Last week two of us Spring Lake Village women were picked up at our front curb by Day Trippers, a tour company based in Santa Rosa, CA.We joined 28 assorted retirees as we climbed aboard a bus and rode to Death Valley
Our first day, we got as far as Kernville, which was cold and windy. We weren’t in Kernville long enough for me to recommend it, except for breakfast at Cheryl’s Diner, owned and operated by Cheryl herself, the mayor and a colorful major mover in her community.
The Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest celebrates the natural and cultural history of the Upper Mojave Desert with exhibits of plants, animals, Native American artifacts and contemporary arts and crafts and is well worth an hour or so. That day we had lunch on the bus. Red wine, soup warmed in the kitchen at the back of the bus, quiche, salad, and homemade brownies. Yum!
For three nights we headquartered at The Ranch at Death Valley (formerly Furnace Creek Resort), which has been operating since 1881 and was the original home of the Borax 20-Mule teams. From there we explored the southern part of Death Valley for one day and the northern area the next. Rhyolite, in 1904 had a population of 10,000 and now has a population of one, the Ranger who guided us through the stories and ruins of the once thriving gold mining town.
We stopped at view points along the way, but even as we rode, we saw breathtaking views: brilliant snow covered mountain ranges to the east and to the west, a great variety of colors and shapes of nearby land masses, sand dunes stretching across the valley. (Incidentally, we learned that Death Valley is not a valley. A valley has a river emptying through it. Death Valley has springs and wells, evaporation, but no river. It is a graben.)
Death Valley got its name from pioneers lost in the winter of 1849-1850. One of the group died and the party assumed they all would die. But two of their men, William Lewis Manly and John Rogers were scouts and they led the party up over the Panamint Mountains. One of them looked back and said, “Goodbye, Death Valley.” I guess he didn’t know about grabens.
Our return route north along US395 led us to Lone Pine, near Mt Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, (14,505 ft) and only 85 miles the lowest point at Badwater Basin in Death Valley (282 ft below sea level). We stopped at the Western Film Museum and relived our Saturday afternoon matinees with The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and listened to the song, “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?”
Only 10 miles north of Lone Pine, we turned into Manzanar, the historic site where in 1942 the United States government ordered more than 10,000 Japanese American men, women, and children to leave their homes and be detained in this remote, military-style camp. The day we were there was windy. We were told it is always windy. Fine grained sand particles blew everywhere, inside the buildings as well as outside. We were shown the beds with straw mattresses, the bathrooms with no privacy, the mess halls where distasteful food was served until Japanese cooks joined the kitchen staff to prepare more familiar meals. We saw dozens of photos and portraits depicting life in confinement. The internees created schools, first outside and eventually in traditional classrooms. Gardens with ponds, bridges, benches, large and small stones were esthetically pleasing. Vegetable gardens, too. Medical services were created. Classes for adults were formed. Baseball. All by the Japanese. Still, the wind blew and sand settled on their food and in their beds and on their toothbrushes. They stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance. They studied the Constitution that claims to preserve citizens’ rights. Their sons joined the armed forces. During those years not one of the 110,000 Japanese detainees in the 10 camps such as Manzanar was found to be disloyal to the United States.
Manzana is Spanish for apple. Manzanar is so named because an apple orchard once grew there.
We 30 visitors were sobered as we climbed back onto the bus to drive to Bishop where we stayed in the charming Creekside Inn and enjoyed one of the best meals of the week at a small restaurant named Sage.
The next evening the two of us women were returned to the front curb of Spring Lake Village. I walked to my cottage, awestruck by the resilience of the Native Americans, the pioneers, the miners, the Japanese internees,, the naturalists and explorers of the desert.