Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Return to Bodie Ghost Town - Through the Front Door This Time

"Let's see where this road goes!" says the dad, once again changing the route mid-way to the planned destination. Eyes rolling, the teen-age girl says, "Sure maybe we'll find something cool."

I think we were on the way to Virginia Lakes that July afternoon in 1970, Dad driving his '56 Ford pickup north on Hwy 395 until he saw another dirt road, this time heading east, that grabbed his sense of adventure. It was how we spent our mid-days every summer vacation, between morning fishing and evening camp fires - finding the road less traveled between Bishop and Lee Vining in the Eastern Sierras.

There were no signs (per usual) telling us where we were going or that we weren't welcome. The pickup bounced through the ruts, and up the side of a steep hill. We traveled for a very long time - especially in teen-age-girl-time. Near the crest we stopped when we came to old mine tailings, and a couple very weathered wood buildings. I remember we both thought we had found a hidden treasure! It didn't look like anyone had been there in many years. 

We continued to the top, and couldn't believe what else we had "discovered" - a ghost town of maybe fifty metal and wood structures, more tailing piles and mine equipment, and.....wait, is that a US flag and a California flag blowing in the breeze?  Just where are we?

It seemed like several minutes that the little town was all ours, but it was probably only a few seconds before Dad said "Oh Geez!  I bet this is Bodie!"

Which of course it was, and we'd just snuck in the back door :-)

I don't remember if we spent much time looking around, and I don't remember going back to the highway through the front door - but the memory of "finding" that ghost town is one of my favorites.

A well outside the morgue with the Cain residence to the left and the Boon Store and Warehouse across the steet

I couldn't wait to see it with Bill. After those last three miles when the pavement is replaced with dusty washboard (felt sorry for that white Prius behind us), we both said "Oh wow" at the same time.

45 years later, and it is still an amazing discovery!

Marked only as "Kelley" on the map, this is one of many buildings with siding made of vegetable cans, cut and rolled flat - early recycling at its best
Entrance is $5 and the walking tour brochure is $2. Get the brochure! There is no signage after the parking lot, and without it there's no way to know what you're looking at. And there's a LOT to look at here!

Since becoming a State Park in 1962, Bodie has not undergone any restoration, instead it is maintained in "arrested decay". Rust is not removed, wood is not protected, roofs are repaired but not replaced. 

Weather and age take their natural toll
Only a few structures are safe enough to enter, but with uncovered windows at street level, there is much to see inside. Dry goods on shelves, coins on dresser tops, bottles behind bars, books on desks  - covered by, and turning to, dust. As structures fall, contents are moved to the small museum and placed behind glass cabinets.

A glimpse into the past
Boone Store on the corner of Green and Main
Old globe on a desk in the school house - last students here in 1942
Toys remain in a back room of what became a boarding house in the 1920's, originally a general store in 1880
Geological and historical items preserved in the museum/visitors' center

Peeling wallpaper, brittle velvet chairs, and crystal bar ware show signs that Bodie was quite the civilized town in its heyday. There were several transitions before the last resident moved away - A telephone switchboard, gasoline pumps, and power poles reflect the several transitions Bodie made before the Cain family sold the whole town to the state.

Several residences had wallpaper in every visible room
Switchboard in hotel lobby

There are a couple dirt roads visible beyond Bodie, but I have no idea if one of them is our "back-door route", I doubt that road still exists. 

The preservation of the past makes Bodie a photographers' dream, and every other person had a camera. Many had tripods or unipods with big, expensive equipment. One such gentleman asked if he could photograph Tessa with a couple who are visiting from England and miss their doggie. 

Well, sure.

So now Tessa will be known in another country as she is apparently known here. See, just 15 minutes before, we were on the boardwalk outside the museum when we heard "Is that Tessa?" from the street in front. Uh, yes it is!

We quickly realized it was a neighbor from the RV park who had shared a morning doggie walk.  Of course they don't know our names, and we don't know theirs. But Tessa......

The sun was very bright, but with lots of shade it was a perfect day to enjoy a couple hours in this wonderful place. The stories of so many are captured here. Miners and businessmen, school teachers and bartenders, gun slingers and law men, morticians and doctors - and a dad and his teen-age daughter who, for just a flash, discovered all of it on a warm July afternoon.

The remaining firehouse was rebuilt by the CCC in the 1930's. Lack of adequate water systems resulted in devastating fires in 1892 and 1932


  1. Now that would definitely be fun checking out all the items the ghosts left behind.

    There are quite a few people we've met in the best who we remember by their dogs!

    1. It is incredible all the little things to see in each building. I'm glad Tessa is so well behaved so at least "we" have a fairly good reputation :-)

  2. So cool! I've yet to visit Bodie...obviously it is a must!

    1. Their decision to "let it go" is an interesting one, and it gives visitors such a unique opportunity to see the town in real time, without being cleaned up. You'll definitely enjoy it!

  3. Unfortunately there was a nearby fire when we were there and Bodie was closed. We will definitely visit the next time we travel 395.

  4. Good to know I am not the only one who can identify people by their dog:) Tessa is world famous!

    Yes, buy the brochure! I can't imagine wandering around and not having a clue what went on behind closed doors. How nice that you got to complete one more memory from your past:)

  5. Ron and I were just talking about Bodie the other day. We hope to make it out there eventually - from home it's a four hour drive, one way...
    Our neighbor visited there often and he loved it so much that he named his snake Bodie.

  6. Wonderful story Jodee and great Pics!

  7. Such a neat connection you have with Bodie! We definitely want to go back there and spend more time. We had come over from Coulterville for the day, so we didn't have a lot of time there.

    Cool post, Jodee!

    1. My folks live in Coulterville :-) But they're currently enjoying an eight week trip in their 5th wheel.

  8. What a great story -- love your personal connection to the town. Bodie is definitely on our list -- I was bummed that we didn't have time to visit it on our way down 395 yesterday. Thanks for the tour. :-)

  9. What a great story Jodee. It is sad to think that someday Bodie will all be just a museum.

  10. Great memory and story of a place I haven't visited, yet.