Exploring Mammoth: A trip back to the lawless wild west at Bodie State Historic Park

Date Visited: August 6, 2011
Check current conditions: Bodie State Historic Park (760) 647-6445.
  • Site Hours: Open year round, closed during inclement weather. Summer (9am-6pm). Winter (9am-3pm).
  • Admission: Adults (17 and up) $7, children (ages 6 to 16) $5, ages 5 and under are free. Cash or personal/travelers checks only.

On the second to last day of our Mammoth family vacation last month, we visited Bodie Historic State Park, an abandoned gold mining “ghost town” located off historic Highway 395 just north of Mono Lake, dating back to the 1850s.

I visited Bodie a couple times as a kid, but neither Jeff nor the kids knew much about the town — all were quite impressed and enjoyed the visit much more than expected.

Bodie State Historic Park

Waiting to enter the park. By the afternoon, overflow parking extended out past the entrance alongside this road.

At its heyday in 1879, nearly 10,000 people called Bodie home and the town had a reputation for lawlessness.  Most businesses folded up by the second decade of the 1900s, although residents and the last mine remained in town until the early 1940s.  Bodie is a National Historic Landmark and become a California state historic park in 1962.

Although the ghost town contains only about five percent of the buildings that existed during its heyday, what makes Bodie so notable is that is has been preserved in a state of “arrested decay”.  The buldings, and the objects within those buldings have simply been left exactly as they were when the proprietors and residents left town.  Visitors can peer inside of homes and still see canned goods sitting in pantries.  It is fascinating and haunting, and makes one wonder why the town members left so much behind.

Bodie State Historic Park

By the time we arrived at 11am, the parking lot was full, and vehicles were asked to park along Bypass Road past the restrooms, heading towards the picnic areas.

Visitors are allowed to walk through the town (there is a self-guided walking tour), and can even go into a few of the buildings. Restrooms are located at the parking lot and picnic area, but there are no other facilities or concessions of any sort. Plan to pack some drinks, snacks and a lunch.

Bodie State Historic Park

Historical markers at the start of the walking tour.

Located at 8,375 foot elevation in the Eastern Sierras, Bodie can get extremely hot in the summer and gets covered in snow banks in the winter. We were lucky this particular day — temperatures were pleasant. But, there is practically no shade, and the roads are all dirt. So, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes (I made our 16 year old change from flip flops to sneakers), and sun protection.

Bodie State Historic Park

Plenty of signs warning what sort of behavior is not allowed.

Bodie State Historic Park is one of the few California State Parks that allows dogs to venture off the paved roads or campgrounds. Leashed canine visitors are allowed everywhere except in the few buildings that permit foot traffic inside — including the tours. We even spotted water bowls set up for dogs outside of the museum and visitor center.

Bodie State Historic Park

Following the trail leading from the parking lot and restrooms to Green Street, the main east west road intersecting town.

Most folks get to Bodie from Highway 395 via the 13-mile long Bodie Road (Highway 370), south of Bridgeport. The first 10 miles of this two-lane road are newly paved, but Bodie Road suddenly reverts to a washboard dirt road for the final three miles to the park entrance. You do not need a high clearance vehicle; sedans made it just fine. And our kids thought the drive was a lot of fun, even if the view was quite desolate.

An alternative route to Bodie is the approach from Mono Lake via Highway 167 and Cottonwood Canyon Road. This route is not paved at all, but it is greener and quite a bit more scenic. We chose to take this route back after our visit, which I highly recommend, because you get excellent views of Mono Lake.

Pictorial Highlights from Bodie

Following are our favorite scenes from Bodie. They are arranged topically, instead of in order. So, make sure you pick up one of the free walking tour guides to plot your route through the ghost town and get the most out of your visit.

Bodie State Historic Park

Looking east down Green Street from the west edge of the main town.

Bodie State Historic Park

Looking west down Greene Street, from the far edge of the main town.

Give yourself at least 10 minutes to stop by and walk through the museum and visitor center.  This is where you sign up for the free tours and talks.

Bodie State Historic Park

Artifacts inside the Museum & Visitor Center on Main Street.

Bodie State Historic Park

The towns's founding historical documents.

Bodie State Historic Park

We found the only shaded seating in all of Bodie to enjoy our picnic lunch -- on a big bench connected to the building next to the museum.

A glimpse back in time at the town’s work and community life.

Bodie State Historic Park

A view of the Standard Stamp Mill from down below in town.

Bodie State Historic Park

An up-close view of the stamp mill, accessible only by a ranger-led free guided tour (dogs are not allowed).

Bodie State Historic Park

The Methodist Church, the second stop on the walking tour.

Bodie State Historic Park

Peaking inside the Methodist Church.

Bodie State Historic Park

The firehouse.

Bodie State Historic Park

Inside of the firehouse.

Bodie State Historic Park

The school house.

Bodie State Historic Park

Siding made from five-gallon cans pounded fat.

Bodie State Historic Park

An old pickup parked at the Shell gas pumps at the Boone Store and Warehouse.

Bodie State Historic Park

A docent talks to the crowd sitting in front of the Wheaton & Hollis Hotel.

Bodie State Historic Park

The Bodie Odd Fellows Lodge.

Bodie State Historic Park

A place of business simply abandoned.

Bodie State Historic Park

Viewing the south end of Main Street.

Bodie State Historic Park

The hydroelectric building and power substation. Home to the power source of the first motor to be operated over long distance power lines.

The homes of Bodie are equally as eerie — sign of family life simply abandoned and left as-is.  Many of the dwellings still almost appear livable and inviting.

Bodie State Historic Park

This family evidently lived in a bit of style, with the picket fence and enclosed garden.

Bodie State Historic Park

I fell in love with this house and its big wrap-around porch.

Bodie State Historic Park

The J.S. Cain Residence. We couldn't quite figure out the story behind this front window build over an existing wall and window.

Bodie State Historic Park

This cozy little home almost still looks livable.

Bodie State Historic Park

The Hoover House, located next to the Standard Mill. Home to Theodore Hoover, manager of the Standard Mill and brother of future president Herbert Hoover (who did stay here on visits, prior to becoming President).

Bodie State Historic Park

Exterior of the Miller House, which is open to the public.

Bodie State Historic Park

Life stands still inside the kitchen and dining area of the Miller House.

Allow yourself a good 15 minutes to explore the cool old cemetery containing the graves and headstones of the town’s “respectable” deceased population.

Bodie State Historic Park

The kids, Jeff and I found it both intriguing and eerie to compare the fancy versus common gravestones, and to note how many youngsters are buried here.

Bodie State Historic Park

Headstone built in 1957 to commemorate the grave of founder William S. Bodey.

For the drive back, we opted to take the less-developed Mono Lake route instead of Highway 270.  This southern route — Cottonwood Canyon Road —  is not paved at all, until you hit Highway 167 next to Mono Lake.  This view is greener and less desolate feeling than Highway 270.  And, if you get to Bodie early in the day, you’ll have time to explore the super cool tufa towers at Mono Lake.

Bodie State Historic Park

Make sure you take the southern route home, so that you can take in the gorgeous views of Mono Lake as you head back to Highway 395.


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Comments

  1. Bill Meadows says

    if you want a great read about Bodie check out “A year in Bodie” by Carl Chavez. he was a ranger there in the mid 60’s. He’s the guy behind making the houses look as if everyone just picked up and bailed…. A great read.

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