Sun Valley, Japanese Internment Camps, Bald Mountain and Community Reads

It’s ten and a half hours from Elk Grove, California to Sun Valley, Idaho. I had driven two nine-hour days from Whistler to Elk Grove, and my buns hurt for three days afterwards. Something to do with where the seam in my underwear was located and sitting in one position for so long.  Be that as it may, I didn’t want a repeat of that uncomfortable experience, so I broke the drive up with a stop in Elko, Nevada.

Staying true to my earlier vow, I declined booking the cheaper Motel 6 for the Comfort Inn, which included a pool and hair dryers—a great bonus indeed.

As I drove the empty Nevada miles I was listening to the book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I had read this book when it came out about 10 years ago, and at the time I discounted it because I couldn’t get past the Chinese/Japanese romance. At the time I didn’t think it was realistic. I know that sounds crazy, but so it was. The story is about a Chinese American boy and Japanese American girl who are caught up in the mass incarceration of the West Coast Japanese into camps. Now that I am working on a historical fiction during that same era, I wanted to re-read/hear the book again, this time listening for descriptions of place, narrative, plot. I gained a new appreciation for the book and for the craft. It is truly well written and much more complex than I had realized the first time I read it.

The story is set in Seattle and the Japanese from that area were sent to Minidoka Camp in Jerome, Idaho.  Serendipitous—Jerome, Idaho and the camp were no more than 20 minutes out of my way on the route to Sun Valley.

I woke to rain in Elko, and worried about hitting icy roads heading north into Idaho. From I-80 I cut north at Wells onto Hwy 93. The rain continued, but it never fell below freezing. As I entered the Twin Falls, Idaho area I left 93 for back roads to Hunt, the small area that the Minidoka Camp is located. The town of Jerome is referenced frequently as the setting of the camp, but Jerome proper is a distance away; perhaps back in the day it was the nearest bus station. The land is semi-arid, with pivot irrigation sprinklers dotting the land. Sugar beets are one of the key crops, back in the 40s as well as today.

I passed within miles of where Evel Knievel attempted his infamous motorcycle jump of the Snake River Canyon. Young people today likely won’t know who Evel Knievel was, but for my generation, he was the X in X Games. And he was from Butte, Montana, and anyone from my home state is like a shirt-tail relation that I claim.

At the Minidoka camp turn-off there’s an historical marker, and then it’s about six miles to the rebuilt guard tower and the foundation ruins of the original buildings, guard station & visitor waiting area. It was particularly eerie in that there is a scene in the book where Henry waits at the visitor’s building for his Japanese American friend. And here I was, standing at the lava rock foundation and fireplace ruins.

There’s a memorial to the JA (Japanese American) US soldiers and also walking paths around the old camp. The visitor center was closed, and what I didn’t realize is that the new visitor center grand opening was only 10 days after my visit.

It was a chilly, drizzly day. I made my pilgrimage, and had a couple hours yet to go. I had an AirBnB booked in Ketchum.

The drive north into the Big Wood River Valley began with the drizzle which dried up and the skies cleared. You might believe a person would be happy for clear skies but I am a skier, and I had hoped for a big snow dump. It didn’t happen. The Smokey range on the West, and the Sawtooths on the East of the valley were nothing like I imagined. For much of the drive there’s not a tree on the mountains! This, I came to learn, is high desert, and the mountains are barren, particularly the south and west facing slopes. I wondered what kind of ski area I was getting myself into!

Surprises: First, I thought I was going to Sun Valley Ski Resort, but while Sun Valley is on the map, and there is a Sun Valley Lodge, the actual ski mountains are Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain.

Secondly, the real town is Ketchum. Sun Valley is primarily the famous Sun Valley Lodge on one end of a shopping/retail walking mall, and the Challenger Inn (now known as Sun Valley Inn) that anchors the far end of the mall. Dollar Mountain is a small ski area serviced by four chairs and a couple moving carpets. It is a perfect beginner’s hill.

As I drove into Ketchum I noticed a lift rising out of the valley into the massive mountains to the west. I wondered what it was, as Sun Valley was still a mile or two away. As it turns out, this area is Bald Mountain, aka Baldy, the larger, more renown ski area that is all part of “Sun Valley”.

To get to my AirBnB there was another one lane bridge. What is it about me and one lane bridges and roads? The bridge crossed Warm Springs Creek, which, unbeknownst to me, was on the route to one of the Bald Mountain bases, Warm Springs Lodge. I was within 10 minutes to the base. My room was at the top of Kerrin’s home with windows on all four sides. Kerrin was having terrible back issues while I was visiting, so our time together to visit was limited. She suggested I visit the Community Library as they had information on Ernest Hemmingway.

I arrived on a Saturday, a bit early for check in so I dropped off a few bags and left to explore the area. I droved to the Warm Springs ski base to check out the parking and lay of the land. Then I headed to the Ketchum Cemetery to pay my respects to Ernest Hemmingway.

I have had a fascination with Hemmingway, and had been listening to his books: Old Man and the Sea, Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls. While in Montana, I had gotten a book at This House of Books about Hemmingway’s time near Cooke City, Montana—Ernest Hemmingway in the Yellowstone High Country by Christopher Warren. It was a fascinating documentation of his time writing, fishing, hunting on a ranch outside of Cooke City. And now here I was in Ketchum, where he had lived and died. Mariel Hemmingway, his granddaughter, still lives in Ketchum, and is active in the community.

Several of Hemmingway’s kin are buried near him, and if you Google Map “Ernest Hemmingway grave” the map will direct you to his site. It is only a few steps to his memorial where there were several coins on his large, flat, granite stone, and a mini-bar bottle of Jack Daniels. I left a California pine cone and one of my notecards, with the quote, “I now understand the power of solitude, the beauty of less is more.”

Hemmingway grave marker, Ketchum, Idaho

As I was driving around the town of Ketchum, I ran across Scott eVest, a company that produces these great travel vests with pockets galore. I have been wearing my eVest for at least 4 years, and hoped I might upgrade this trip. But alas, they do not sell out of their headquarters, even though the employee who let me in dug through the return boxes to see if there was anything that might fit.

At 4 pm, the bars began to open, and as I searched Trip Advisor on places to eat, the Pioneer popped up, located on the main drag of Ketchum. I sat at the bar and visited with the bartender, and at 5 the kitchen opened. I figured I might as well stay and eat—by the time I left the place was hopping with the Après Ski crowd. One of Hemmingway’s rifles donned the wall of the Pioneer—one of their claims to fame.

Skiing Baldy & Joining the Community Read

On Monday morning I arrived at the Warm Springs Lodge in their parking lot right next to the ski run. The parking lot is a poor man’s ski-in/ski-out.  My first chair ride up I sat with Paul and Brian, both men had been skiing Baldy forever. Brian was a local who lived two doors down from Mariel. They were full of local lore, and knew the mountain intimately. We got off the chair and I skied straight ahead to the big trail map. I didn’t see where Brian and Paul ended up. As I was trying to figure out the map, Paul came up and asked me if I wanted to take a warm-up with them. I joined them gladly.  We had taken the Challenger lift up to the Lookout Restaurant, a flat strange looking building. We skied down Upper College and Lower College to Lookout Express. We took Lookout Express chair back up and took a second run down Christmas Ridge, a blue run. We road the Christmas chair, and then parted ways. Their kindness in skiing with me and sharing their knowledge of the mountain started my tour of Baldy on such a positive note!

Bald Mountain can be viewed in three parts: I had come up from the Warm Springs base on the far north end of the resort—those runs face north, and are protected from the sun. From the Warm Springs base there are two chairs, Challenger and Greyhawk that service plenty of blue runs, and some black runs, too. There’s not a lot of green.

In the middle of the mountain is the River Run base that I had seen as I drove into town. There is a fine large lodge and separate retail store at the base and this is where the ski school and tours meet. The Roundhouse Gondola leaves from the River Run base up to a much-acclaimed restaurant, the Roundhouse Restaurant. There’s also a River Run chair that connects to the base of Lookout Express chair that goes to the top. This mid-section of the mountain has a preponderance of blues and blacks.

To the far south, accessed by a chair that runs across the top of the mountain ridge or a run from Roundhouse is Seattle Ridge, where the finest green training runs exist.

I was at Bald Mountain the Monday of President’s Day vacation. My first observation was that the level of ski ability was not as high as the resorts I had come from. My second observation was that the greens and blues at Baldy were more difficult than most I had experienced. This was a very challenging mountain.

The second day at Baldy I took the mountain tour with Alex. There were two of us and Alex in the group. These mountain tours are so informative, and so helpful in getting oriented to an area. I had heard so much about the Roundhouse, I decided to go in for lunch. At the bar, I ordered a Bloody Mary and half a charcuterie plate. At most restaurants the charcuterie is for two, and I have had several experiences where I asked to pare the plate down for one and was refused. This place downsized the plate, and it was perfect.

Four sided fireplace at the Roundhouse, Mt. Baldy Sun Valley

The Roundhouse was built in 1939 midway up Bald Mountain. It is known for a unique four-sided fireplace that is situated in the middle of the round. The fondue is their tour de force. While I figured I could ask for a meat and cheese plate to be pared down, somehow a fondue for one seems to shout, “I’M ALONE.” So I didn’t go there.

One thing I did miss while skiing Baldy were the warm cookies that are rumored to be offered up to guests at the Warm Springs lodge. Next time.

The Epic Pass provided two days of skiing at Baldy, so I spent my third day touring the area and writing. I stopped at the library where I was pleasantly surprised to find a JA exhibit showcased in their entry. And then, looking at their events listing, I was even more surprised to find that they were hosting a book discussion that evening. The book? Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet!!

I had time to kill, so I went to Sun Valley and strolled the mall and then went to the Sun Valley Lodge. I had heard a “can’t miss” was walking the halls of the lodge where photos of famous people spanned each corridor. It was great fun to see pictures of Hemmingway, Jackie Kennedy, Arnold Schwarzenegger (who has a run named after him), Clint Eastwood and other movie stars of the era.

There’s a fine museum in downtown Ketchum that happened to have both Hemmingway and Japanese American local history exhibits.

I went to the book discussion meeting that evening. It was led by students from Community High School, and they did a great job. We broke into smaller discussion groups and had a lively, insightful conversation. For most of the young people there, this was the first time they had heard of the JA internment, and the Minidoka camp was only 70 miles away! In my group was the only other JA woman Chiyo Parten, who had raised her kids in Ketchum.

Sun Valley Community Read lead by local high school kids.

At the end of the evening, Chiyo was sitting behind me with another JA man. I turned around and began chatting, and it turned out that the man was one who was featured in the JA exhibit in the library foyer! Rod Tatsuno carried the Olympic Torch on its way to Salt Lake City in 2002. He was chosen because of his involvement in skiing and his JA internment background. Rod was part of the Sun Valley Ski School and his son was an elite freestyle competitor. How fortuitous to meet these wonderful people!

Community Book Read–Olympic Torch is the baseball-looking-bat that’s over my shoulder

So many people I had been meeting had come to the valley as young people just embarking on their lives, hit the valley and stayed for life. Decisions made at forks in the road changed the course of their histories forever.

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