More background info: For more historical background about these internment camps in general please refer to this separate chapter:
Construction of the camp at Heart Mountain (so named after a nearby geological formation) began in July 1942 and the first trains with internees arrived in August. The layout of the camp was somewhat different from most of the others in that it had 20 accommodation blocks with 24 barracks each (normally it was 12) and two mess halls (normally just one), communal latrines, bathrooms and laundry facilities. The camp also had the usual additions of schools, shops, workshops, fire stations, a hospital and so on. In total there were more than 500 buildings spread over an area of roughly one square mile (2.6 square kilometres). The complex was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and nine guard watchtowers manned by armed military police.
At its peak the camp population came close to 11,000, making Heart Mountain one of the largest such camps (the very largest was Tule Lake
). The size of its population meant it was in fact the third largest “city” in all of Wyoming at the time! In total, around 14,000 people are believed to have passed through the camp over the three years and four months of its operation between August 1942 and November 1945.
Work for inmates was provided mostly in agriculture and the camp was made self-sufficient that way. Other work included the construction of an irrigation canal that’s still there and thus constitutes another legacy of Heart Mountain.
Heart Mountain was also a place of resistance. A “Fair Play Committee” was formed in the camp by older Japanese American leaders as the controversial “loyalty questionnaires” (see the general chapter
) began to arrive in 1943 and the US military started drafting eligible men from the camps. The committee advised the affected internees to declare loyalty but to resist the draft unless their civil rights were restored. That way the resistance hoped to highlight the unconstitutionality of the “relocation” programme as such. In the end 85 draft resisters at Heart Mountain were prosecuted for draft evasion and sent to federal prisons for between three and five years, but were pardoned in 1947. Their legacy within the Japanese American community is controversial, though. It seems that people prefer to remember those who did serve in the military and distinguished themselves in that role.
Once the internees were permitted to leave the camp, some began moving back to the West coast but by mid-1945 still some 7000 remained at Heart Mountain as they had nowhere to go back to (see, again, the general chapter
). At the same time, however, they were not permitted to stay in Wyoming. So in November 1945 the last train of Heart Mountain inmates left.
After that the camp was largely dismantled and land and buildings sold on to farmers and war veterans settling nearby – many of these buildings can still be found serving as barns or community centres and whatnot all over the county that Heart Mountain is in. Only some parts of the hospital, a root cellar, a shed and a barrack remain still in place at the site. Still, that’s more than at any of the other such former camps.
A memorial stone was erected in 1977 and more followed over the years. In the mid-1990s a “Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation” was established with the aim of preserving the site and working for the commemoration of the forced “relocation” of Japanese Americans in WWII
Like other camps, Heart Mountain was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2007, and in 2011 a new Heart Mountain Interpretive Center was opened by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.
What there is to see: Little of the original camp remains, most of its former area has become farmland. However, on a slope to the north-west of the Interpretive Center (see below) the most prominent landmark of the Heart Mountain camp can be found: the former hospital with its tall brick chimney stack. This is precariously bent and leaning at the top, but apparently preservation work is coming. The building next to the chimney remains out of bounds.
South-west of the chimney stack two original buildings survive, but as far as I can tell their interiors are not normally accessible. Further south is a cluster of plaques and monuments including an “Honor Roll” Memorial for those Japanese Americans who served in the US military.
There’s also a lonely shed, a reconstructed guard watchtower, located halfway between the Interpretive Center and the hillside with the hospital, and a more recently relocated living barrack was added right next to the Center.
The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center is the core of the whole site. It is larger and the exhibition inside richer than at most other such visitor centres at some of the other “relocation centers”. It takes the form of three camp-barracks-like buildings interconnected at 90 degrees by a modern structure.
Inside, displays include a scale model of the camp surrounded by three larger-scale wooden watchtower recreations. There are reconstructions of camp barrack interiors furnished in a way to provide a good impression of the cramped living conditions of the internees. Moreover there are plenty of original artefacts, such as suitcases, clothing, toys or works of art made by inmates, as well as a wealth of photos and documents. Text panels provide background information. In one corner there’s a large blow-up black-and-white photo of the camp blocks with a symbolic barbed-wire fence in front from which visitors can hang little notes.
In addition to the permanent main exhibition the Center also runs temporary exhibitions of various more or less related topics. For example, in 2021 it opened a temporary exhibition entitled “History Often Rhymes” about parallels between the racism that underlay the “relocation” programme in WWII and the racist prejudices and discrimination that surfaced against Asian Americans in the wake of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic! It features quotes from former president Donald Trump’s ways of referring to Covid as the “China flu” in public speeches. But it went beyond just words, Chinese restaurants, for instance became targets for graffiti sprayers who marked them “coronavirus” or “Covid-19”. There have even been physical attacks on Asian Americans. The team at the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation do seem to be very committed! The also run a very informative (if somewhat complicatedly structured) website (heartmountain.org).
All in all
, Heart Mountain, together with Manzanar
, has to be regarded as the best site commodifying a former Japanese American Relocation Center
for visitors. The Interpretive Center is the main reason for this, but the various remains of the camp structures additionally enhance the aspect of place authenticity that is so important in dark tourism in particular.
in northern Wyoming, USA
, about 13 miles (21 km) north-east of the regional town of Cody of “Buffalo Bill” fame.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: more easily accessible than other “relocation centers”, but a car is required; the Interpretive Center charges a mid-price admission fee.
Details: To get to the site you need to have your own vehicle. The Interpretive Center lies just off Highway 14A between Cody and Powell. From the east it’s about a two and a half hour drive to the nearest Interstate (I-90), from the north it’s slightly less. Coming from Yellowstone to the west, Highway 14 takes you straight from the National Park to Cody, and from there proceed on Highway 14A.
If you don’t want to drive all the way you can also get flights from Denver, Colorado, to Cody’s Yellowstone Regional Airport and get a rental car from there.
The open-air parts are freely accessible. You can either walk from the large car park at the Interpretive Center or drive up the hill and park at the southernmost of the three former hospital buildings or at the cluster of monuments to the south.
The Interpretive Center has the following opening times: daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in summer (between mid-May and early October), the rest of the year the Interpretive Center is open only Wednesdays to Saturdays, but visits outside these times are possible by appointment.
Admission: 9 USD (seniors/students 7 USD, under-12s free)
If you want to stay overnight in the area, the nearby town of Cody offers plenty of accommodation options and also sports a range of eateries.
Time required: one and a half to three hours, depending on in how much depth you want to view the exhibits and all the outdoor elements.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The nearest other dark site listed on this website is Yellowstone National Park
, the eastern entrance of which is within fairly easy driving distance from Heart Mountain and Cody (about an hour’s drive away).
About twice the distance away further north-west is Berkeley Pit
in Butte, Montana.
Further away to the east, but still within a day’s driving distance is the Minuteman Site
in South Dakota.
See also under USA
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Other than Yellowstone National Park there are plenty of rock-climbing and rafting options in the area for those into such activities.
The nearby town of Cody, named after William “Buffalo Bill” Cody who played a role in the founding of the town, features various tourist commodifications
of the Buffalo Bill legacy, including a whole museum about him.