Amache Concentration Camp—A home by any other name…

La Junta to Granada is only an hour and 15 minutes apart so I had hoped to make one tourist stop at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. To make my 10 am appointed time at Amache Museum I had to leave by 8:45, and knew Bent’s didn’t even open until 9 am. I just didn’t have enough time. Bent’s fell off the priority list to become a “someday” item.

The drive to Lamar and then Granada was uneventful although there were some interesting homesites along the road which I think followed the Santa Fe Trail. As I approached Granada from the West, I saw the sign marking the Amache Camp, but I wanted to see the museum first, figuring it would orient me to the camp that I was going to explore later.

Amache would be the sixth camp of the ten camps in the US. I had been to Gila River(where my parents and grandparents had been), Manzanar, Heart Mountain, Minnidoka, and Topaz. I have yet to see Tule Lake, California, Poston, Arizona, and Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas.

Like Topaz Museum in Delta, Utah, the Amache Museum amazed me. Originally a school project, the museum has treasures that found their way to the location through gifts and family donations. And while similar, every camp’s story has its own local flavor. In the museum there’s a directory of the incarcerees. One of my friends asked me to look up her mother and grandmother. I was able to find their names, the location of their barracks and a map of where they had lived. It was so touching.

I wandered around the museum alone—John had unlocked the door, but couldn’t join me. As I entered, there was a three-dimensional model of the camp and memorabilia placed to draw you into the space. At each of the camps one common thread is the high school and the “normalcy” of high school life in prison. There were photos of football teams, a school annual, letter jackets and diplomas. Further in there was a bank of computer monitors, I assume for research, though none were turned on. I made a donation to the cannister at the door, and then left to go to the site itself.

I must have driven by this location at least three times prior to this trip, never knowing the camp existed. When I worked for Cargill, back in the 70s, I had Colorado as my salt sales territory. I know I drove through this area at least twice. On my first Solo Ski Sojourn I drove through Lamar before turning north. And this time, I intentionally came to see the site. If that’s what it takes for someone as immersed in Japanese American History as I to see the place, you know it’s got to be remote and unknown.

The east/west road, Hwy 385 is the old Santa Fe Trail. I drove east out of town to the site turnoff. It’s south of the highway. The kids at the museum had put together an audio driving tour but even before that there’s a nice stopping point with flags and memorial placards. Then, as you drive the blocks of the camp, there are numbered signs that correspond to the driving tour. The tour can be downloaded from Amache.org, and it’s highly recommended to download it as the internet is sketchy. There are 16 audio files, and it ranges from the koi (fish) ponds, to a concrete block signed by internees, to the schools and admin buildings to what I found especially interesting, the cemetery. I haven’t been able to find cemeteries at all the camps that I’ve visited even though people died at every one of them. The guard towers are unique here, too. They are octagonal, whereas other camp towers are square. They served the same purpose—armed guards to keep the people behind the barbed wire.

The windstorm that had been brewing since yesterday began to build. The day began a bit breezy, but by the time I was ready to leave, around 2 pm, it was hot, dry, and the dust was biting into the corners of my eyes. I had to be careful to hold my door when I opened it so it wouldn’t be caught by the wind. It seemed a fitting ending to my tour of the sagebrush and weed infested grounds. Every story about the camps had something about the dust seeping through the cracks of the barracks and settling on beds and tables.

When I left town, I was going with the wind, but I turned north and had the cross wind coming from the west. I was taking the shortest route from Granada, Colorado to Kearney, Nebraska. Across the flatland of Kansas the dust was blowing so badly that I could barely see the semi-truck two ahead of me. I was afraid my hood was going to blow up into my face when I passed an on-coming car or truck. By the time I got to McCook, NE, I was tuckered out by fighting the wind. I found a room and called it a day. And a big day it had been.

I figured I had missed the Sand Hill Crane migration, a big event that runs north and south through Kearney, but was I wrong! The fields were smothered with cranes. I was so surprised. I stopped at the Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center off I-80 and S Alda Road to take a break, learn more about the migration and look for souvenirs. I asked them whether the migration was later this year than others, and they said they normally are open from March 1-March 30, and this year was no different. I thought about why there would be so many cranes in the field this year, and it dawned on me that they might be grounded by high winds like airplanes can be. It was still windy.

I had hoped to visit my best friend Ruth south of Sioux Falls, but she was grandmothering her little granddaughter. I pointed the Little Blue Truck northeast to Minneapolis. I was this close, I figured I might as well tough it out. That day I drove 656 miles, just shy of ten hours. I had to dig for my garage door opener, almost forgetting where I had put it three months prior.

I unloaded just the bare minimum that night, punched in my door code, and dropped my bags just inside the door.

It was cold back in Minnesota and I thought for an instant I should turn around and go back to New Mexico, but fatigue caught up with me. I threw on my jammies, tossed the decorative pillows off my bed (one that says, “Eat, Sleep, Ski”) and fell into a deep, long sleep.

Solo Ski Sojourn 3: check.

Home again.

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