Kakurega In The Mojave Desert


I remember the first time I saw it, back in the 1970’s I was driving north up California Highway 395 between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence.  On the west side of the road were the relics of something that seemed important in the past. Driving past these ruins to go to some other destination, we never stopped to explore.  Many times when I travel today and I see something interesting I will email myself so I can research the spot when I get home but in the days before the internet you could not do this.  As I passed this spot several times I often wondered what this place was and kicked myself for not stopping to explore. I had visions of it being a part of the old west, a mining camp, a ranch or a movie set.  My imagination bubble burst and I was horrified years later when I found out that it was a Japanese Internment Camp from WWII.  I finally visited this place many years later, after the National Park system had taken it over and I was truly shocked to walk the site, I never knew or had seen so closely this sad part of American History.

This place was called Manzanar and today it is called Manzanar National Historic Site.  It is run and is currently being restored by the National Park Service.  This blog post is not about Manzanar but it is about a place related to it that was much quieter, so quiet and so hidden you might call it a hideout.  It would not have existed if it were not for the tragedy of Manzanar and other Internment camps.

Around the same time that I had driven by Manzanar, I had heard about a Japanese Internment Camp in the San Bernardino Mountains in the transition zone of the Mojave Desert and the mountains, somewhere between Yucca Valley and Big Bear. This had become a local legend and I was originally told that it was similar to Manzanar but at a much smaller scale.  As I got older I had doubts of the validity of this story but still wondered what this smaller site was.  Sometimes legends that are false have strings of truth within them and I finally discovered accurate information about this sad place and I will now explain.

What I discovered was that it was NOT an Internment Camp at all, it was an escape from being interned. When Japanese Americans were being rounded up to be interned during World War II a small group of Japanese founded and constructed this hideout in the mountains in Southern California. Not much has been written on this and not much is known. I believe that this place has mostly been under reported out of respect for the site and fear that as more people discover it, its demise would be expedited.  Many explorers, off-roaders and visitors would look and speak very little of its location but today it seems there is a new interest in this place and new books and internet sites reference its location. I will not reveal its exact location but I will say that this is a piece of history that should be preserved before it is too late. Given the latest publicity, with the reach of DesertUSA we might find people that know the history, readers might have friends or relatives that know information and they might know people who were here and any stories about it.

I was provided the accompanying pictures by a local gentleman that is passionate about this place and wants to preserve it.  His name is Mr. Phillip Brown, his detailed pictures that I re-posted along with this blog might serve as an introduction to the subject.  If you want to dig deeper please visit his site and read his account and learn more details.  I only touched the surface of this story, I hope it serves as a reminder of how things were and I hope it helps to raise awareness and moves visitors to preserve the site and possibly help to reveal any new information.

To learn more you can visit his website at:   https://www.dixiemine.com

As far as the title of this blog, I used the word Kakurega.  I do not speak Japanese but my research indicates the meaning to be “Hideout”, this word sounds much more idyllic than the real life horror that these folks experienced at that time.

Take It Easy – Mojave


33 thoughts on “Kakurega In The Mojave Desert”

  1. Michael J. Naquin

    There has been a rumor a foot for several years. That the inter. was a scam to get thier land. The war was used to cover this up.

  2. Bill Merrow - from NH

    Was checking the area from Needles to Barsto on the BNSF and ACRR, the AC having a junction at Cadiz and stumbled on to your site. Sad what we did to these people ! But still very interesting bit of history.

    Mojave, if Joan Merrow would like to contact me you can give her my email, I’d kida like to know where she fits in in our ancestry.

  3. What a sad story Joe. Any internment is wrong and your story shows us the world we once lived. There is obviously a deep political debate here with many opinions but I think we can all agree though not equal both situations were wrong. 🙁

  4. Thank You, yes but it has been published recently by others thus its rapid degradation 🙁

  5. Jim, it is legendary around here, would love information by someone that knows someone that hid out there to verify its history. Thanks for your response 🙂

  6. As a teen many years ago I went, as noted in the blog I used the pictures of a researcher of the site so I tried not to be arrogant or visit just to write the blog knowing the sensitivity of the area. Thanks for your response. 🙂

  7. Interesting article. Stopped at Manzanar on the way o Reno. Looked around and watched the old movie about how the kids celebrated their HS graduation and their Prom dance.
    I know that most of the people in Manzanar were US citizens and just rounded up.I do believe it was for their own protection.
    I was rounded up, when I was a kid, with my mother and 2 sisters,by the Japs
    I was in a Jap concentration camp.No dances. Just hunger and many deaths.Was there until the liberation.
    The Manzanar internees had it pretty good. I did not. Still have the memories and they will not go away.
    Tell me again that I should feel sorry for the Manzanar internees.

  8. Thank you for this article and the pictures.
    I have in-laws ( my grandfathers second marriage ) that are Japanese. My uncle is near or 80 . Lives in Hawaii. His mom, my grandmother, was a nurse Veterans Hospital, Hawaii. My Honorable Uncle does not speak of those days.
    The times hidden must have been so hard . . . And surely hunger was a constant.
    Just thought I’d say.

  9. What a neat story. The desert is a place where such persons would have been left alone, even if the authorities knew about them. Many fathers would choose freedom rather than seeing their children grow up in a crowded prison. I would love to know who this man was, what he believed in, and what happened to the family.
    The internment of US citizens without charges or trial is a sad chapter in our history.

  10. David Takashima

    The outhouse looks like the one that we had at my Ji-chan(grand father’s) home in San Diego County. If Japanese American’s living at site –they probably lived in the Riverside County/Imperial County area. There were Japanese American famers in those areas. I don’t know if you have contacted the local Japanese American Citizen’s League or the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo(in LA).

    This is an interesting article. I haven’t heard about this story. My family were farmers living in Otay Valley(now part of Chula Vista in San Diego County.

    Thanks for sharing

  11. Excellent blog about a very sad topic. I’ve visited a few former camps. Manzanar, and Heart Mountain, outside Cody WY have two of the best museums about camp life. A sad, undeveloped site in Topaz, UT still reveals some details of their attempts to adapt to this difficult life: a cold cream jar in the dirt; the remnants of a garden and fish pond. From what I’ve read, the principal of stoic acceptance, without complaint, was a common cultural theme among the Japanese descended internees (they were all Amerixan citizens). This makes it even sadder for me to contemplate.

    I suspect hideouts like this one were generally known of, and tolerated, by the relocation authority or local towns Such residents essentially interned themselves.

  12. It seems if something isn’t done very soon, it will never recover. What a sad life these Americans had to live.

  13. SO it’s OK for you to go up there, but not anyone else? That’s pretty damned arrogant.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top