Last fall, one of my photography expedition dreams came true –– I finally made it to Bodie, an Old West ghost town in the remote high-desert of Northern California.
Inspired by a family member, I’d had Bodie on my list for a couple of years. When I saw the wonderful photos from his trip, I was determined to go there and explore it for myself. Thank you, Nick.
My partner was on board, and equally fascinated with seeing the bristlecone pine forest in the same area, so off we went in mid-September, one of the most beautiful and temperate times to visit both.
Bodie’s houses and buildings are preserved in a state of “arrested decay”: That is, repaired and stabilized, but not restored, as exemplified by the leaning structures in my photo above. Inside are many things residents left behind when they packed up and moved away.
Those dust-covered objects of everyday life –– in the abandoned homes, businesses and school –– reflect the town’s many layers of history.
Bodie was a gold rush boom town with a brief, wild heyday from 1877–1881, bustling with more than 30 mines. When failing mines began to close, its population dwindled, but the industry and habitation continued until 1942.
That’s why you’ll find furnishings, store goods, vehicles and other items from several decades among the ruins. In a shed, a horse-drawn carriage. In a field, rusting automobile parts, or a truck, such as this flatbed pickup, circa 1940:
All around the deteriorating human structures, nature has vigorously taken up residence. On the day my partner and I visited, flowering sagebrush was everywhere, adding a painterly touch to the landscape with its vivid yellow blooms.
The confluence of nature and human artifacts is an affecting aspect of the Bodie environment, reflected in one of my favorite photos of the day:
As I stepped down from a pile of rocks I’d stacked to peer into the window of a house, I found these old shoes, left behind decades ago, disintegrating into the dry, hard earth, surrounded by shoots of fresh green grass.
So much to see, so many stories to capture as I walked through Bodie’s streets and fields, imagining the lives of the people who’d lived there. Always looking out for the details –– and perhaps touched by a ghost hovering barefoot in the air.
For more about Bodie and additional photos, including a fabulous old lion-foot billiard table, see my earlier post at this link.
Bodie is in California’s Eastern Sierra region, 13 miles east of Highway 395 on Bodie Road (Highway 270), seven miles south of Bridgeport. Note that the last three miles into town, you’ll be driving an unpaved road: It will be a rough, rocky ride in places, but does not require a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The town, a California state historic park, is open all year, from 9 a.m.–6 p.m. in summer (April 15–November 3) and 9 a.m.–4 p.m. in winter (November 4–April 14). The warmer spring, summer and fall months are the best time to visit.
Check the Bodie State Historic Park website before you go for comprehensive, updated visitor information –– from hours and fees to road conditions (especially winter snow), advisory notices and special programs, such as night ghost walks, star walks and old mill tours.
There are restrooms, a parking lot and picnic area, but no food or gasoline on the premises, so be sure to fuel up and pack water and snacks. A hat, sunscreen and jacket (even in summer) are also advisable. On our early fall trip, the sun was intense, but in late afternoon temperatures dropped significantly, and we were glad to have extra layers with us.
Bodie sits at an elevation of 8,375 feet, so you may experience a bit of altitude sickness –– fatigue, lightheadedness, an unusual drop in energy –– after hours on your feet exploring. It’s also a dry environment. Carry water and snacks with you, stay hydrated and take a break periodically.
Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, and the towns Lee Vining and Bishop are nearby. We found Bishop an enjoyable, very convenient base for visiting Bodie and the bristlecone pine forest.
Copyright M. Vincent 2019. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2019.