Bodie Ghost Town

The pursuit of real adventure was one of the main fuels behind me always wanted to embark on a US Road Trip. For me it’s not about luxurious and glamourous travel, it’s about experiencing sights in their raw and pure forms and focusing on breathing in as much of the atmosphere and history as possible at every stop. If that means getting a bit dirty then I was all for it. I spent a lot of time planning and booking the road trip part of our California holiday, completely on my own, so I of course hoped the plan would work out on a basic level, but I wasn’t afraid of suprises, spontaneity and unscheduled stops. I planned it in a way that would allow for us to pull our car to the side of the road should we stumble across a view or landmark we thought was worth spending some time with.

If you’ve been watching my regular vlogs from this holiday you’ll know we had some rather big unexpected problems that arose which were completely out of our control. The fires would dictate the schedule of the latter end of our trip and mean that the predicted highlight of the trip, Yosemite, wouldn’t be able to be realised. But it’s not all bad, after-all it’s a good excuse to do another Cali road trip some day! All this is another reminder of how we really need to think about our actions in terms of global warming, we were told numerous times that the fires are getting worse every year and increasingly hard to contain and control.

Bodie was scribbled in my travel notepad as a potentioal stop on route to Lake Tahoe after a beautiful couple of days within the epic scenery of Mammoth Lakes, which despite the mist of smoke was utterly breathtaking from every perspective.

What is Bodie Ghost Town?

We didn’t have much time to sit and watch the educational videos they have playing in one of the abandoned buildings, so I’ve turned to Wikipedia to fill you in a bit more thoroughly.

Bodie is in the Bodie Hills east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County about 75 miles (121 km) southeast of  our destination in Lake Tahoe. It became a boom town in 1876 and following years, after the discovery of a profitable line of gold, and suddenly attracted several thousand residents. It is located 12 mi (19 km) east-southeast of Bridgeport at an elevation of 8379 feet (2554 m).   U.S Department of the Interior recognizes the designated Bodie Historic District as a National Historic Landmark. Also registered as a California Historical Landmark the ghost town officially was established as Bodie State Historic Park in 1962. It receives about 200,000 visitors yearly. Since 2012, Bodie has been administered by the Bodie Foundation, which uses the tagline Protecting Bodie’s Future by Preserving Its Past. Bodie was originally a mining town from the late 1800’s. What’s left today stands in a state of “arrested decay” . In 1859 William (a.k.a. Waterman) S. Bodey discovered gold near what is now called Bodie Bluff. A mill was established in 1861 and the town began to grow. It started with about 20 miners and grew to an estimated 10,000 people by 1880. By then, the town of Bodie was a buzz of activity with families, robbers, miners, store owners, gunfighters, prostitutes and people from every country in the world. At one time there was reported to be 65 saloons in town – sounds rowdy doesn’t it. Among the saloons were numerous brothels and ‘houses of ill repute’, gambling halls and opium dens – an entertainment outlet for everyone – sounds like an ideal stag destination. On a daily basis miners would emerge from the mills and head for the bars and the red light district to spend their earnings. The mixture of money, gold and alcohol would often prove fatal. Newspapers report that towns people would ask in the mornings “Have a man for breakfast?” Meaning ‘Did anyone get killed last night?’

The first signs of decline of the town starting to become clear towards the end of 1880. Promising mining booms in Butte, Montaha, Tombstone, Arizona and Utah attracted men away from Bodie. The get-rich-quick, single miners who came to the town in the 1870s moved on to these other booms, and Bodie developed into a family-oriented community. In 1882 residents built the Methodist Church (which we saw during our visit) and the Roman Catholic Church (burned about 1930). Despite the population decline, the mines were flourishing, and in 1881 Bodie’s ore production was recorded at a high of $3.1 million. Also in 1881, a narrow-gauge railroad was built called the Bodie Railway & Lumber Company, bringing lumber, cordwood, and mine timbers to the mining district from Mono Mills south of Mono Lake (we didn’t get to visit but many tourists do).

During the early 1890s, Bodie enjoyed a short revival from technological advancements in the mines that continued to support the town. In 1890, the recently invented cyanide process promised to recover gold and silver from discarded mill tailings and from low-grade ore bodies that had been passed over. In 1892, the Standard Company built its own hydroelectric plantsapproximately 13 miles (20.9 km) away at Dynamo Pond. This pioneering installation marked one of the country’s first transmissions of electricity over a long distance.In 1910, the population was recorded at 698 people, which were predominantly families who decided to stay in Bodie instead of moving on to other prosperous strikes.

Bodie is down a dusty, bumpy, slow 13 mile long road off of State Highway 395, but it was still only due to be less than a half an hours detour from our straight forward journey to Lake Tahoe. When we came to the turning that would take us straight there we were halted by uniformed police who informed us that a fatal crash had taken place and we would have to reroute to get to Bodie. Where we were our google maps were no longer any good to us, so we hoped we had heard his instruction correctly as we directed our SUV toward some completely unkown terrain. Other travellers were stopping and blocking the road with their equally grotesque excessively sized cars, similarly lost without being able to rely on their phones for help. After some chats with the fellow drivers we all decided to go in a direction that our guts told us was the right way. FYI I’m not sure I’d generally reccommend doing road trips in foreign countries purely based on instinct but if that’s all you got….

I know I said luxury wasn’t key for me, but practicality and comfort definitely was important, in regards to the vehicle we chose to do our road trip in. This particular day cememted how good a decision it was for us to opt for a robust SUV. They (Alamo) did say that we shouldn’t do any off roading in it and I don’t know whether this counts, but either way we didn’t have much choice. This was the bumpiest and hairiest of driving we have ever done, and yet painfully slow – going at any speed above about 10mphish we risked rolling down some very steep hills, getting lodged between boulders or giving ourselves severe whiplash and very bruised bottoms. While our wise choice of car would see us through the tricky terrain okay, many other tourists weren’t so fortunate, which meant that Si had to exit the vehicle and brave the heat to help push ill equipped cars out of the situations they unwittingly found themselves in.

After what felt like an eternity we made it to Bodie, but thankfully after taking in the initital view of this ghosted town we knew it was worth the effort.

Peeking inside the buildings and seeing the abandoned objects that we associate with a kinetic family life was a weird mixture of eerie, sad and cool. I found the school particularly fascinating, seeing the lessons scribed the chalk boards, the school books resting on the desks thick with  dust, and all the now outdated maps on the walls and stands.

Now I’m going to leave you with the pictures rather than attempt to capture the weird stillness trapped inside these old homes, churches, shops and saloons .

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