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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ghosts and Gold: Bodie State Historic Park

I'm a sucker for ghost towns and Bodie is one of my favorites. Whenever we're within fifty miles of the place we always stop in. Nothing has really changed over the years, but I always seem to see something I missed during a previous visit.

Everything is as they left it in Bodie

Bodie started life during the gold rush, attracting all the get-rich-quick types and the usual cast of characters that follow; bartenders, prostitutes, storekeepers, bankers, and a few pastors trying to stem the tide of sins. Yeah, good luck with that.

Interior of Bodie church, the pews looking curiously unworn...

It's located on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada off CA highway 395, seven miles south of Bridgeport. There are actually a couple ways to get there, the most direct of which is the main entrance off the highway. Be prepared: even though (or possibly because) it's a state park, the last three miles is a gravel road that can have some pretty dental crunching washboard ridges. A regular passenger car can make it easily but you might want to check your lug nuts once you get there.

There's a nice dirt back road that leads from the northern side of Mono Lake up and over the hills into Bodie. It travels through open range land with some beautiful scenery. We stopped and watched a rancher round up a herd of sheep with his dog last time we went through and were amazed. I've seen it done in controlled settings before but seeing it out on the range was spectacular. I can only dream of someday having a dog that obeys that well.

Sneaking in the back way: Cottonwood Canyon Road

When you get there be sure to sign up for the tour of the old stamp mill. Some of the original equipment is still inside, and it's fun to imagine what it was like to work there back in the day. It will really make you appreciate your day job.

Stamp assembly, interior of Bodie stamp mill

Bodie was no picnic; the town was known for it's weather extremes and it's murder rate. Summer there is the typical eastern Sierra blaze of heat and in the winter (with windchill) it's been known to get down to -60F with twenty foot drifts of snow. Living there in those leaky old wooden cabins with just a wood stove for heat must have been an exercise in stamina. You couldn't just run down to REI and grab the latest 0 degree sleeping bag--they had scratchy wool blankets (if they were lucky.); firewood was hard to come by on that relatively tree-less side of the mountains. And if you survived the winter, you might just be shot down in the street by a drunken miner on his day off or stabbed and robbed by a guy too lazy to dig out his own gold.  Every other year, it seemed, the town would burn to the ground and have to be rebuilt.

Burial plot gate, Bodie Cemetery
Hearse, Bodie Visitor's Center

As it stands now, Bodie is being preserved in it's "arrested state of decay" by the state. They do just enough to keep the surviving buildings from falling over. There's still furniture in some of the cabins, and there's a nice visitor's center filled with old pictures and relics from the mining days, including a horse drawn hearse that apparently got a lot of use.

Clouds reflected in shop window
Shops on Main Street Bodie

Storm brewing over downtown Bodie
Only the finest for the working girls in Bodie

Blacksmith shop yard

Assay Equipment

Last time we were there a thunderstorm was brewing overhead. Just as we were leaving, thunder started rolling overhead and stabs of lightning were striking the surrounding hills; it really added to the haunted feel of the place. It was awfully nice of the park to put out such an effort for us but they needn't have gone to all that work; we'll be back to visit soon.

Here's a link to the park website if you're interested in visiting: Bodie State Historic Park

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