Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills Recreation Area
Lone Pine, California
November 20-22, 2017


The online reviews of boon docking sites in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area were beckoning us to this spot, but the real draw for me was seeing Mount Whitney.  I’d never realized until last year that the highest point in the contiguous 48 (Mt. Whitney – 14,505′ above sea level) and the lowest point in North America (Badwater Basin – 282′ below sea level) are basically geological next door neighbors.  We missed seeing Mt. Whitney last year, so I was determined to enter Death Valley from the west side this time so that we could experience both.

Our campsite in the Alabama Hills did not disappoint! The pictures don’t even come close to capturing the beauty of this place. Easily one of the most beautiful FREE parking spots we’ve found all year.
Not a bad view for an outdoor shower.

This beautiful setting is also known as “Movie Flats” because of all of the films made here.  This plaque stands at the entrance to the recreation area.

“Since 1926, hundreds of movies and TV episodes including Gunga Din, How the West was Won, Khyber Rifles, Bengal Lancers and High Sierra along with The Lone Ranger and Bonanza with such stars as Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gary Cooper, Gene Autry, Glenn Ford, Humphrey Bogart, and John Wayne have been filmed in these rugged Alabama Hills with their majestic Sierra Nevada background.  Plaque dedicated by Roy Rogers, whose first staring feature was filmed here in 1936.”


A short hike from our campsite led to the Mobius Arch. From certain angles, you can see Mt. Whitney through the portal. (Although – due to the fact that it is one peak in a long range of very tall mountains, Mt. Whitney itself wasn’t even as dramatically striking as other mountains we’ve seen that stand along -such as Mt. Rainier. We actually weren’t sure which peak was Mt. Whitney for about a day.)
There was enough beauty in this place to fill you up for quite some time.

An unexpected experience in this area was stumbling upon the Manzanar National Historic Site. We passed the entrance on the highway, just 10 minutes away from our camping area. I’d never heard of this place, and did a quick google search to investigate. It turns out that the gap in my knowledge of this place is arguably intentional, as it is one of the 10 locations of a Japanese interment camp from WWII. The US government hasn’t exactly erased all evidence, but they definitely spent a good long time NOT talking about this dark spot in American history.
Manzanar has become a National Historic Site because it is the best preserved of the 10 sites. This location detained over 11,000 men, women, and children out of the over 110,000 Japanese American citizens who were forced to live in these camps around the United States.

The camp closed in 1945 and many of the structures were destroyed. The site was designated a National Historic Site in 1992 by President Bush. Since that time some structures have been rebuilt as replicas for educational purposes, but mostly all that remains is foundations. We drove a 3 mile dirt road through the site.
There were 146 deaths at the camp. I overheard a ranger telling visitors that they were all natural deaths, not from violence or mistreatment, except for a couple of people who were killed during an escape attempt. Only 15 were buried in this Manzanar Cemetery, and because most were Buddhists whose families preferred cremation, most were later relocated and given another burial. Only 5 graves remain at this moving site. The inscription here reads “Soul Consoling Tower”.


One of the craziest things about this to me was learning that while some Japanese Americans served in the military during WWII, their families were interned in camps like these. There were photos of soldiers coming here to visit their wives and children being interned at Manzanar.  When people were forcibly relocated here, most of them lost everything…their businesses.  Their homes.  Their communities.

When the facility closed, many of these prisoners had no place to go back to.  The government gave them each $25 and a one-way bus fare.

From wikipedia, “While many left the camp voluntarily, a significant number refused to leave because they had no place to go after having lost everything when they were forcibly uprooted and removed from their homes. As such, they had to be forcibly removed once again, this time from Manzanar. Indeed, those who refused to leave were generally removed from their barracks, sometimes by force, even if they had no place to go.”

We only had a very brief visit, so we skipped the Junior Ranger educational opportunities this time.  But we all learned a lot at this place.


3 Comment

  1. Janet Clark says: Reply

    This was an interesting piece, of Japanese/ American History! Thank you, for sharing!
    Praying for continued safe trip, for You All🙏🙏🙏🙏❤❤❤❤

  2. Marie Scanlon says: Reply

    i have no words; only angry emojis. 🤬😡🤬😡🤬😡🤬😡🤬 which seem like quite a cheap substitute for what these Americans deserve. the first time i learned about japanese internment was in college. and even then I was too self-absorbed to think much about it. i’m ashamed that 1. our country did this and 2. that we haven’t adequately owned up to our mistakes by at least educating people about them.

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