Bodie State Historic Park
The hundreds of ghost towns strewn across the American West are an enduring reminder of the restlessness and entrepreneurial spirit
of the American people. Most of these towns started with the shout of "Gold!" the most explosive catalyst of the westward expansion of
the 19th century. Upon the news of a major gold or silver strike, a local mining camp would be stampeded by thousands of miners and
other entrepreneurs looking for quick riches. An instant town would arise, invariably rough and rowdy, with all manner of services for
the miners, especially bars and brothels.
Right, Green Street, one of Bodie's main thoroughfares, is a shadow of its former self.
When the easy pickings at the mines ran out, most of the miners likewise ran out, looking for the next big strike, and leaving
behind a shell of a town. Advancing technology, which allowed more effective mining gave many of the boomtowns a second lease on life
well into the 20th century. But even for most of these second-stage mining towns, death was inevitable. However their longevity often
left them in a relatively well-preserved state. Such is the case with the town of Bodie, California, now Bodie State Historic Park,
generally considered the best preserved of all true western ghost towns.
Left, the original kitchen of the Miller House.
Right, the home of James Stuart Cain, who eventually owned the Standard Mine.
There are three types of ghost towns: the true ghost town, the partial ghost town, and the tourist ghost town. A true ghost like
Bodie is completely abandoned, and the visitor may view authentic remnants of the past. A partial ghost is a living town which has
disused structures mingling with modern buildings, often an old abandoned mine, or mill. Jerome, Arizona and Mogollon, New Mexico are
examples of partial ghost towns. A tourist ghost town is actually a living town, which has been largely rebuilt or refurbished along
the lines of its historic past, largely to promote tourism. Tombstone, Arizona is the best example of a tourist ghost town.
(Left) Antique gas pumps are located adjacent to the general store.
Prospector W. S. Bodey first discovered evidence of gold in 1859 about eighty miles south of Carson City, Nevada. (He died that
same year in a vicious snowstorm and never reaped any wealth from his discovery.) During the 1860s about one hundred miners lived
in the camp, named Bodie rather than Bodey, toiling quietly for the Bunker Hill (later Standard) Mine. The first rich vein of gold
ore wasn't discovered until 1874 during a cave-in at the mine. With the mine's announced financial success in 1877 and a major strike
the following year the boom was on. During its heyday from 1878 to 1882, the town was as mean and tough and wild as any in the west.
The famous quote by a little girl in her diary, upon learning her family was moving there, was "Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie."
The remains of downtown on Main Street, west to east.
Photo, left: brick building is post office; at right, hall of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a men's club.
Photo, center: left, Miners Union Hall; at right, the town morgue.
Photo, right: the Boone General Store, on the far side of Green Street, built in 1879. Right side of building housed the garage
and gas station.
The boom didn't last long however. The town's population peaked at 10,000 in 1880, and was back down to 3,000 in 1882,
1,500 in 1887, and into the hundreds soon after. The introduction of cyanide leaching in 1895 extended the life of the Standard Mine
until about 1916. In total, the thirty mines of the Bodie Mining District had extracted about $100 million worth of gold and silver.
Right and above, show window at the general store with original contents.
A fire largely destroyed Bodie's downtown in 1892, and a second major fire in 1932 destroyed most of what remained of the town.
Most of the few remaining people left after that. The town was completely abandoned around 1950.
(I viewed a wall calendar in the garage through the window which appeared to read 1947.) It became Bodie State Historic Park in 1964.
The 170 remaining buildings (about 5% of the total during the heyday) are maintained in a state of "arrested decay", that is,
their condition at the time they were abandoned. Many of the buildings are still furnished, and the contents can readily be viewed
through the windows. Entry into most of the buildings is prohibited. Old mining equipment is strewn about everywhere.
The success of the Standard Mine and Mill, left, precipitated the Bodie stampede.
A visit to Bodie today is a special experience. The site's remoteness and dirt road access (the last three miles) assures
limited visitation. The park has no visitor amenities other than a parking lot and restroom a short distance from the town.
There are no interpretive signs in the town itself. It simply sits there in its abandoned state, a true ghost town. As you stroll the
dead-quiet dirt streets, you must imagine what it was like to live here over a hundred years ago.
Left, the poolroom and bar at the Wheaton and Hollis Hotel.
Right, the Henry Metzger House. Metzger was typical of many miners
who never got rich and lived an average life in Bodie while raising a family. He arrived in 1878 and worked for the Standard Mill,
becoming a foreman by the time the mine closed in 1916.
Bodie is located in sagebrush foothills at the base of the great Sierra Nevada range at an elevation of 8,375 feet.
Winters here are long and ferocious with huge amounts of snow and below zero temperatures. The treeless slopes offer no protection
from the wind. Back then, death from exposure and disease was quite common. The many months of winter isolation certainly exacerbated
the murders and other wild behavior. Today, it means that Bodie is generally accessible by a family vehicle from mid-spring through
The park's access road leaves US-395 about 82 miles south of Carson City, Nevada, or 20 miles north of Lee Vining, California,
the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park. The access road is 13 miles of very scenic driving, the last three on dirt.
The return drive provides absolutely spectacular views of the Sierras. One mile north of the US-395 junction, the Virginia Creek
Settlement provides very nice lodging, camping, and a restaurant featuring Italian food. For information, call 760-932-7780.
For information on visiting Bodie, including accessibility, visit the
Bodie State Historic Park's website or call 760-647-6445.