Ever heard of Bodie State Historical Park? It’s a little out of the way, but we were traveling California’s amazing Highway 395 and we knew we had to take a detour to check out this place. If you’re traveling down 395, this is a must stop! It’s about 12 miles off 395, the last 3 miles a rough, unpaved, dirt road. When we drove around the last bend and caught our first view of Bodie, we felt like we had been transported into wild, wild west.
Bodie State Historic Park is a genuine California gold mining ghost town! Waterman Body, the town’s namesake, discovered gold in the hills around Mono Lake in the late 1800s leading to the purchase of a mine by the Standard Company in 1877, and the town of Bodie began. Gold fever was sweeping California and Bodie transformed to a settlement of a few dozen to a town of over 10,000.
By 1916, the Standard Mine was closed, and the great depression and prohibition were looming. Populations dwindled until the last residents left the area in the 1940s, the only visitors to Bodie being tourists interested in its history. In 1962 after years of neglect, Bodie became a State Historic Park. Two years later the ghost town of Bodie was dedicated as a California Historic Site and is now a designated National Historic Site.
The term ‘arrested decay’ was coined especially to describe this little town of Bodie. Specifically referring to Bodie, arrested decay is defined as the maintenance of the structures of the town, but only to the extent that they will not be allowed to fall over or otherwise deteriorate in a major way. Everything left inside the buildings is just as it was the day the people left with the exception of blocking entry to the buildings to protect their contents from skulduggery.
Walking around the town is an eerie experience! We peered into windows of various buildings and found amazing snapshots of what life was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was much like playing I Spy. One can find products from the time period, newspaper with dates and headlines, various household products, furniture, dishes, school supplies, farm equipment, various car parts, and a fully equipped blacksmith shop. It seriously looks like people simply stopped what they were doing for the day and walked out of the town. Or were abducted by aliens. You choose.
As we were wandering, we questioned many times…why would people leave all their belongings behind? You need these things to live in any other town! Tools, clothing, cars, photographs….all abandoned. There is a mortuary complete with child and adult sized coffins and the carriages used to transport the bodies to the cemetery. The firehouse is stocked with the original fire carriage along with hoses and fire fighting equipment. It’s eerie and bizarre.
This building looked like it might have been an old pharmacy or drug store of some kind. There were various glass bottles lining the shelves. Did you ever see that series, ‘Little House on the Prairie?’ It reminded us of something out of that era.
This leaning building was fascinating to see. It seemed as though a stiff wind would blow it right over. Weather in Bodie ranges from below freezing and snow in the winter to sweltering temps up to the 90s in the summer. Yet, still, this town survives.
This room at the Hotel was interesting! Why is there a bedpan on the floor? Was this a standard amenity for hotel guests in the 1800s? Maybe those who didn’t want to brave the snow to trek outside to use the ‘two seater’ outhouses opted for the bedpan instead? Who knows, but we sure were curious about that.
We wonder what’s in that suitcase….don’t you? Maybe nothing….maybe a hundred gold bars!
Check out the map on the wall of the old schoolhouse. Books and papers left open and scattered over the desks as though the kids had just left for recess. Maybe the ghosts have school when the tourists are gone for the day?
To see everything in Bodie, you’ll need to spend the whole day there. Bring lots of water with a cooler of ice and snacks. No food is available onsite, though there are restrooms. You can purchase a self-guided tour pamphlet that talks about the buildings and history as you wander the area – this is worth the couple of bucks they charge. There is a cemetery up the hill, but it was super hot so we didn’t make it up there. If you go, send us some pictures of the tombstones and we will add them to this blog.
Directions: Bodie is located in the Basin Range of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 13 miles East of Highway 395 in central California.
Take U.S. Hwy. 395 to State Hwy. 270 and drive 10 miles east until the paved road ends, then continue for 3 miles of an unpaved dirt road.
Admission is $8 per adult and $5 for children, under 3 is free.