September, 2003 Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts


Slice of History

Traveling the Heartland of America

The Days After 9/11
by Cecile Page Vargo

On September 11,  2001 , I was awakened by my son with a phone call to turn on the television; the United States of America was under attack.  I spent that day as close to a tv as I could, watching as the tragic events unfolded.  I also was preparing to leave for Mammoth, as my husband and I had to be up there that weekend for a 4-wheel drive tour that we lead  for Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures.  I had all three tvís on in the house so I could pack and watch tv, depending upon which part of the house I needed to be in.  I also was back and forth from the tv, my packing, and my computer, e-mailing a friend who was at work and did not have a tv or radio available.  I was able to keep her informed, and we shared our sorrowful feelings of the day.

On Friday, September 14, my husband and I woke up about 7:00AM and ate a leisurely breakfast in front of our little kitchen tv.  We watched as much of the National Church service as we had time for, then left for Mammoth at 9:00 a.m. Fortunately, we were able to listen to the church service as we headed up Highway 14.  At this point in time, not many people were really back to their real lives, but there were a few venturous souls like ourselves.  You could tell by the somber faces of the people in the vehicles on the highway that they too  were listening to the National Memorial Service.  Somehow, I think we all felt linked together by the tragedy. 

As we traveled, it was touching to see that other people had managed to find flags for their vehicles, as we had.  There werenít many out yet, and the stores had sold out of what they had, but at least a few of us were able to proclaim our patriotism and our grief by displaying the flags on our antennas.  Along construction sites on Highway 14, much of the heavy equipment already had flags as well.  An overpass displayed a huge patriotic banner.  We were overwhelmed with emotion seeing this. 

Progressing from Highway 14 to Highway 395, we were impressed that every little town, Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine, Bishop, was already decked out like the Fourth of July.  After our gas stop  in Bishop, we deliberately drove through the Indian reservation, not only to avoid traffic on the main street, but to see if the Indians had been hit as hard as we had by the tragic events.  Many of the homes there did display flags, and the irony hit me, considering what America did to the Indians.  The eeriest site we saw was an Indian home with a van parked in front of it reading in big letters "World Trade Center".  This really hit close to home.  Then I remembered that this van is always parked there, it just hurt more to see it this time around.  These people also proudly flew a United States flag on their home.   Back on to Highway 395 , and turning north to Mammoth, the streets were lined with flags. 

Before I had left home, I had searched for flags at all of the local stores, but not one was to be found.  Unless itís the Fourth of July, United States flags, at least until 9/11 hit, are not readily available.  Fortunately, I had several flags from a Fourth of July party, and I bought up every bit of red white and blue ribbon that could be found at my local Hallmark store.  At the condo in Mammoth, the first thing I did was decorate the front door with red white and blue ribbons.  I also put one on our deck, and I decorated the metal bird wind  chime that was hanging there with  blue ribbons and a tiny flag as well.  The bird looked sort of like a dove, so this made it all the more meaningful to me. 

I spent that evening preparing for our 4-wheel drive tour that would begin the following morning.  While my husband reviewed his notes for the historical lectures that are a big part of our tour, I made red white and blue ribbons to tie on the antennas of all of the SUVís that would be with us.  Our 4Runner, and our sweepís Tacoma displayed the ribbons and flags on our ham radio antennas on top of our roofs.  I also had the foresight to buy the last flag stickers available at my home Hallmark shop.  These I stuck on the name badges for our tour participants.

Saturday morning, September 15, we officially started our Bye God, To Bodie tour at the Mammoth Ranger Station.  I was happy to see that our guests had not let the attack on the Twin Towers keep them from enjoying  the back roads of America.  Everyone that had signed on showed up!  I passed out the flag-stickered name badges, and tied the ribbons on to everyoneís  radio antennas.  We said a few words about our feelings of the events.  We were all pretty much still in shell shock over things, and there was still an element of fear as to what events were yet to come for our country. 

The first day of our Bodie tour, takes us through some of the old stage routes and along the old Bodie railroad, we donít actually go to Bodie.  Sunday, however, we would travel to the ghost town itself.  We also visit more obscure places like the town of Masonic and the Chemung Mill.  At the Chemung Mill, while exploring, we heard the first jets flying over.  We all stopped in our tracks, and looked up.   I remember saying a prayer to myself and including the words ďGodís SpeedĒ at the end.  It was quite an emotional moment for all of us.  It was also a sign that the rest of the country was trying to come back to some state of normalcy. 

Sunday afternoon we drove into the ghost town of Bodie State Historic Park.  What a site, and what a better place to be after 9/11.  The parking lot was full, and several people in Jeeps and SUVís had managed to find flags and ribbons as we had.  Iíve been going to Bodie long before the general tourist discovered it and usually am disheartened by the crowds that ruin the true ghost town flavor.

This time, however, the crowded parking lot symbolized our rights as Americans.  None of us had allowed the terrorists to stop celebrating our history and our basic rights as Americans.  The site made me very teary eyed, and proud.  The tragedy also seemed to bring us all down to earth, and made us all friendlier towards each other.  As we walked the dirt streets of this old gold mining town and stepped back into time, everyone we passed would smile, and say a friendly word.  It really touched me that it took something as horrific as  September 11, to make the human race stop being rude to each other, and it made me wonder why we couldnít be this way all of the time. 

In Bodie, and throughout the Eastern Sierras, there were a lot of European tourists out to experience ďThe Old WestĒ.  In the Mammoth Vons shopping plaza , we saw a bus full of European tourists, being let out to buy snack and lunch supplies for their tour.  What a strange feeling for them to be here in the most free, safe country in the world, and suddenly finding out that it had been attacked, and they could not fly home so easily now.  I wished I had been able to speak to them and hear their perspectives.

My husband and I spent the entire week after September 11 in Mammoth.  We explored back roads for future tours, following our Bodie tour, then hurried back to the condo each night to turn on the news.  We had to make sure the rest of our country was still there, and we were anxious to know what our president was going to do.  We also participated in a national candle lighting event. 

Emergency candles that had been left in a drawer in the condoís kitchen came in quite handy for this.

We invited friends of ours, Mammoth locals, over for a meal that evening.  After the meal, when it got dark, we took our candles out on the condo deck, and solemnly held them in tribute to the victims of the 9/11.  Iím sure each of us said a silent prayer to ourselves as well. 

As the week went on, the flag manufacturers managed to get their flags out to the communities throughout the United States.  More people displayed flags on their vehicles, and their homes.  The following weekend, driving along 395 to start a our Golden Leaves and Golden Trails tour to more obscure ghost towns in the Eastern Sierras, we passed Smokey at Smokey Bear Flats.  Falcons were flying over him, and Smokey the Bear himself was holding the Stars and Stripes in his paws.  What a sight! 

Going through these thoughts and remembranes from my e-mails of September 2001,  I realize itís time once again to start thinking about my tours and preparing for them.  My flags and ribbons from last year are faded and worn.  I think I need to buy some more to put on everyoneís antennas again this year in rembrance.  We must never forget what happened on 9/11 and we must continue to pray for our country, and the world, that we may learn to live in peace.

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By God, to Bodie!, September 13-15, 2003

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