I’ve had good excuses to go to Yellowstone Park and environs at least once every year since 1995. That was the year I began researching and writing Yellowstone Treasures. I often try to do something new to me as well as catching my favorite geysers, hot springs, terraces and scenes (like Lower Falls and the Canyon of the Yellowstone River from Artist Point) that never fail to give me goose bumps.
People have recommended the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center to me since it opened in 2011, but this was the first time I got to visit [June 2013]. I made it this summer’s new attraction.
The exterior of the center itself is built to echo the construction of the barracks that housed 14,000 people between winter 1942, when a government order displaced all West Coast Japanese from their homes, and the end of that relocation in November 1945.
A movie about the camp explains to visitors why the camp was built and how the internees made the best of their confinement there. You can see mementos and sample family quarters. A knowledgeable docent is available to answer questions as you wander about the center’s displays.
Most impressive to me, in addition to how well these unfortunate people coped with their unreasonable confinement, were two facts. First, about 600 men from Heart Mountain enlisted or were drafted into the armed forces during the war, including the highly decorated 442nd Combat Team. Then, among the interned Japanese were people who understood how to use the barren land around them. They repaired and lined the irrigation ditch from the nearby Buffalo Bill Reservoir, turned it onto fertile fields, and eventually grew 45 different crops—enough to feed the camp, preserve some for winter use, and even send food to other internment camps.
Updated January 26, 2021. See the second part of this trip report with photos: https://www.yellowstonetreasures.com/2013/07/15/trip-report-back-to-the-park-from-heart-mountain/.