It’s a national historic site, but hardly anybody visits the Idaho internment camp where thousands of Japanese Americans were incarcerated in WW II

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tags: Idaho, WW II, internment camp, Minidoka



It’s a winding drive through Idaho fields of corn, grain, sugar beets and potatoes. Out into the middle of a vast plain of irrigated fertility. But just 74 years ago, it was a spreading plain of sagebrush squatting beside a large irrigation canal carrying Snake River water to farms further west. It was a desolate, nearly empty place.

A perfect place for a prison camp.

Of course it wasn’t called a prison camp. No, couldn’t call it that. Internment sounded better, so it was called Minidoka Japanese Internment Camp. Just a few days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, all “enemy aliens” in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada were ordered to surrender all “contraband” including short-wave radios, cameras, binoculars, and any weapons they might have….

Today, Minidoka is a National Historic Site. Aside from a few battered and weathered buildings and a scattering of interpretive signs and a lonely reconstruction of a guard tower, there is nothing at Minidoka. No visitor center. I didn’t find any trail guides even though there are markers beside the buildings that indicated one might exist. Headquarters and the visitor center are miles away in Hagerman, Idaho at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument.

Minidoka became the 385th unit of the National Park System in 2001. Yet today, it sits lonely in a place few of us have heard of and even fewer might come to visit. I shared the place with one man from Oregon. At the VC in Hagerman, I heard a ranger lament that Minidoka is a place forgotten. “Lots of talk, but only talk and nothing happens.”




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