Thursday, May 14, 2015

Topaz Internment Camp Field Trip

After we learned about Ancient and Feudal Japan, it was on to Pearl Harbor and Japan's role in World War II. We happen to live a few hours away from one of the internment camps used for Japanese-Americans during the war, and on a whim I suddenly decided we should go visit. I knew there was probably nothing much to see, but it felt like it would be a cool connection to the history of that place. So off we went.
With all the Spring rain we had, the drive to the West desert was quite beautiful. There were green fields and mountains…
even in the desert areas where you wouldn't normally expect it.
And sheep. With lots of baby lambs. So tiny! So cute!

There is a new museum about Camp Topaz in Delta, which we visited first. We liked it a lot—there are pictures and artifacts from the camp, and one of the barracks used for housing is there so you can go inside and get a sense of what it was like. 

After the museum, we drove over to the camp site. Our GPS didn't get us to quite the right place (we should have followed the directions the museum lady gave us better), but after a bit of turning around and worrying, we found the sign and saw the flagpole. It is so desolate! There are a few ranches and farms around but lots of empty space, too. The day we were there it was cloudy and hot and quite beautiful. I love being able to see the whole sky at once.
You can just wander around wherever you please. At the museum they gave us a kind of map that showed where things were in the camp, and which road to drive around on. You have to stay on the main road because there are lots of old nails and things around that could damage your tires. The children liked these rusty iron rings. We didn't know what they were from—I thought maybe barrels, and the wood had rotted away?

After the end of the war, the barracks from Topaz were sold off and many of them were brought into the town of Delta for other uses—storage, meeting halls, etc. Some people even used them for houses. Everything else was hauled off by the army, I guess, or else just left where it lay. It's kind of a strange feeling to see things lying around, just abandoned. If you visit Camp Topaz, you are supposed to just leave everything where you find it so that others can come and see, too.
Here is the cement footing for one of the latrines, with lots of broken pieces of brick on top. Most of the barracks weren't on cement, but the recreation halls and the latrines did have these foundations, which you can still see.
Here's one of the drains in the floor, the pipe all filled with dirt and the drain cover rusted and broken.
Threatening skies. It didn't rain on us, though. (We were hot. We wished it had.)
Some of the sites were just covered with rusty nails. I guess they're left over from the dismantling of the barracks? I'm not sure.
So many of them!
And there were other things too, like this rusty spring—a bedspring, I think.
Wow, the sky is so wild in this picture! I love the desert skies. The children really loved going off to explore on their own. They got excited whenever they saw anything buried in the dirt, and enjoyed speculating about what things were used for, or which activities had gone on and where. It is fun to wonder what you might find if you wander around long enough!
I don't know what these wooden structures were. They were near the front gates of the camp, where the hospital used to be, but I don't know if they were part of the hospital or not. This one had a hill going up to it almost like a ramp. Anyway, they were fun to look at.
Here are the footings to one of the guard towers. There were several of these around the camp—although the lady at the museum told us, for the last several years of the war, the internees weren't really required to stay in camp. They could sign in and out and go into town or up into the mountains, etc., relatively freely.
Even though the area is pretty barren, we were really glad we visited the Topaz Camp. It was a very interesting and thought-provoking place to go, and there was a sense of weight and history to the place that we felt very strongly. I wouldn't mind going back someday and exploring more, and seeing if there are more interesting artifacts to be found. Maybe we will make a stop there next time we go rock collecting at Topaz Mountain!

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