The Central Utah Relocation Center

The site of the Central Utah Relocation Center, commonly known as Topaz, is located in the Pahvant Valley of the Sevier Desert in west-central Utah. Situated approximately 125 miles southwest of Salt Lake City and roughly 16 miles northwest of the town of Delta, Topaz is named after Topaz Mountain, lying 9 miles to the northwest of the site. The topography is completely flat, with greasewood being the most common plant species. The site lies in the dry bed of Lake Bonneville and is home to jackrabbits, coyotes, snakes, scorpions, and wide open skies.

Forced Removal

To document the forced removal, incarceration and resettlement of Japanese Americans during World War II, more than 17,000 images were taken under the auspices of the War Relocation Authority (WRA). Independent photographer Ansel Adams and WRA contractor Dorothea Lange were two of the more prominent photographers who documented the incarceration experience. Dorothea Lange’s earlier Dust Bowl photographs, showing the human face of "hard times," were widely distributed to the public under the Farm Security Administration. However, many of her photographs of Japanese Americans were censored. Even as Lange adhered to strict WRA guidelines to exclude armed soldiers and their bayonets, her images still captured raw emotional experiences.

Many of the photographs in the WRA collection paint an idealistic portrait of camp life. Still, other images convey the hardship, hope and perseverance of Japanese Americans during World War II. Many of the WRA photographs are accessible through the Online Archive of California and the Library of Congress. Other photographic collections exist in archives, museums, and private collections, and when paired with those taken by the WRA, provide a more comprehensive portrait of this chapter in history. Some of these collections include, the Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive and Densho Digital Archive.

In Their Own Words

“In the frantic and hasty construction of this barracks city, every growing thing had been removed, and what had once been a peaceful lake bed was churned up into one great mass of loose flour-like sand. With each step we sank two or three inches deep, sending up swirls of dust that crept into our eyes and mouths, noses and lungs.”

--Yoshiko Uchida, former Topaz incarceree


“We will survive, if we forget the sands at our feet and look to the mountains for inspiration.”

--Chirua Obata, Founder and Director of the Topaz Art School


“Training in art maintains high ideals among our people, for its object is to prevent their minds from remaining on the plains, to encourage human spirits to dwell high above the mountains.”

--George Hibi, Director of the Topaz Art School


Digital Preservation

In 2011, CyArk was awarded a grant by the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program to create 3D digital recreations of some of the sites associated with the confinement and incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Today, few buildings remain at the former War Relocation Authority (WRA) centers, making it difficult for visitors to imagine, and all too easy to forget, this important and tragic chapter in United States history.

More media content for Topaz is available on CyArk’s professional portal. We encourage you to visit this portal as well as the following resources for a detailed history of this important and tragic chapter in United States history.

The Densho Digital Archive
The Topaz Museum


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