Bodie, CA – Ghost Town

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Bodie may very well be the best historic example of a wild west gold mining boomtown, and the very best modern-day example of a ghost town.  Dozens of long-empty houses still stand, many with furniture still inside.  Scattered about the town, you’ll also find old mining equipment, now frozen from old age.

The 13 mile road to Bodie (California highway 270) turns off from US 395, about halfway between Bridgeport and Lee Vining.  The road itself will give you some idea of how the town remained untouched for so many years.  The first ten miles are paved, then the blacktop abruptly ends, providing a three mile buffer from the modern world.

This equipment is some of the first you’ll encounter, right by Bodie’s main parking area.

They had electricity, but not indoor plumbing.  Back in Bodie’s boom days, this was among the town’s most modern facilities.  (The park now features toilets that actually flush!)

Notice old power poles and insulators everywhere?  That’s because Bodie was one of the first fully electrified towns in the world.

A few old houses in Bodie are open, and allow you to walk inside.  At others, you can peer in through the dusty window panes.  Most have warped floors and paper peeling from the walls.

When you check in at the guard station, go ahead and shell out the extra buck for the guide to the town.  It explains, house by house, who used to live inside, and the role they played in the town’s history.

 

In its heyday (1879-1881) Bodie was home to some 10,000 people.  It gained a reputation for lawlessness, and some estimate a killing happened every day.

The town had everything you’d expect to find on main street…

…including a soda fountain…

… and a church.  Actually, there were several places of worship, and many more buildings, before fire swept through the town, back in 1932, destroying 90 percent of the buildings.  The town couldn’t rebuild after that catastrophe, and almost all the people who lived here, took off in a hurry.

 

Devastating fires swept through Bodie twice.  The first occurred in 1892, the second in 1932.  A 2½  year old started the second fire while playing with matches.

The bell tower above the Methodist Church.

Unlike other ghost towns you may stumble across in the desert, Bodie is still intact, and preserved by California in what they call a “state of arrested decay.”  That means workers keep the town frozen in time, in its current state, hopefully, forever.

A view of Bodie from inside the shell of an old car.

Bodie’s version of a junkyard.

Be careful where you step around town: there’s broken glass and other miscellaneous junk everywhere.  You might think, “who trashed this historic landmark?”.  Well, the residents of Bodie did, decades ago.  Those bottle fragments and other junk are, in a sense, historical trash (and taking home a souvenir is a crime).

This conveniently placed hole probably provided a lookout for folks inside an outhouse.

Bodie stays open all year, even though at 8375 feet, it’s isolated by snow during the winter months.  If you’re experienced at cross-country skiing, or own a snowmobile, you can still visit, for a truly unique experience.

The town’s filling station, installed long before you could pay at the pump.

These gas pumps are now dry, so you’d better hope you filled up before you left the main highway.

One old building in Bodie is now home to a small museum.  Here you can see pictures of the people who used to live here, and gain an appreciation for the rough life they endured.  You can also pick up a tee-shirt or bottle of water, but that’s about all they offer for sale.

The view down Green Street, looking toward the center of town.

The Standard Stamp Mill is off limits to casual tourists, but if you’re really interested, you can sign up for a guided tour.  Park rangers may lead visitors through the old mill 2-3 times a day.  Check at the guard booth or the museum for more info.  (The land around the stamp mill is also very dangerous, and therefore, off limits.)

Another old piece of machinery.

Bodie was named after Waterman S. Body, a.k.a. William Bodey.  The town decided to officially change the spelling of its name to Bodie, to ensure folks pronounced it properly.  Body didn’t live to see his namesake town boom.  He froze to death during the town’s first winter, while returning with supplies.

By the way, most of the Bodie facts you’ve read here (and much more) can be found on the official Bodie SHP site, or in the helpful guidebook available at the guard station.

Leaving Bodie – CA Hwy. 270

Chances are, you weren’t looking behind you, as you made your way to Bodie.  If that’s the case, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the Sierra Nevada views awaiting you on the drive back to the 21st century.

Hard to believe the next leg of our journey will take us over these mountains, isn’t it?

Rte. 270 doesn’t actually begin until you’re back on pavement, three miles from Bodie.

You can’t see the Sierra Nevada mountains from “downtown” Bodie, but if you head up Green Street, past most of the abandoned homes, you can see a few snow-capped peaks.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.  I visited Bodie again in 2015.  You can check out that visit here.

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