The USS Iowa

The USS Iowa

If you like history and you love battleships this is the tour for you. Even if you don’t like either of those things, this is still the tour for you.  Why?, because it is reasonably priced and super interesting.

Just admiring the ship from the shore, you can tell that before you is the epitome of a battleship with its impressive array of guns perched high on the deck.  You will stand in astonishment at the cannons, high speed machine guns, and rocket launchers.

The USS Iowa is moored at the LA Waterfront area in one of the busiest ports in Southern California, Port of Los Angeles.  Nearby, the booming business of commerce can be seen with its cargo ships and cranes, while the USS Iowa sits gallantly alone.  This distinct battle ship is from a time long ago and has seen the battles of World War II, The Cold War, as well as the Korean War.

Across the bay, LA’s busy port of commerce can be seen.

Commissioned in 1943, it has hosted U.S. presidents while also earning 11 battle stars before it was finally decommissioned and sent to Suisan Bay, California.  Suisan Bay was once known as the home of the mothball fleet, where all old battleships go to rest.

Luckily it was saved from that graveyard and sent off to get a refurbishment at the nearby Port of Richmond, California. Once it was freshly painted, it made its voyage to Los Angeles in 2012 and has remained there ever since.

I have driven by it many times but finally made the decision to stop to take the tour and I am glad I did.

The Tour
There are daily tours for fewer than twenty dollars that allow you to wonder around guideless while following easy instructions on where to go.  You can stay on deck as long as you want or go below to visit the inner workings of the ship.

We chose to stroll around the deck first as the huge and mighty guns were something we just had to see.

The barrels of the enormous 16”/50 calibers were enough to make you stand in awe. Bygone footage of the huge guns being fired could be seen in videos placed about on TV screens.

You could only imagine the how loud they must have been when they were fired.  My brother said that in Vietnam, battleships like this shot their huge caliber guns and the ammo would soar above his smaller destroyer.  Just from that alone, he said it would violently shake his whole ship

Besides the TV’s, there was written information provided on all of the other missile launchers and machine guns scattered about the ship.

As we stood looking at the machine guns, a passerby gave us some information on how it could shoot off 1,000 rounds in one minute, wow… that is quite impressive.

Everywhere you looked there was a gun, cannon, or rocket launcher and in every size imaginable. Yes, this was truly an impressive battle ship.

The huge chains for the anchors

More Strolling around the ship.
The self guided tour is relaxing and allows you to go where you want while staying on the well marked paths.

Actually, I don’t know if relaxing is the word to use as there is quite a bit of climbing ladders and stairways. Some are pretty steep which is no problem going up, it is coming down that is a tad more difficult.   I chose to climb down facing in, like you would a normal ladder. Others, I noticed descended facing out.

Regardless, of your body position, it was pretty cool and gave you the experience of what it might have been like.  I could picture back in the day an alarm going off with the crew moving frantically up and down these steps on their way to their stations.

In fact, another snippet of information my brother told me was that most of the sailors on his ship could fly down the ladders at a super high speed.  He said most never hit the steps and skid down with their feet as if on a kids playground slide.

As I’m descending one of the ladders, carefully making sure each foot hits the step, I giggled on how slow I was.  If they depended on someone like me, the ship would be doomed!

Please note that ship is not wheelchair accessible for the whole tour.  I believe you can go on deck but I would check first.   There is uneven decking, low doorways,  and of course steep stairs.

Row after row of doors. Could you imagine being in a hurry?

Below Deck
Below deck, we visited the living spaces where cots were stacked three high to accommodate the thousands if men on the ship.  Sleeping in small cramped spaces, I could only imagine what it was like.    Luckily, each bed had a tie down to keep them from falling out during rough seas.

On one of the TV screens a video showed an older Naval office telling about how these new ships have it easy as his older vessel had cots stacked six high.  He felt these new whippersnappers had it easy.   Can you imagine being on the top bunk of six high?

Some of the officers received their own private rooms with the size dependent on their rank. None were as impressive as the captains, where he had his own mattress bed, bathroom,  shower, and a large sitting area.   All were on display for you to view.

Captains sitting area andpart of bedroom.

We saw the mess hall where a recording made sounds of dishes clanking as if it was in the middle of lunch service. We visited the laundry area, the radio

On board they also have a museum and a gift shop as well as a few interactive exhibits.

It is just a super interesting tour that takes about two hours, maybe three if you descend the ladders as slow as I did.

The videos along the way add interesting facts making this educational as well.

The USS Iowa is truly an impressive ship and well worth the money for the tour.

Bring your imagination, comfortable shoes, and take back some history.

Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell


The Queen Mary

The Queen Mary

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend was quickly approaching and we had no plans in mind for the four days off from work.

The fires in central California were keeping us from planning ahead because they were in the areas we wanted to visit.  Then as time drew closer, the weather forecast called for pouring down rain throughout Southern California.   This was good for the fires, not so great for vacation plans.

What to do?  What to do?  Because of the rain, it was decided that an indoor venue would be best.  Where could we go that was interesting and we could do things inside?

An indoor tour of the Queen Mary sounded like a good plan for at least one day, so we perused the internet for information.  The next thing I know, a room was booked for a two night stay in one of the staterooms of this historical ocean liner.

Before I talk about how our stay went, it is important to know the history behind this amazing ship.

The History:
The RMS Queen Mary is a retired British passenger liner that now has its home docked in Long Beach harbor.

Built by Cunard Line, this impressive vessel started its maiden voyage on May 27,, 1936, from Southhampton, England.

It was glamorous at its time with five dining areas, lounges, two cocktail bars, swimming pools, a grand ballroom, a squash court, and a doctor’s office.

It had class and style and even as you walk its floors today, you can tell that this interior was once the epitome of elegance.

While watching one of the 4D films in the theater about its history, we were amazed that at one time it was actually used in war time to ferry soldiers from port to port.  Photos in the movie show over 16,000 men aboard with a good part of them lounging on the deck.

There was actual footage of the inaugural voyage and christening, then subsequently the celebrated launching.    This massive bucket of metal amazingly slipped into the water without any trouble and was soon on its way to many trans-Atlantic voyages.  On screen as it splashed into the waterway, the seat ahead of us squirted us with water, all a part of the 4D experience.

After hundreds of voyages, the Queen Mary ended her illustrious career by making her final journey to the port at Long Beach, California.  In 1967 she officially became a hotel and a tourist attraction.

Looking at the ship from the other side of the harbor

 The Quirkiness of the Queen Mary:
To access the ship, you walk over a gangway to the check-in desk. Your first sight is an old piano next to a lounge featuring a couple of large port holes. There you can look out over the Long Beach harbor.

We were told that our room had no portholes and was situated in the inner part of the boat. We knew from seeing the staterooms online that this would be a very small space.  We also were told that we could pay a nominal fee to get portholes but there would be no heat.   It was a cold weekend and picturing me freezing while trying to sleep, didn’t hold up much appeal.  So warm it would be.  I left the negotiations to look out the large portholes onto the harbor and resigned myself that I will be spending a few days in a little cubby hole.

As I walked down the hallways there were small sub halls leading to a room on one side and one on the other. In some cases there were four doors in one section.  I thought, “Oh, this is going to be small.”

When we reached our room, there was only one door,  so this looked promising.  Sure enough it opened into a long hall that led in to a space with two single beds and surprise, surprise, there were portholes!


They were actually very large portholes and there were two of them!!  The accommodations were pretty spacious and the bathroom was a normal size, I was very, very happy.

The lady at the desk must have given us an upgrade as she saw we were worried about the heat.  As it turned out, this room had plenty of heat and there begins the quirkiness part of staying on the Queen Mary.

There were two open ‘spout’ like apparatuses on the wall where one side said colder and the other warmer. We fiddled with them until we saw the actual thermostat on the wall.  Those must have been just for show although we never knew for sure.

There were also faucet handles near the shower that said hot salt, hot fresh, cold salt, or cold fresh.  We knew these didn’t work but they gave us pause to wonder why anyone would want salt water for a shower, especially cold.    Oh, well that’s what you get on a ship built in the 1930’s.

The toilet flusher was a handle that you pushed in, unlike anything I have ever seen, but it DID work.

The funniest part was the bathtub.  The shape of it made it very hard to balance yourself while taking a shower.   It wasn’t flat and was angled like a really deep scoop so you were very unstable standing straight up facing the shower head.   Luckily there was a hand rail to hold on to which I used the whole duration of the shower.   I thought, if I am having a hard time and the ship isn’t moving, how did they shower during rough seas?  Maybe baths were the order of the day back then?

I laughed the whole time I was in there because I was literally holding on for dear life.  This was a funny experience making me wonder what it was like actually taking a trip across the ocean back in those days.

The stateroom had two small twin beds that weren’t comfortable nor uncomfortable.  Luckily, they catered to us in the year 2019, as the TV was a sizeable flat screen.

Another funny thing about the interior and is something they do warn you about.  It is how thin the walls are in the passenger areas.    I heard someone talking and laughing, so I thought maybe a walkway was just outside of the portholes.   When I looked out, it was just the side of the boat, nowhere for anyone to walk.  It turned out to be the people in the next room that you could hear almost as plain as day.   Although laughter and indiscernible conversations went on just feet away, we were happy they stopped around 11:00pm.

Overall the stateroom is exactly what you would expect, with wood panels, décor, and ambiance of that era.

You have to embrace the history and go with the flow.   Imagine what it was like back then, when they were sailing across the Atlantic Ocean.   This hotel is unlike any you having ever stayed; take it for what it is.

One final note, in winter the ship is cold.  In certain parts and in particular where they leave the doors open, it can be downright chilly. So bring plenty of warm wear.

Continue reading “The Queen Mary”

Highway 395 Part Three of Three

Highway 395, Part Three

For the last part of our excursion down Highway 395, we visit a ghost town, walk on ancient lava, explore the history of Owens Valley, and one last stop at a small lake.

Owens Valley
Continuing on our way south, we made a brief stop at the vista point for Owens Valley along Highway 395.  I was intrigued by this beautiful valley which spanned as far as you could see with its green fields and the spectacular mountains in the back ground.  It looked like a wide open place where you could ride your horse for miles, or spin around singing, “The hills are alive” just like in the movie Sound of Music.

I took a photo and made a point to research it later.  That was when I realized that things were not as they seem in Owens Valley. History has a harsh story for this peaceful little area.

Evidently, there was, and still is an Owens Lake.  In the beginning of 1913, the Owens River was diverted to bring water to the city of Los Angeles. By the mid 1920’s Owens Lake was completely dry and of course to much dismay of the local residents. To make matters worse, the dry bed produced large amounts of dust.  The dust contained carcinogens and the lake bed soon became a huge polluter. The pollution levels became 25 times the amount that is acceptable under clean-air standards.  Owens Lake soon developed into the largest source of dust pollution in the United States.

Soon, multiple legal battles ensued and eventually Los Angeles had to establish a dust mitigation project. Over a billion dollars was spent to keep the dust down in the dry lake by pouring gravel and in parts, watering it, or filling it with water. But it is worth it as the winds are strong in this area and can carry particles to many other cities that are close by.

Today, there is hope for Owens Lake as the restoration project is slowly bringing life back and birds are flocking to this once desolate lake area.

As I think back to that serene little valley, I am sure the residents were not happy with losing their lake as well as the dry bed becoming polluted.  I hope things are better for them all.

Diaz Lake
Although we were in the heat of the mid day, we still wanted to fish one last time. We found a small lake on the map and decided to stop by.

The temperatures were in the nineties so finding shade was a must. That proved a little hard as there weren’t that many trees around the water.  Gone were the pine trees and the mountains, as Diaz Lake looked like something in the desert.  Surrounded by a RV park, the place was pretty deserted so we slipped into a parking space and tried our luck for about forty five minutes.

Just like in the Sierras, no fish were to be had, it was our last chance and once again we came up empty.  Even though this little lake isn’t as picturesque as the mountain lakes, it was still nice sitting on its banks enjoying the day. It looked like a great place to camp with your family.

Fossil Falls
I read a brief snippet of Fossil Falls and on the map we saw that it wasn’t far from Highway 395, so we added it to our excursion list.  I read a two paragraph article about the falls and it said,  “don’t expect any fossils or waterfalls.”   They were sort of right.

We drove just a few minutes from the highway and came to a parking lot that didn’t require any payment.   In fact everywhere we went on the 395 with the exception of one place, no fee was ever required.

As we stepped out of the car, the sun was beating down on us with ninety-five degree mid day temperatures.   Adding to the heat, the landscape looked  like something out of this world, so it wasn’t  hard to imagine we were on Mercury or one of those other hot planets  .

Dating back over 150,000 years ago, volcanic eruptions caused the lava to flow along the Owens River and through the valley.

Fossil Falls is a lava flow that was sculpted by rushing water in the ice ages. So it is kind of a fossil in itself.

If you hike in far enough you will see the portion designated as “The falls”.  The flat area turns into a small valley or chasm and you can see where this hot molten rock once  became a lava waterfall.

It was too hot for me so I snapped a few photos and headed back to the air conditioned car. I saw a small a campground in the distance and wondered what they could possible do out here.

I guess it is a great place for hiking, rock climbing and of course night sky viewing that I am sure is incredible.

For one of our small excursions during our trip down Highway 395, this was interesting and I am glad we stopped.

Continue reading “Highway 395 Part Three of Three”

Highway 395 Part Two

Highway 395 Part Two of Three Parts

Continuing on in Part two, we explore more of Highway 395 when we visit, Bishop, Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery, and the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Like Lee Vining, most of Bishop is on the 395 Highway.  Shops, restaurants, other various businesses are right there as you drive by.    In all of the stories I have read about Bishop, people raved about their restaurants and their delicious bakeries. If I was hungry I would have definitely stopped for a bite, but this time it was for gas  only.

Bishop is one of the larger towns on this lonely stretch of the 395 and sits at an elevation of 4,150 feet.  Although the population is just under 4,000, in town and around Bishop there is a lot to do.  It is a popular area for hiking with trails galore as well as areas for rock climbing.  Other attractions include,  Keough’s hot springs,  a railroad museum, festivals, plus plenty of off-roading.

Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery
After four days of only catching one fish, we read about the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery and decided if we can’t catch em’, let’s go see em’!

Near the town of Independence, the hatchery is once again not far off from the highway.  We drove up to an empty parking lot and saw only two other people that were heading for their car. That should have been our first clue as we found out that the hatchery was closed.

Even on this extremely hot day, we still got out to explore a little.  There is a super tall European looking building right at the entrance and close by is a small pond with quiet seating areas along its edges.

We didn’t see any fish in the pond and since we couldn’t get in to the building, we don’t know where the fish are kept.

On research later, that building was actually built in 1916 and features hand-laid stones all around its perimeter.

Although we didn’t get to see this place in full, they do offer tours, fish feedings, a gift shop, displays, and restrooms.  If you want to learn more or find out when they are open, visit:

In its prime, the hatchery produced over two million fish per year but just like our luck with fishing, we didn’t see any…maybe next time.

It was too bad we went on a day that they were closed but it was time to move on. Speaking of history, our next stop would be the Manazar National Historical Site. It will be a journey back to a dark place in our history.

Manzanar National Historic Site
On an earlier Staycation post, I wrote about the Japanese Fishing Village in Terminal Island, San Pedro. It was a story about Japanese residents who were displaced and sent to Internment camps after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

While driving south on Highway 395, we were surprised to see that there was a former  internment camp, at the Manzanar National Historic Site.

One of the old guard towers stands today

The site is about 45 miles south of Bishop and has a huge visitor center with displays, exhibits, facts, and movies about the camp. Quite frankly you can spend a lot of time here as there was a lot to see and learn about in the center alone.

As it turns out the residents of that fishing village that I wrote about, came here along with 10,000 other Japanese U.S citizens.   Soon after that fateful day at Pearl Harbor, they were thought to be spies or involved with Japan on the attack.  Anti-Japanese sentiment rapidly surrounded the country.  Soon, Executive Order 9066 was enacted which sent them all to these military type camps.

With only a few days notice, they had to sell their possessions before they were trucked to various isolated areas.   There were ten internment camps in the U.S. and for some of the west coasters; Manzanar was created for them in the remote area of Owens Valley, California.

As the day wore on and the weather got progressively hotter, I was saddened on how they had to live here in such contrasting conditions. Summer temperatures were in the 100’s and in winter it could drop below zero.  On this October day it was scorching hot.  As I looked over the baseball field or the  basket ball court,  I couldn’t imagine doing anything but sitting in an air conditioned room…but they didn’t have that luxury.

After we spent time in the visitor center, they allowed you to drive around for a 3.2 mile self guided tour.   You could also go by foot but we vetoed that and drove to every exhibit, only because of the heat,  and a little bit of  laziness.

Just a stone’s throw away from the visitor center sits two reconstructed barracks and a mess hall with exhibits.  Hung on the walls were fact sheets about life in the camp.

The barracks and sleeping quarters

The inside of mess hall

An old photo of the lines waiting to get into the mess hall

The housing units encompassed about 500 acres and were at the time, surrounded by barbed wire and eight guard towers. Military police patrolled the area and were housed just outside of the fence.

On the tour, you can see the markers of where the other buildings once stood.

Signs show the rows and rows of barracks that were once here

There were 36 blocks that had 500 barracks and the conditions were crowded.  The only furnishings supplied were an oil stove, blankets, cots with mattresses filled with straw, and one single light source.

A display in the visitor center shows the rows and rows of barracks and other buildings

The sleeping quarters

Some of the facts that we read on the wall told about life in the camps. As an example, the original buildings had big slits in them where sand would gush in and fill the rooms.  I also gave a brief thought about how many bugs got in between those open areas. I am not a big fan of ugly or harmful bugs like tarantulas and scorpions, so that alone would have been hell for me.

I also had another unpleasant thought about the open latrine that we were also able to visit. Toilets were all in a row with no barrier or partition and not very private.  Of course, the showers were the same.

Reading some of the information in the rooms, we discovered that the internees tried to make the best of a bad situation. Taken against their will and losing all of their possessions, despair would certainly be expected.  These brave and resilient people established churches, temples, boys/girls clubs, baseball and basketball teams, plus other sports activities.

Under harsh weather conditions, no privacy, imprisoned behind fences, they persevered by  creating gardens, ponds, music, and even a newspaper, The Manzanar Press. During the driving self tour, there are markings that told you where everything was at that time.

During camp life they became mess hall workers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, and teachers. Skilled workers were paid the most while non-skilled workers made a lesser wage.

There was a general store, beauty parlor, bank, barber shop, and other things to make life easier.

When the war turned to our favor, they were allowed to leave the camps. The last few hundred internees left in November 1945. Many had spent three and a half years at Manzanar.

This is a very historical exhibit on Highway 395. It is not the best part of our history but it is a time that many don’t want forgotten so that we never do something like this again.

I cried writing the story about how the Fishing Village residents in San Pedro were removed from the homes they loved.  Now I see where they were taken and my heart goes out to them even more.

This is a must see if driving the 395.