Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Step Back in Time to Bodie, CA


It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like in the late 1800s in a California gold boomtown, but we decided to check out Bodie to get a little taste.


To reach Bodie from Lee Vining we had to drive about 20 miles north on Hwy 395, crossing the 8,100’ Conway Summit. It was such a lovely day we stopped to look at the view and take a few pictures. Bumper stickers of all kinds have been plastered on the guardrails.


Thought this was cute.


But then I found my favorite. As a Pennsylvania girl who moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida and never acquired a taste for oysters, I can tell you this is so true!


View of Mono Lake from the summit.


Now on to Bodie, another 13 miles east of 395, with the last three miles being a fairly good dirt road. After the big gold rush on the western side of the Sierra Nevada, prospectors began looking on the eastern side. Bodie became a boomtown by 1879 with a population of 8,500, over 2,000 buildings, 450 businesses including at least 60 saloons, a Chinatown, and a red light district.


Bodie had a reputation for lawlessness with reports of daily stagecoach holdups, shootouts, and saloon brawls.


The boom ended in 1881 when the mines were depleted. By 1886 the population was down to 1,500.


Bodie had a short revival in the early 1890s with the invention of the cyanide process to recover gold and silver from discarded mill tailings and from low-grade ore bodies that had been passed over. Also electricity was brought in, a much cheaper and easier way to run the mines than wood power. A fire in 1892 destroyed much of the business district.

The gray buildings are the Standard Mine and Mill, which yielded around $25 million dollars in gold. This part is off-limits, except for guided tours during the summer.


In 1932 another fire destroyed 95% of the town, and to preserve what remained the state of California acquired the property in 1962 when it was designated as a National Historic Site and a State Historic Park. The state charges a $5 admission fee.

Some of the houses have been renovated and are lived in by park personnel. There was “ranger residence” sign on this one, and someone from the CA state park system actually lives in Bodie year-round, with more joining them in the busier summer months.












The buildings are not open but we peeked in a lot of windows.


A look inside the mortuary.


General store.




Living room of one of the houses.


The state is keeping Bodie in a state of “arrested decay”, meaning they don’t actually restore the structures but try to stabilize them so they will remain as they are. You can see how these two buildings are being propped up.



It was a cool and breezy but sunny day when we visited. What surprised us were the number of biting gnats that swarmed our faces. I had some Deep Woods Off and we all used it but they were relentless. We spent over a couple hours walking around and taking photos. Our plan was to have a picnic lunch and wander around some more. After eating in the car we decided we’d had enough and headed off to scope out the bug situation for our planned hike in Lundy Canyon the following day. Happily the trail was bug-free so we didn’t have to change our plans.

A little preview of the next post. I recovered from my illness and Jim didn’t get it so all is good.



  1. Hope the weather and bugs don't prevent you being able to enjoy Lundy Canyon. The little mosquitoes can be a pesty, but it's so worth it!

  2. Nice rust and funk!!!!
    Damn the Mosquitos, full speed ahead.
    Box Canyon

    1. Not mosquitoes, those are easier to deal with because the bug spray actually helps. These little gnat-like bugs we were plagued with at Bodie and also at our campsite near Mono Lake aren't the least bit repelled by DEET!

  3. Bodie is a very interesting town as is the state's policy of arrested decay. Guess it doesn't cost much to prop the buildings up. Wonder what it would be like to live there year round. I assume they open the buildings during some part of the year? Didn't know you were sick. Glad to hear you are better.

    1. They don't open any of the buildings except a little visitor center/bookstore. Everything inside them is just being left as is, so you see dust and rodent droppings all over when you look in the windows.
      Winters are very harsh. Lots of snow, cold and wind at 8,300', but it's still open for people to snowmobile or snowshoe in.

  4. Oh yes on the oysters! Bodie is such a wonderful place, the school is so fun with the desks and chalkboards. We were fortunate to miss the bugs in September - hope they all stay there :-)

    1. Ranger said the bugs are there every spring.

    2. Ranger said the bugs are there every spring.

  5. Those droppings have Hantavirus written all over them. Maybe looking though the window is the way to go. Great photos.

  6. Great photo tour of Bodie, we missed it on our previous trips through the Owens, perhaps this time. BTW, I used to have the "Sheepherding' bumper sticker in my garage workshop. Got it from a guy I used to fly with, we were young and obnoxious then........

  7. Interesting piece of history, thanks for sharing. Great photos of the buildings and cars!

  8. We've never made it to Bodie due to the long drive to get there from where ever we sure looks neat though.

  9. My mom spent her summers in Bodie in the early 1900's when people still lived there. She fell off the wood box you see on the right of the church picture and broke her arm. We visited cousins there a lot over the years, camping right near town. It really wasn't a ghost town .. the parks system pretty much just took over. There were (maybe still are) at least four houses lived in by Parks employees. It's sad that they don't at least TRY to keep more of the buildings upright.

    1. Nancy, thanks for the interesting comment about your mother. Always nice to get the "real' story from someone who was actually there.

  10. Bodie was on my list for so long, as was doing the 395 drive. I was very excited to finally get there last fall (no bugs at all). We spent forever seeing every last building and area:) Loved it!

    I guess I am rock girl at heart, so the Alabama Hills area was my very favorite part of our 395 journey. I will return here one day:)

    I agree with the oyster saying, as well! I didn't realize you were from PA. Where? We both grew up and lived there until retirement.

    1. Pam, you've just forgotten that I grew up in Erie, as did John, correct?

  11. After not reading or writing blogs for awhile, I'm catching up. Seems early to me to be going up 395, but you don't look cold. And the snow on the mountains sure makes for beautiful pictures. So pickleball, huh?

  12. We were fascinated with Bodie. It is a photographer's dream. Too bad about the biting gnats but you were still able to capture some very cool shots.