|Date Visited: August 6, 2011|
|Check current conditions: Bodie State Historic Park (760) 647-6445.|
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
A glimpse back in time at the town’s work and community life.
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.
Allow yourself a good 15 minutes to explore the cool old cemetery containing the graves and headstones of the town’s “respectable” deceased population.
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.
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