the scenic route to Death Valley
We traded in the cold of the high sierras for the searing heat of Death Valley. D had planned out a day-long, multi-stop itinerary for our drive from June Lake, which included a short hike, a few scenic stopovers, and a visit to a museum that memorializes one of the most shameful and painful chapters in U.S. history.
Our first stop was in Mammoth, where we intended to visit the famed Devil’s Postpile and hike to the beautiful-sounding Rainbow Falls. Following the signs to the Devil’s Postpile, we were surprised to see people skiing on the snow-covered slopes of Mammoth Mountain to our left. We were so mezmerized by the sight that D almost ran the car into a barrier that blocked the road at the bottom of a massive ski slope. S made her way amid the skiiers and snowboarders, who were sporting t-shirts in the warm May sunshine, and learned that the road to the Devil’s Postpile had yet to be cleared of snow. We briefly contemplated abandoning our plans and spending the afternoon skiing but decided against it, as it was too late in the morning to make an all-day lift ticket and gear rental worthwhile.
Instead, we turned the car around and headed to our next destination – the pretty Convict Lake, which was located just a couple of miles off the highway. There is a trail that runs around the lake, offering great views of the surrounding mountains. We walked partway around and then sat down to a picnic lunch. We still had quite a ways to go to reach Death Valley and after two days of serious hiking were feeling too lazy to complete the Convict Lake loop.
Before the road veered off into the desert, we made one more stop at Manzanar – an inhospitably windy corner of arid land set beneath the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. In 1942, shortly after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States government ordered the removal and resettlement of Japanese Americans away from the West Coast, where many of them lived. Justified as a wartime measure to protect American shores from possible sabotage, the internment of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans, many of whom had lived their whole lives in the United States, remains one of the most sordid blemishes on our national conscience.
Little remains of the war relocation center at Manzanar – the first of ten facilities hastily constructed by the U.S. army – which housed more than 10,000 people between 1942 and 1945. In addition to an excellent museum, which tells the stories of some of the internees – those who spent parts of their childhood buffeted by the harsh winds of Manzanar and those who challenged their forced relocation all the way to the Supreme Court – three baracks have been preserved while the rest of the structures were razed completely.
Although we knew the history of Japanese internment, the museum was done so well that we wound up spending several hours in Manzanar. As a result, we drove into Death Valley right as the sun began its final descent towards the horizon line, lighting up Death Valley’s colorful mineral rocks in brilliant color.