From 1942 to 1945, Heart Mountain was Wyoming's third-largest city. (Courtesy of the George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection, Washington State University Libraries MASC)
From 1942 to 1945, Heart Mountain was Wyoming’s third-largest city. (Courtesy of the George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection, Washington State University Libraries MASC)

Each year hundreds of visitors make a pilgrimage to the Heart Mountain National Historic Site, where 14,000 Japanese Americans — two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens — were unjustly incarcerated during World War II.

The journey is taken by former incarcerees, their descendants, friends, and members of the public who seek to understand this dark and poignant history and its impact on us today.

The 2016 Heart Mountain Pilgrimage, taking place July 29-30, will be a historic event, marking five years since the opening of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. In that time, the annual pilgrimage has grown into a much anticipated event, known for its powerful speakers, innovative programming, and experiential opportunities that connect former incarcerees with the public.

“As our most important event, the annual pilgrimage serves our mission by educating the public about the history of Japanese American confinement and connecting them with former incarcerees at this important National Historic Site,” said Brian Liesinger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. “This fifth-anniversary pilgrimage promises to be an especially memorable event for all in attendance.”

The pilgrimage will begin in Cody, Wyo. on Friday, July 29. A silent auction of Japanese artwork will be a new addition this year. Following the auction, the evening banquet at the Holiday Inn will include images of Heart Mountain and its progress through the year. The night will wrap up with a dessert reception.

The events on Saturday, July 30, at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center will be punctuated by keynote speaker Luis Valdez, a renowned playwright and director best known for the films “La Bamba” and “Zoot Suit.” His most recent stage production, “Valley of the Heart,” is set during World War II, and travels from California to Heart Mountain. The story follows two immigrant farming families — one Japanese American, one Mexican American. It has played to sold-out audiences on the West Coast.

Other guest speakers include retired Sen. Alan K. Simpson and former Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta. The two met at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center when they were just 10 years old. Simpson’s Boy Scout troop visited Heart Mountain, where Mineta was confined with his parents. Their story of friendship in the midst of war, fear, and injustice is a powerful one. Both men will speak about their experiences.

Saturday’s programming will also include the presentation of a Minecraft project based on Heart Mountain. Special exhibitions showcasing artwork inspired by Heart Mountain, and displays exploring rarely seen artifacts from the Heart Mountain collection, will be featured in the Interpretive Center as well.
“The variety of programming available at this year’s pilgrimage provides dynamic and engaging experiences for visitors of all backgrounds and ages,” said Liesinger. “It will be a coming together of old friends who endured a great injustice, but it also the perfect opportunity for a first introduction to the powerful history of Heart Mountain for newcomers. We encourage everyone to come experience this moving event.”

Registration is open to the public now. The cost for participation in all the events, including dinner banquet, dessert reception, opening ceremony, special presentations and exhibits, is $140 for non-members and $115 for members 12 and older, $50 for children aged 6-11, and free for children 5 and under. Attendees can register online at or by calling (307) 754-8000.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center is located between Cody and Powell on Highway 14A. It is open in the winter Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and daily in the summer with the same hours. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, free for members and children under 12. For more information, call the above number or visit

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