guard-posts and a watchtower have been built, and a representative barracks building is under construction. The grounds are open to tour, but except for the aforementioned structures, and a cemetery, there is little but sagebrush and the occasional fruit tree to see. The museum is very well done, with a video and numerous interpretive and displays.
Driving north along US 395, an odd horizontal linear feature is apparent on the side of the hills west of the highway. The grade was so perfect that we thought at first it that it might be an abandoned railroad track. Turns out, it is the Los Angeles Aquaduct.
Keith drove Whitney Portal Road in 1965, camping at Whitney Portal Campground for the night, after he paid $45to a garage in Lone Pine to replace the generator on his Father’s 1959 Chevy. That was a lot of money for a struggling graduate student in 1965.
Unfortunately, the road to the Portal currently is closed, due to winter damage. The nice lady at the nearby tri-agency visitor’s center told us that that the road crews are still trying to figure out how to clear a boulder the size of a dump truck, without blasting down the whole mountainside. Approaching the road, Kathy spotted yellow construction machinery on the switchbacks, so it would seem they are making some progress.
The Eastern Sierra Interagency visitor’s center, located just south of town at the junction of US 395 and the road east to Death Valley, is operated jointly by three Counties and two federal agencies. In addition to interpretive displays, the center houses a good bookstore, where Kathy bought a book about Eastern Sierra wildflowers. Not to be outdone, Keith bought a couple of books about Basin and Range Geology.
In closing we can’t fail to mention the Alabama Hills Café, where the hungry tourist may enjoy breakfast or lunch, at California prices. Kathy had a steak and cheese sandwich, and Keith had a very tasty cheeseburger. 3.75 COWS for both. A couple of days later Kathy enjoyed a custom omelet and Keith a special dish consisting fried hash browns topped with bacon, eggs to order, and smothered in sausage gravy. More high ratings for both of these dishes. There also are a couple of fast food outlets, two AAA three-diamond dinner restaurants, and a Pizza Village. We sampled the Pizza place and found it expensive and unmemorable.
Our next destination is Lee Vining, CA, where Keith is anxious to tour Mono Lake, and to drive the Tioga Pass Road west into Yosemite, if it is open. We originally planed our departure a couple of days ago, but delayed because of later season snow forecast above 6000 ft. The snow now seems to have passed, so we are off tomorrow morning.