Road Trip 2017 #23 – Bodie

The thirteenth day of our road trip fell on Independence Day.  We were staying in Mammoth Lakes at a ski lodge hotel.  Our suite had two large bedrooms, two bathrooms (which is a boon when you have six people sharing a space), and a spacious living room and kitchen-diner.  It was a welcome slice of domesticity after a few days of being crammed together into hotel rooms with regular proportions.  Despite having access to kitchen facilities, however, we decided to go out for breakfast as our 4th of July treat.  The hotel receptionist recommended a place in town named The Stove so it was to there that we headed.  It was a quaint little place, clearly popular with locals and tourists alike, and we enjoyed a pleasant breakfast to set us up for the day.  The diner was on the street where the town’s Independence Day parade was happening so we saw fun runners come jogging past and poked around at some of the stalls that were set up, including one where my younger kids obtained some new reading material.  We decided to get out of town before the parade, however, as we feared we might end up stuck by all the road closures.

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Our first destination for the day was Bodie, a ghost town I have wanted to visit for a very long time.  It was a long drive up a winding, narrow, rubbly road to reach Bodie so – even before we set foot in the town – I was struck by how challenging life must have been for those who lived and worked there before the days of motorised transport.  I had assumed the national holiday might mean that people were at home with family and friends, doing the home town celebration thing, but when we pulled up to the entry booth the ranger informed us that the car park was full, the overflow car park was full, so we ought to just find a space on the road somewhere and park on the right.  I thought maybe that all of the visitors might detract from the sense of isolation and abandonment – those qualities one really wants from a ghost town – but the site was so vast that actually it wasn’t problematic.

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Bodie was a mining town founded after a chap named Bodey found gold there in 1859.  The town gradually grew and peaked in the late 1870s, booming after a rich seam of gold ore was happened upon following a mine collapse.  During that period, Bodie had an incredible 30 mines and 9 stamp mills, where the ore was processed.  The population ballooned to about 8000 people but rapidly declined with mine closures.  Fires, the climate, and the passing decades destroyed many of the structures in the town and then the state park service stepped in and decided to preserve Bodie in a state of what they refer to as “arrested decay”.  Apparently what remains represents a mere 5% of what was once there so it really had been a massive town at one point in time.

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We had a guide book to the town which was useful in identifying buildings and in breathing life into the old bones of the place by telling some of the stories of the people who lived and worked there.  We happened to be parked near some mining equipment so it was there that we started our tour of the 100+ buildings still standing in Bodie.  This equipment had been relocated from the Red Cloud mine and included the head frame and the cages that hauled miners and ore out of the mine shafts.

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From there we wandered among the residential and commercial buildings and the wonky outhouses.  Many of these still had their contents inside.  We could peer through the windows and see dust-laden rooms containing busted furniture, plates and bottles on tables, blankets on beds, layers of wallpaper peeling.  As we did so, we learned about some of the residents of the town.  We learned about the schoolteacher whose father was a Sheriff killed in a shootout near Mono Lake, about a very naughty schoolchild arsonist who burned down the original schoolhouse, the murder of one man and the lynching of his killer, the one-armed manager of a baseball team, the women of the red light district, and those of Chinatown, and we saw coffins propped up against the wall in the morgue.  We were able to step just inside the Methodist Church so we could view its interior and were able to enter and wander around one home.  It was fantastic.

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The Miner’s Union Hall is now a museum and we had fun looking in the display cases at all the personal items, photographs, hearses, and glass bottles.  We also loved finding random rusty objects lying in space between buildings, old vehicles standing like sculptures among the long grass, and gas pumps.

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We took a wander past the lopsided hotel and the fire station and headed towards the stamp mill.  It was here that iron rods, mercury and cyanide, were used to separate the gold from the rock.  It was through being superintendent of this mining company that President Herbert Hoover’s brother Theodore lived in Bodie.  It would have been very interesting to tour the stamp mill but we knew the kids would rail against the idea so we didn’t get tickets.  We took a route past some more houses, the schoolhouse, and the hydroelectric substation, and then sadly it was time to return to the car and leave Bodie.

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I absolutely loved visiting Bodie!  It actually exceeded my expectations, which were high.  I could have stayed there for hours and hours, maybe even days.  I especially would have loved seeing it at night to see if it made the place feel eerie at all.  I am so glad we were able to fit a visit to Bodie into our road trip.

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18 thoughts on “Road Trip 2017 #23 – Bodie

  1. It sounds like some colorful ore. I’m surprised strong winds haven’t topped some of the leaning buildings. What were you drinking out of that mason jar?

    • Me too! Some of the buildings were at such weird angles that they appeared to be defying gravity. I’m also amazed that the wood survives the harsh winters and the dry summers. The Mason jar was filled with fresh orange juice. I’d like to say it was a mimosa but sadly not.

  2. This looks like just the kind of place I love, and I can see why you did, too, wandering around buildings and so on that are full of tangible and unseen memories. I always get very affected by the look of these places and imagining all the lost people and events, and that the place has no future now, no one wants it (except here, of course, being preserved, but its future is of a different kind than an everyday life). Thanks for the view of Bodie.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed exploring the place through my photos. At least in the case of Bodie, the people moved on voluntarily. As workers moving from one place to the next, I suppose they were economic migrants. I imagine it must be more arresting to visit a place like Pripyat that was abandoned because of a disaster and in one fell swoop, possessions left behind and houses set up as if suspended in frozen everyday life.

      • Yes. the Pompeii idea, everyone fled (those that could). And life suspended forever in the remnants. I remember a Nancy Drew book, the original version of The Whispering Lady, that I read at about age 8, which powerfully brought the sad/romantic picture of the abandoned mansion, family disaster, type of image to my mind. Always like the idea, since then…

      • I shall confess to you then that I cried at Pompeii. Not just eyes getting watery with tears and looking glossy. I cried full throttle, streaming tears, until I was blotchy and my eyes were red. We had been there for seven or eight hours already, imagining what life was like, imagining the panic, seeing the casts of the bodies in situ, so I was building up emotionally anyway – and I was pregnant so had hormone-fulled emotional sensitivity too. Anyway, when we reached the garden where the group of people are all cowering together, small children among them, and from that vantage point we had a clear, unobstructed view of Vesuvius, I just lost it and couldn’t keep it in any more. Thankfully only my husband was around at the time to witness the spectacle.

      • I felt teary reading this, you describe it so vividly, and it just as I have felt it (from pictures, I have not been there). I have felt this same way in Hawaii, at the Iolani Palace, not because of a disaster, but the humiliation vs. arrogance the place seemed to have in its walls. Don’t apologize for feeling.

  3. Oh, I love a good ruin… So visiting a whole ghost town is exactly my kind of day out! I’m amazed that some of those buildings are still standing, but it’s so interesting to see all the mementos of daily life left behind inside!

  4. Oh wow, I’ve been to Bodie! My dad used to live in Sacramento and was super into gold panning for all of two months. Unfortunately I happened to be visiting him during part of those two months and got dragged around to try my hand at gold panning and to stop at Bodie. Thanks (I think) for letting me relive those memories.

    • I hope reading my post conjured up memories that were enjoyable to remember, at least in retrospect even if they weren’t fun at the time. I can’t imagine my kids would enjoy being dragged around to pan for gold either. Thanks for sharing your recollection of Bodie with me.

  5. I could spend days here too Laura, what an incredible place and what a fascinating day out. Poking around here would be my idea of heaven, not knowing what you might find – the coffins still propped up the morgue too!!

    • I think you and your family would love it there, Joy. There’s so much to see. I wish the kids had been up for the stamp mill tour but even missing out on that we were able to spend hours there wandering around and exploring.

  6. You were in my second favorite place in the world!!! Do you know how many hours upon hours I’ve spend in Bodie? I have – THOUSANDS – of images of Bodie. I have never gotten through them all, there are so many. It doesn’t stop me from going back and shooting more, though. You totally have been in my territory, Mammoth Lakes, Bodie… my favorite spots.

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