24 July 2016

Williamson: Manzanar

Manzanar National Historic Site

Inyo National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6

(Day 1 of 6) Ralph said he wanted to go up Mount Williamson, but he wanted to start the hike at Manzanar. I have been past Manzanar many times and usually given it the hairy eyeball as I went. It is a place I did not want to visit as though visiting would somehow condone the actions that led to the building and populating of this place. After the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, the American people did a few irrational things out of fear. The west coast states gathered up more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent, most of them fellow citizens, and interned them within 10 camps. The feeble excuses for doing so could just as well be applied to Germans on the east coast, but somehow no one worried about them. Now Ralph wants to retrace, in a sense, the steps of the Manzanar fishermen. You see, in spite of the eight guard towers with armed military police, there were a few who escaped under cover of darkness and crossed the desert into the mountains to fish and, once or twice, climb the big mountain. All but one would risk the return as well, and that one died on the mountain. Ralph had to do a lot of extra planning for the start because he cannot just leave the car at the site. Luckily, he also got an offer to move the car and bring it back, even if it was needed at a rather inhospitable hour.

monument at Manzanar
The monument at Manzanar stands in the cemetery outside the square mile that was the compound. Strings of paper cranes glisten in the moonlight and headlights.

The desert is unpleasantly hot, getting over 100°F currently, so we are roughly following their footsteps in time as well. Three in the morning seems like an excellent time to sneak out of the barbed wire although the moonlight could be a problem if we are actually trying to hide our escape. We start at the monument and cemetery, which was outside the five strands of barbed wire that surrounded the place. Today it is adorned with strings of paper cranes and a few offerings and votives. There are six who were interned that are still interred here. There are potentially 135 ghosts. We spend some moments there before we start walking. Today the barbed wire goes around the monument as well, so we still have to get past that. Beyond the fence are a minor maze of roads.

White Mountains
Looking back to the historic site, highway, and White Mountains. Walking the road is easy just by moonlight tonight.

Somehow any plans to get some sleep during the day did not work out. When I might normally be going to sleep, I was driving, and now I am walking until the walk is done. The permit to enter the wilderness is not good until tomorrow, so that should be the normal trailhead for Shepherd Pass. From time to time, my head seems to swim in murk from the lack of sleep. My feet are moving much more slowly than usual, but I do not even notice it. The ticks that keep the time in my head are passing more slowly as well.

Sierra Nevada Mountains
The Sierra Nevada Mountains glow in the moonlight up ahead.

Dawn brings much more light to the desert landscape and the peaks. We should be much further by now. I am aware of that. I just cannot place the extra passing time. This would have worked better if I was better rested over the last couple weeks.

soft dawn light
The soft light of dawn bathes the landscape.

Alabama Hills
Crossing BLM land with the Alabama Hills to the south. Green stripes mark creeks in the desert.

Of course dawn is followed by sunrise. The sun touches the high peaks long before it even thinks about arriving in the sage and rocks of the flats. Well, the nearly flat. We cross many dry gullies as we go generally upward. There are large dips and hills when we head northward.

sunrise on the mountains
The rising sun does a good job of picking out the very highest peaks. We aim at the brightest one.

more sun
But first, we tuck into a different canyon beside Symmes Creek.

Not quite the peak. There is another point east of it that hides the top of Mount Williamson.

A line of trees appears before us marking Symmes Creek. The creek looks like a river for this parched land. The water is so cold that the air around it almost inspires adding something warm. Almost. Still, feet in the water do not stay there for very long.

a line of green
Trees poke out of the gully ahead. It is washed by Symmes Creek.

Symmes Creek
Symmes Creek flows all the way to the highway year round.

It is so pleasant at the creek that we take a long pause. Besides, there is not much left to do in the day but a couple more miles and to dally in camp. Still, we do get moving again eventually.

Owens Valley
Not a good day for visibility in Owens Valley.

more trees in a line
Another line of tree tops marks another creek racing from the mountains to Owens Lake only to be diverted to thirsty Los Angeles.

Inyo Forest
Still under the moon as we enter Inyo National Forest.

We were expecting two more and after they slept in, they said they would walk back from the trailhead to meet us instead of joining for the desert. We are wondering where they are. Of course they are wondering the same because how could it take this long to come up an easy desert slope? A truck comes rolling up and we know where they are. Dave, another geocacher, joins us to look among random rocks by the stock trailhead while Devon takes the truck back because he wisely has no interest in it. Then we trek up the stock trail to the junction and backtrack to find some camping. The wilderness boundary is just past the junction. The trail is near the creek, but not quite so near as to have the nice cooling from it until it drops to cross.

high quickly
It sure gets high quickly over there.

sudden change in plants
There is a distinct change in the vegetation at the feet of the mountains.

Once we have a place sorted, it is hard to find motivation for anything. The lack of sleep really took its toll, but I cannot quite get a nap in while the sun is so bright. As before, the time passes faster than it should. Night comes quickly with the sun dropping behind high mountains and then sleep quickly follows.

Continue reading: day 2

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 22 August 2016

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