When a little girl writes in her diary “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie” you know her family’s intended destination isn’t a good one— not in the 1880s anyway when she penned that entry. But because gold and silver were discovered there, the remote town of Bodie, California offered an opportunity for miners to strike it rich, despite the crime and bad weather. The chance to make a fortune was so appealing to so many that from late 1877 through the 1880s, Bodie supported a population of over 10,000 and included 2,000 buildings. Some did get rich. Between 1860 and 1941, the Bodie Mining District produced close to $100 million in gold and silver (gold was then $20-$25 an ounce; silver was 70 cents to $1 an ounce).
Although the lawlessness is long gone, the climate at Bodie State Historic Park hasn’t improved much over the decades. Because it’s perched at an elevation of 8,379 feet, it is often cold, windy and snowy here, even in summer. The town itself, though, is very different now. What’s left of this gold mining boomtown—about 170 buildings—is purposely kept in a state of “arrested decay” by the park service. Structures are literally falling down. There are no recreations or restorations here. Designated as a National Historic Site and a State Historic Park in 1962, Bodie is an authentic ghost town that provides a peek back at California’s mining history. Touring is mostly self-guided (except for the Standard Mill), so you can get an up close and personal look at how the ravages of fire, weather, and time has affected one of the most prominent and wildest mining camps of the Eastern Sierra.
As you wander through the streets, be sure to peer in the windows of the buildings, but leave every rustic relic as you find it. Everywhere you look is an old car, can, bucket, wagon, piece of gold mining equipment, and more. The contents of many homes and shops are still in their rightful places, but under layers of dust and dirt. Tables are still set with dishes and store windows still stocked with merchandise—just as if the owners are due back any time. But that won’t happen. Only park service employees stay here in the summer months; Bodie’s remaining residents cleared out in the 1940s when the last mine and post office were closed. The town’s cemetery is still in use though, as the last of the old-timer miners settle into their final resting places.
From U.S. 395 seven miles south of Bridgeport, California, take State Route 270. Go east 10 miles to the end of the pavement and continue 3 miles on a dirt road to Bodie. The last 3 miles can at times be rough and reduced speeds are necessary, but the road is wide and there is plenty of parking at Bodie. Call 760-647-6445 for road and weather conditions. Admission charged. No camping or commercial services at Bodie State Historic Park.
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