Angel Island State Park, California.

Angel Island is located in the San Francisco Bay area, just across the water from it’s more famous neighbour, Alcatraz. There is a lot to see on Angel Island, and one day is definitely not enough time, especially if you are on foot.

Getting There

Angel Island is accesses by boat from either Tiburon https://angelislandferry.com/ or Pier 41 https://www.blueandgoldfleet.com/ferry/angel-island/ . We got the ferry from Tiburon as we were staying in Sausalito. There is plenty of parking in the little town, we paid $5 for the day.

Getting Around the Island

Obviously you can not take your car on Angel Island, but you can take a bike, or hire one there. We were on foot but the next time I visit, I will definitely hire a bike as there is not enough time in a day to see everything if you are walking. There are also segway and tram tours that you can take https://angelisland.com/ .

Flora and Fauna

Angel Island has a lot to see and there are things for people with a variety of different interests. For starters, the scenery on the island is incredible, with views of the whole bay area. You can see Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco on a clear day. As well as the beautiful scenery, Angel Island has an array of birds, Canadian Geese, hummingbirds, juncos and scooters to name but a few. There are also many other species of wildlife that inhabit the island, including, raccoons and deer. The island is also home to native and non-native plants. The military planted various trees and shrubs during their time on the island, including Monterey cypress and eucalyptus. Plants native to the island include; Coyote brush and elderberry.

Military

In 1863, the federal government established Camp Reynolds (West Garrison, named after the first officer to fall at Gettysburg) on the island.

In 1899, a quarantine station was established at Fort McDowell in order to isolate troops who had been exposed to contagious diseases while serving overseas.

Immigration

Angel Island was home to one of 19 immigration stations that were established in the early 20th century. Angel Island was the main station for immigrants arriving from the Pacific, mostly Asian, especially Chinese. However, some non-Asian immigrants did pass through (see my post on Ellis Island for immigration from the Atlantic).

Below are a few images that I took whist on the island. You are free to walk around and have a look at most of the buildings. You cannot go inside a lot of them due to health and safety. There are some buildings that are used to house staff, signposting is not always clear and they tend to shout at people if they get too close. I my personal opinion, the interpretation could be greatly improved. There are interpretation boards dotted around but I think there could be loads more done in terms of telling the story of the island. There is a museum which tells you a lot about the island, but it would be nice for more of the buildings to be open for visitors to look around and to learn about what purpose they served.

Abandoned Military Hospital
Camp Reynolds (West Garrison)

Manzanar War Relocation Center.

I have visited the Owens Valley on Vacation a number of times. My first visit was back in 2012. However, it was not until 2017, that I finally visited Manzanar, after driving pas it numerous times.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the U.S. government began making plans for the incarceration of Japanese-Americans. On the 19th of February, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the evacuation of all persons deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to relocation centers. The order resulted in over 100,000 Japanese-Americans being removed from their homes and placed in internment camps.

The camps were located in isolated areas where the weather could be burning hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. People had to leave behind their businesses and possessions, taking only what they could carry.

After my visit to Manzanar, I seemed to come across lots of information relating to the persecution of Japanese Americans during World War II. I think after visiting Manzanar and the emotional effect that it had on me, things just caught my eye more. For example, I was watching a documentary on art in San Francisco, and I learnt about the photographs that Dorothea Lange captured of Japanese-Americans, in the early 1940s. Then whilst doing some research for a paper that I was writing for my MA on the California Water Wars, I came across a fascinating book by Karen Piper called Left in the Dust: How Race and Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L.A. In short, the book tells the story about how the people and environment of the Owens Valley have suffered since the Los Angeles Aqueduct was built to divert the course of the Owens River in 1913. The fugitive dust from the drying of the Owens Lake caused toxic dust storms in the valley where Manzanar is located, meaning Manzanar detainees were subject to this dust. The dust has been known to cause disease and death among the people that inhaled it. Not only were these poor people forcefully removed from their homes, but they were also subject to toxic dust, from which they could not escape (n.b. at the time Manzanar was in operation, no-one knew the dust was toxic).

By November of 1945, Manzanar was deserted, the war had ended and the Japanese-Americans returned home. However, some people had no home to go back to. It took another 44 years for the US government to apologise to those interned at Manzanar. Camp survivors were given $20,000 by resident Ronald Reagan.

Monument marking the cemetery. It was built by internees in 1943.

Prior to the drying of the Owens Lake, the area where Manzanar is located was full of beautiful fruit orchards. The Owens River provided ample irrigation for the growing of produce and the area was named after the Spanish word for apple, ‘manzana’.

Guard Tower
Basketball Court

After the war ended, Manzanar was razed. However, many of the buildings were sold to local residents of the Owens Valley. When Manzanar was preparing to be opened to the public, the NPS attempted to relocate the original buildings. However, they did not have much luck. They did manage to reclaim a building that was at Bishop airport, but many of the buildings that are there today are replicas.

Thanks for reading :).

The Abandoned Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel and Baker, California, USA.

Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel opened in 1957 and closed in 2009. There is not a great deal of information about the motel, but it is currently for sale at a price of $390,000. I first saw Arne’s on a YouTube video and so when we were driving through Baker, I had to stop off for a look. 

The town of Baker was named after Richard C. Baker, president of the Pacific Coast Borax Company and the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad.

Baker has some other cool places to stop including; The Mad Greek Cafe, The World’s Tallest Thermometer and Alien Fresh Jerky.

The World’s Tallest Thermometer

The thermometer is 134 feet tall in honour of a 134 degree Fahrenheit (56.67 degrees Celsius),recorded in nearby Death Valley on July 10, 1913. The thermometer was built by the Young Electric Sign Company of Salt Lake City, Utah in 1991 for a man named, Willis Herron, a local businessman who spent $750,000 to build the thermometer next to his Bun Boy restaurant (now closed).

Alien Fresh Jerky

Luis Ramallo opened his first Jerky shop in Crystal Springs, Nevada, in the year 2000. In 2002, he moved the store to Baker, CA.

Stovepipe Wells & Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley, California, USA.

I was going to do one long post about my time in Death Valley but I feel that it will go on and on and so, I decided to split it up.

I first visited Death Valley in 2016 and instantly fell in love.  On my first visit, I stayed at the Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel.  To be honest, for the price, I thought that the hotel was awful.  I paid about £170 for one night, room only for two people.  The room was dark and had loads of small fruit flies in it.  The air conditioning was noisy and it smelt like the drains needed cleaning.  The hotel is rated a three-star, I would probably give it one or two and the actual rooms looked nothing like the pictures on their website.  The area around the hotel is cool though, there are a few old vehicles and things to have a look at and at night, it was beautifully quiet. There is a gas station and a general store, I would advise to full up before entering Death Valley though as gas prices were expensive.

Stovepipe Wells Gas Station and General Store
Old cart wheel
Rusty old tractor
Old cart

Stovepipe Wells was the first Tourist town in Death Valley.  In 1926, Bob Eichbaum opened Stovepipe Wells Hotel and operated a toll road.  From looking online, Xanterra Parks & Resorts® used to manage the hotel but don’t anymore.  They do manage the two hotels at Furnace Creek. 

Just down the road from Stovepipe Wells, is Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  The dunes are easily located, right off Highway 190.  There is a car park, with plenty of spaces.   You are free to walk on the dunes and there are some fabulous photograph opportunities, with lots of dead trees and branches lying around that make great props.

 I have not yet had the chance, but I’ve read that it’s beautiful at sunrise and sunset. Remember, it is the desert so take plenty of water.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Zzyzx, San Bernardino County, California, USA.

Formerly Soda Springs

I find myself dawn to old places that have fascinating back stories and Zzyzx is no exception. 

Located off Highway 15 in California, Zzyzx is home to the California State University Desert Studies Centre.  However, this has not always been the case.  It was once home to a health spa called Soda Springs.  The spa owner, Curtis Howe Springer was born in 1896 in Birmingham, Alabama.  He worked as an insurance salesman and then a radio evangelist, calling himself “the last of the old-time medicine men.” However, it seems that Springer had no formal medical training.  After making some money through preaching and selling homemade homeopathic remedies, Springer used the money to file a mining claim in the Mojave Desert, which he called the area, Zzyzx.

Springer built a hotel and health spa on his desert land, heating the water with pumps and claiming that the site offered miracle cures.  Soda Springs ran for almost 30 years with people believing they were receiving natural medical treatments.  In 1969,  several customers made complaints and the American Medical Association subsequently investigated Springer, labelling him the “King of the Quacks.”   He was convicted in 1974 of fraud for which he served prison time.  Springer died in 1985 at the age of 88 in Las Vegas.

Only a few of the old buildings remain today but nevertheless, they are a reminder of the obscure story of Curtis Howe Springer and how one man managed to con people for the majority of his life.

Tips for visiting.

We just stopped by on route to Los Angeles. The place was quiet with maybe one more person having a look around. I assume you can walk around at your leisure as we did, but if you want to make sure before visiting, contact the university. http://nsm.fullerton.edu/dsc/desert-studies-center

Happy exploring.