Sentence yourself to an hour or so in a onetime internment camp in the Catalina Mountains and you might come away with increased respect for those who bravely stand up to injustice.
The brave soul in this case was a Japanese American named Gordon Hirabayashi.
A senior at the University of Washington in 1942, Hirabayashi challenged the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He was convicted of violating a curfew imposed on Japanese Americans and sentenced to the Catalina Federal Honor Camp — a long-closed work camp that now stands in ruin a short way from the Catalina Highway.
Today, visitors can wander among the camp ruins and learn its history from a series of information panels.
In 1987, long after the wartime internment period, Hirabayashi’s case was overturned on the grounds it was based on racial prejudice and wartime hysteria.
Then, in 1999, the Coronado National Forest renamed the site in honor of Hirabayashi, who died about five years ago.
What you’ll see
The Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site, on the left side of the Catalina Highway between mile markers 7 and 8, includes a campground, trailheads, a restroom and scenic terrain in addition to the internment camp site.
At the camp site, a paved trail leads to the foot of ruins on a hillside and an oak-shaded area with the information panels describing the history of the site.
It’s important to watch your footing if you leave the paved trail to walk past stone walls and steps. Some walls, foundations and other artifacts are all that remain because most of the buildings were razed when the camp closed in the 1970s.
After consulting a map of the camp posted at the site, you might identify the locations of barracks, staff housing, terraces and steps, a ball field, and a concrete slab foundation of the mess hall and kitchen.
The site, at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, can be cool — sometimes cold — during the winter months, so consider taking a warm sweater or jacket if you plan to spend some time outside there.