I truly do feel lucky to live in a place like the Owens Valley in California. As much as I would like to leave, move to the city and open a gluten-free bakery, I’ve always said that no matter where I live on this Earth, the Owens Valley will always be my home. I know that this Flashback won’t have me in it but these pictures were taken about four to five years ago. They mean a lot to me.
Not too far south of where I live is Manzanar. I believe that it is one of the most beautiful places in the valley. Of course, if you know the history behind this place, you know that is also depressing. Manzanar became one of the largest Japanese relocation camps during World War II. My grandfather used to tell us stories about how he would go to Manzanar while it was still an active camp to play sports against the high school there. While I was in school learning the history of WWII and about Manzanar itself, I always wondered, if it was for the protection of the Japanese who were forced to give up everything they owned and move to the middle of nowhere, why were the guards always pointing their guns inward?
Today, most of the building are gone, the trees have died off and sagebrush has taken over what was once gardens. Manzanar was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985 and restorations are currently being made to give visitors a better understanding of what Manzanar looked like 70-some years ago. A replica of one of the guard towers was built in 2005 and you can see it coming from quite a distance away.
It’s located just off Highway 395 and is a must see for any visitors. The old gym has been converted into a museum and one of the most prominent features inside is a wall covered with the many names of Mazanar’s former residents. There is a guest book to sign and I suggest looking through what others have written. It can be a little amazing at how many comments have been written in Japanese. They have even show a movie that can bring some people to tears after hearing what our government did to some of its own citizens.
The other prominent feature is one the self-guided tour. Follow it until you reach the “Soul Consoling Tower”. It is a monument that is in the middle of Manzanar’s graveyard and is forever looked over by Mt. Williamson. It was carved by a few of the men while living at the camp. People from all over the world come to see this monument and pay their respects to the souls they got to know freedom once again. Guests leave items, mainly origami, as a sign of respect. This memory of the tower always brings me to tears, like it is as I type this.
One of the last times I have been able to stop and pay my respects, I was wondering around the graveyard in silence, I looked down on the ground and found a heart rock. I haven’t found one in years and instead of keeping it and giving it to my mom who collects then, I gently placed it on the tower and said a small prayer.
A few years back, I was challenged to design a block for a quilt that would be raffled by my quilt guild at our bi-annual quilt show. The quilt showcased a lot of the various landmarks in the Owens Valley. I chose Manzanar.
I will make it back there soon but for now I will leave you with a few more pictures. Please visit if you ever find yourself traveling along 395 and remember those who gave up their freedom during a time of crisis.
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