Bodie: Adventures in a California Ghost Town


Crack! Boom! Boom, boom! Like echoes of long-quiet stamp mills, thunder and lightning pounds the rough and rustic town of Bodie on a mid-summer afternoon. In an arrested state of decay, the town sits nestled in the rounded mountaintops of the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains between Los Angeles, California and Reno, Nevada. Lightening rods on some of the buildings make one feel safer, but showers drench a body faster than a squirrel can stash a nut in its cheek.

While most people at Bodie  ran back to the museum or their cars that oh, so adventurous day of our visit, we took shelter in a town doorway and imagined what life must have been like there almost 100 years ago.

While the Bodie heyday years were from 1877-1881, the mine and schoolhouse remained in operation until 1942, so sights include old miners’ cabins as well as knob-and-tube electrical fixtures, rusty automobiles, outhouses, a wringer washing machine and other remnants of daily life in a remote mountain town.

Impressions about past inhabitants one receives in Bodie are of a resilient people with live-well, yet make-do attitudes. One also notices from cemetery headstones, the people died young, usually in their 30s. From rusty siding, roofing and chinking made from food and kerosene cans, one can see residents made the most of everything.

Summertime is perfect for a visit to Bodie. Plan on a full day of adventure. Bring umbrellas in case of summer afternoon thundershowers.plenty of batteries and storage media for the cameras, and don’t forget plenty of beverages and a picnic lunch. There are tables in town, hidden behind buildings so as not to distract from the ghost town feels. Seek and ye shall find.

Enrich the adventure and learn where “The Bad Man of Bodie” expression came from. Buy the historical guide for a nominal $2. Wandering docents are happy to share some of those rough and rowdy stories. All one must do is have initiative and strike up a conversation or ask a question. Take a tour of the stamp mill too. Be enthralled!

A final tip: Be quiet and move thoughtfully while in Bodie. Besides ghosts and occasional park rangers, one might be treated to close encounters of the wildlife variety. A sage grouse flew low across the path right in front of us, Belding’s ground squirrels were all over the place and unafraid. A bushy-tailed wood rat scampered away as soon as we made eye contact, and Sierra sulphur butterflies flitted over the greenery and wildflowers. There were also swallows, and some little spider we enjoyed watching after a particularly heavy shower washed away its web.

Where we stayed and did business
Are you an Elk, or do you know one? We were lucky to find an empty spot at the Gardnerville, Nev. Elks Lodge. It is definitely one of the most beautifully built and landscaped lodges we’ve seen in our travels. We didn’t go in to dine, though, because most lodges are a meat and potatoes kind of place, and we don’t do meat. We never did see anywhere to get water, dump or take out our trash, but we stayed only three days. Folks were very nice, and it was quiet and peaceful.

We drove 30 minutes into Carson City to Discount Tire and Michael Hohl Honda  for the tire we blew off our towed on Highway 95, and the damage it caused. The service people at both locations offered excellent customer service. Read our Blow Out in the Nevada Desert post for more. It changed our plans a bit.

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