Saturday, March 27, 2010

Scenic Mono County

Crowds, Starbucks and traffic jams are just some of the things you won't find in California’s Mono County.

Instead, travelers passing through this part of Eastern California will find plenty of beautiful landscapes, interesting history, fascinating geology, friendly towns, fishing, hiking, camping and a host of other places to see and things to do.

To reach Mono County from Carson City, you just head south on Highway 395, through the Carson Valley, and into California. You cross into Mono County about an hour south of Carson City.

Mono County dates to about the same time that Nevada gained territorial status. The county was created in 1861 and was the first of the mining counties organized on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in California.

On a map, the county is long and narrow, averaging 108 miles in length and some 38 miles in width. It includes more than 3,000 square miles, wedged between the crest of the Sierra Nevada and the Nevada state line.

The focal point for the county is the community of Bridgeport, located about 85 miles south of Carson City. Bridgeport, which is the county seat, developed during the late 19th century and fortunately has retained many of the historic buildings and flavor of its early years.

Perhaps the most prominent landmark in Bridgeport is the county courthouse. Built in 1880, this three-story white wooden structure, which remains in use, features classic Italianate architecture and is topped with a square cupola and flagpole.

Behind the courthouse is the original jail, a simple square stone building constructed of native rock that was used from 1883 to 1964.

Slightly to the west of the jail is one of the best places to learn about the history of the area, the Mono County Museum (760-932-5281), housed in an old schoolhouse. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Inside this traditional white and green schoolhouse you will find an interesting array of artifacts including a fine collection of handmade baskets woven by local Paiutes, antique furniture, firearms, farming equipment and a great collection of historic photographs.

The latter displays include a large number of scenes of the nearby ghost town of Bodie, now a California state park.

Adjacent to the museum, visitors will also find a pleasant community park with picnic tables. Bridgeport also contains a number of businesses, such as gas stations, motels and restaurants, geared for the traveler.

The surrounding area is very beautiful as Bridgeport is located in a large valley surrounded by spectacular mountains. In fact, the mountains southeast of the town are the northern border of Yosemite National Park, certainly one of the most beautiful scenic areas in the world.

The eastern entrance to Yosemite, at Tioga Pass, is located about 30 miles southeast of Bridgeport via 395 and State Route 120. This road takes you through the Tuolumne Meadows and winds around to the magnificent Yosemite Valley in the heart of the park.
Directly north of the town is Bridgeport Lake, a popular reservoir that offers camping and fishing. There is also quality recreation available at the Twin Lakes, located about five miles southeast of Bridgeport.

The south end of Mono County includes a couple of well known skiing areas, Mammoth Lakes and June Lake as well as Crowley Lake, said to be one of the best trout fishing lakes in the Sierra.

A particularly scenic detour from Highway 395 is to take State Route 120 east to Benton (go opposite of 120 to Yosemite), then head south on U.S. Highway 6 to Bishop, where you reconnect with 395. This drive takes you through some remote but picturesque areas, including the Chalfant Valley.

For more information contact the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce, 760-932-7500 or go to

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Manzanar Site Recalls World War II Internment

Looking at the vast, empty landscape of the Manzanar National Historic Site, it’s difficult to imagine that it was once the location of a veritable city containing more than 10,000 Japanese-Americans, who were forced to live there for three years.

The Manzanar Historic Site, located adjacent to U.S. 395, five miles south of Independence, California (about 4 hours south of Fallon), commemorates the war relocation center which was operated there from 1942 to 1945.

While little remains of the original buildings that were once spread across 6,000 acres in the shadows of the Sierra range, the site is considered to offer the best opportunities for interpretation of the WWII relocation program (there were nine similar camps in the U.S.).

The Manzanar camp was commissioned shortly after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. In early 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which called for people of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast (most of whom were American citizens) to be placed in relocation camps.

More than 110,000 Japanese-Americans, mostly Californians, were immediately moved to racetracks, fairgrounds and other makeshift detention centers in California before being transferred to the ten permanent detention centers (Manzanar was the first permanent camp).

Within months, the Manzanar camp had 10,000 residents who lived in rows of simple, wooden barracks surrounded by barbed wire fences, secured by guard towers.

Additionally, the site included gardens, orchards, ponds, auditorium, cemetery, reservoir, airport, sewage treatment plant and hospital complex.

The camp operated until late 1945, then the war ended and the last resident was released. Shortly after, the trailer-like barracks were sold at auction and removed from the site.

Today, the best-preserved building is the auditorium, a large, square, green building that is used as an Inyo County maintenance shop (it’s surrounded by yellow public works trucks and other equipment).

You can also find the stonework shells of the small, pagoda-style police post and sentry house, near the site’s entrance, as well as portions of other buildings. Most impressive are the stone and concrete walls of two buildings found southwest of the sentry house.

Poking through the overgrown sagebrush and grass, you can also find concrete steps that once led up to the barracks, portions of the water and sewer systems and remnants of rock gardens.

Wandering the site, try to imagine this was a bustling community that once contained rows of trees teeming with apples and pears (most of the trees are gone) and gardens overflowing with produce.

While today, the existence of the detention camps might seem an overreaction, it is best to view the unfortunate episode in the context of wartime.

Prior to its use as an internment camp, Manzanar was an early Owens Valley agricultural settlement (1910 to 1935), which is when many of the remaining handful of trees were originally planted, and a prehistoric home for centuries to native Paiutes and Shoshone tribes.

The Manzanar Historic site was established in March, 1992. In recent years, the National Park Service has installed interpretive signs and reconstructed one of the guard towers (there were once eight towers). You can also find an excellent display of Manzanar photos, recollections, drawings, paintings and artifacts at the fine Eastern California Museum in nearby Independence.

For more information, call 760-878-2194 ext. 2710 or go to