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The Town of Bodie - Last Minute 4

After two nights of restless sleep, I slept well at the Chemung Mine. Legend has it that a ghost haunts the property, but luckily for me it was a Friday night - one of the six nights each week that the poltergeist is a peacefully content. Apparently if I'd been there on a Saturday evening, things could have gotten interesting.

I awoke only once during the night - right around 2:00am - when a flurry of snow was passing overhead, the tick, tick, tick of ice on the rain fly, rousing me from my sleep. I'm never happy about the prospect of a wet tent in the morning, but there was nothing I could do at that point, so I burrowed down into my warm bedding and was asleep again within minutes.

When I awoke again, it was because my phone alarm was vibrating somewhere in the tent. With a ridge to my east, I'd known that there was no chance of catching sunrise, so I'd given myself an extra half-hour of shut eye, hoping the weather would be clear enough for me to catch the sun as it lit the Sierras to my west.

I awoke to my third day of stormy weather - over the Sierras.

I counted myself lucky - the little snow that'd fallen the night before had already sublimated and both the tent and ground were dry as a bone. Having wandered the site in the fading light the night before, I figured that a more thorough investigation was warranted as the day brightened around me.

Looking to the north, Mt. Patterson was sporting a new coat of white powder. I'd made it up on the last accessible day of the season!

There has been much disrespect shown to the buildings around the Chemung Mine.

At first, my wanderings took me to many of the same structures and views I'd experienced the night before. These are the main buildings of the mine, and surely where exploration ends for most who visit here.

The Mill.

The cyanide leaching plant, most likely mistaken for the mill by most visitors.

An old car, missing a few key bits.

As the sun crept across the valley, the Sierras poked out of the coulds now and then.

Soon though, I wandered off in various directions to see if I could find things I'd missed as I rushed to take everything in some 14 hours earlier. Everywhere, new discoveries popped up - several mine shafts, a second vehicle, numerous tailings piles, and even a rusty old pile of cans made for fun discoveries - each one consuming a few minutes of wonder at the beginning of my day.

Mine shaft 1.

Mine shaft 2.

Mine shaft 3.

A view of the mine site from the largest tailings pile.

The storm may be coming, but there was still sun between me and it!

Have a good view of Mt. Patterson you say? Don't worry, humans - old and new - can wreck it.

My exploration meant that I didn't pull out of camp until somewhere around 9:30am - a couple hours later than I usually get on the road. It was no matter - I had less ground to cover in the truck today, though I had no idea at the time that I'd end up spending quite a bit of time on foot. As such, I lazily explored a few of the spur roads off of Masonic Road, the rock formations and colorful aspen keeping me entertained as patchy clouds passed overhead.

Caught in the sun.

Fall brilliance! The time of year when Mother Nature reminds us through leaves - how easy, how healthy, and how beautiful, letting go can be.

Before long, I'd left Masonic Road behind, now following the equally-well-travelled Masonic-Bodie Road.

I'm not sure I'd have come this way if it hadn't been for Mike @mk5 recommending Bodie as a place to check out in one of his trip reports - and also mentioning a "rough" road to the south where he'd punctured a tire on one of his attempts to summit Mt. Patterson. Unfortunately, he'd been through after hours - the town of Bodie now a California State Park - so in addition to missing out on Mt. Patterson, he'd also been unable to explore the town.

Even so, as I tootled along at a good clip, I had no idea what I was in for. In fact, I was mostly enjoying the views to my west, and I rose and fell along a ridge to the east.

A beautiful day in the high desert.

In front and behind me, mountains.

Out of the clouds.

Everywhere I looked.

Before I knew it, I'd covered the 15 miles between my camp site and the northern edge of town. As a matter of fact, rounding the bend and seeing Bodie for the first time, I think I even wondered aloud, "What the heck is that?" And, initially, I just thought it was a cluster of homes - part of a remote homestead or ranch.

Bodie State Historic Park as I approached from the north.

It was only after I turned on the tablet and pulled up my maps that I realized I was already to my main stop for the day. And, I have to admit that I was a little worried that I was way too far ahead of schedule - if I'd already reached Bodie, what the heck was I going to do for the remaining seven hours of daylight?

Fate is a wonderful thing, and it turns out that arriving at Bodie early was exactly the right time to arrive. In no rush at all, it gave me plenty of time to explore this amazingly well-preserved ghost town at a leisurely pace, from both the north and south access points - though, as usual, I'm getting well ahead of myself.

Red Cloud winch and headframe, which greet visitors at the parking lot.

I pulled into the parking lot - there's no driving through the town for anyone but the park rangers - and dutifully wrote a check (thank goodness I had one in my wallet, as I've taken to carrying exactly no cash over the last few years) for $8 to cover the day use fee for a single adult.

As I did, a park ranger walked by - I'd see only two other people for the next three hours, and they were both rangers, wandering town the same way I was - and asked to see proof of payment. I showed her that I was in the process of filling out the little envelope, and she continued on her way with a smile.

Turns out, a big part of the reason that I was the only one in town, was that the park was "closed" for the season. I think this really just means that there are no guided tours, and that fewer people are around - so that makes it the perfect time to visit!

I started my wandering on Green St. at the old Methodist Church.

Ready for service - well, in the summer anyway, the stove seems like it's a little bit lacking.

Gold was discovered here in 1859 by W.S. Bodey, after whom the town was named. Once the most thriving metropolis of the mono country, Bodie's mines produced gold valued at more than 100 million dollars. Tough as nails, "the bad man from Bodie" still carries his guns and bowie knife down through the pages of western history.local plaque

Continuing down Green St., the J.S. Cain residence had an amazing sun room. I'm sure this much glass wasn't easy to come by in those days, and certainly cost a lot to heat.

Quite the bottle collection.

The Miller house was one of the few structures that had an open door that allowed me to wander inside. Here, a bedroom - complete with wallpaper - seemed frozen in time.

The Miller House kitchen.

Wandering further down the street, I had no rhyme or reason to the path I took - I just walked from one interesting looking building to the next as my attention was pulled in different directions. It was liberating - travelling several streets twice, others not at all. Surely, I missed interesting tidbits, but that's just a reason to return!

What a cart! Notice the heavy duty wheel construction.

The Swazey Hotel. Rather small, and seems to be "swazying" in the wind a little much over time.

DeChambeau Hotel (left, brick) and Independant Order of Odd Fellows Lodge (right, wood). Later, the IOOF became the Bodie Athletic Club, and much of the equipment - punching bags, dumbells, etc. - is still visible inside, today.

Mine-sized tools. A sharpening stone, and one of the largest wrenches I've seen.

Another rustic cart with more traditional wheels.

Today, only about five percent of the buildings remain from the town's 1877-1881 heyday, most having fallen victim to time, fire, and the elements. Designated a California State Park in 1962, Bodie is now preserved in a state of "arrested decay." This means that buildings' roofs, windows, and foundations are repaired and stabilized, not restored.

Following the 1849 Gold Rush, mining declined along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. Prospectors, ever hungry for the next big strike, crossed to prospect the eastern slopes.

W.S. Body, from Poughkeepsie, New York, discovered gold here in 1859. He died months later in a blizzard, never seeing the town that honors him. Mining in the district continued at a slow pace until 1875, when a mine collapse revealed a rich body of gold ore. Word spread fast and Bodie's boom days began - the population quickly jumping to between 8,000 and 10,000 souls.

More than 30 different mines and nine stamp mills called this place home, along with the miners and merchants needed to keep the operations going. But Bodie attracted a rougher element as well, who gave the town a reputation for bad men and wild times. There were more than 60 saloons, prostitute cribs, and opium dens scattered throughout town. Mining continued until 1942, but the boom years were over quickly, ending just six years after the 1875 discovery. (Bodie State Historic Park Self-Guided Tour Pamphlet - $3)

The schoolhouse, in use until 1942.

Education, naturally, included realistic models of the mining equipment.

The Standard Mill.

The family of Bodie's last major landowner - J.S. Cain, resident of the house above with the sun room and bottles - hired caretakers to watch over the town and protect it from looters and vandals. In 1962, California State Parks purchased the town to preserve the historic buildings and artifacts. (Self-Guided Tour Pamphlet)

Bodie Bank - only the brick vault remains after a fire in 1932 burned the wooden building.

Vault interior.

The Sawdust Corner Saloon.

The Firehouse. Bodie had two major fires, one in 1892 and one in 1932. The 1892 fire burned more than 60 buildings when a valve was closed inadvertently, leading to a lack of water.

A later addition to the town, Bodie's own fuel station.

The interior of the Boone Store and Warehouse. Built in 18679, it was one of several general stores in town and was owned by Harvey Boone - a distant cousin of Daniel Boon. In addtion to running the store, Harvey was the county supervisor, school trustee, and Bodie Water Company president.

Exterior of the Boone Store along Green St.

Having wandered town for the better part of two hours, I realized that I could spend several full days looking in the various windows and walking through history. That wasn't happening on this trip, so I decided to climb up the hill to the cemetery before heading back to the Tacoma to continue on.

Bodie from the cemetery on the hillside.

Standard Mill, from the cemetery.

On my way back to the truck, my position up on the hill afforded me a different perspective than walking around on the streets of town. From this vantage point, it was neat to see some of the work done to preserve Bodie, several of the wooden roofs obviously having been replaced - with period appropriate wooden shingles - in the last year or two.

You can put new shingles on a roof, but we all get a little saggy over time.

And then, I was off. East around Bodie Bluff, then south along an unnamed road, I wound my way further around town than I expected, but could eventually see the back side - mostly outbuildings of mine sites - as I continued what I'd decided to call South Bodie Road. Still eager to explore, I'd hoped that these access roads would take me to the top of the ridge - without walking, as I'd have had to do from the north - but even after passing through a gate, there was another locked gate a few hundred feet further on.

It was time for more exploration on foot!

This outer perimeter of the state park was drivable. A buffer zone of sorts, it seems.

As parking spots go, at least this one had some cool views.

In the end, it probably would have been quicker to just continue on past the schoolhouse in town - which was at the base of the hill on the north side - rather than climb up the windy, mile-long southern access road - but no matter, by coming this way, there were more structures to explore!

Update: November 28, 2021

I've learned from the good folks at Bodie that the area on Bodie Bluffs - east of the town of Bodie - is actually off-limits to the public. As such, I wouldn't have been able to reach them via Green St. schoolhouse. At the request of the park, I've removed my photos from this section of Bodie, which we should all admire from afar. After all, it's by respecting the great work that everyone there is doing, that we have such a place to explore!

I probably spent 90 minutes wandering around above Bodie - a place not many people go - it seems - since it's not in the main part of town (and as I later found out above, is a restricted area). As I headed back to the truck I realized just how glad I was to have stopped here - it was so much more interesting than I'd envisioned before my arrival. So many of these ghost towns are really just tourist traps these days, all gussied up for the few residents who still live there to make a few bucks. Bodie is nice in that - as a park - it's really just about the preservation, and there isn't a lot of commercialization. Sure, it's not 100% freely explorable, but it's certainly a step back in time.

Leaving Bodie.

The road out of Bodie - the one that Mike had referred to as "very rough" and that had claimed a one of his tires - was a bit bumpy, and definitely narrow for trucks wider than my first gen - but it was through nice country and I enjoyed cruising down through the hills toward Mono Lake.

Dropping down out of Bodie Hills, Mono Lake glistening in the distance.

Out of the mountains and into the Mono Basin.

And with that, I'd reached the end of the (dirt) road. Just in time, too, since - to my west - the storm that'd been hovering over the Sierras, was finally making its way east towards my location.

It'd been three days and several hundred miles on dirt. Always nice to run a trip with only one air-up!

With the tires at full pressure, I turned west on CA-167. Long and straight, there were 15 miles between me and the storm speeding over the mountains. I stopped a few times along the way as the mountains grew larger and larger in my windshield.

Driving into the storm.

There aren't many approaches to a mountain range like the approach to the Sierras from the east.

Oh look, there *are* mountains in those clouds.

Upon reaching US-395 at Mono Lake, I turned the truck north as large rain drops began pelting the roof. The rain wouldn't let up until I reached Portland, OR the following day - a river of rain that dropped as much as 12" in some parts of drought-stricken California, we were told by the weather guessers.

Blue sky elbowed out by storm clouds over Mono Lake.

Dumping snow over the Sierras as the storm passes through.

In Portland, I made a quick stop before the final push home. But hey, that's another story!

A little present for the Tacoma.

 

The Whole Story

12 Comments

  1. Warren
    Warren November 24, 2021

    Thanks for sharing your adventure. I enjoy see Bodie again 🙂

    • turbodb
      turbodb November 24, 2021

      Glad you enjoyed it Warren! Was a pretty cool town to come upon - definitely not what I expected. Will be fun to go back and look around some more.

  2. Kenny
    Kenny November 25, 2021

    Now this is a must-see for me, with spectacular views and old buildings of the mine. I love the color of the old wooden buildings, reminds me of the Cinnabar mine out of Yellowpine, Idaho.
    I would like to do this on mostly dirt roads from home, now I have a trip to plan and perhaps an adventure rig besides my Duramax. Thanks for the inspiration Dan.
    Great photos!

    • turbodb
      turbodb November 25, 2021

      You'll enjoy it Kenny! The one thing I'd recommend would be to go when they are doing tours of the Mill (summer months), as I think it'd be pretty cool to be able to explore that part of the town. I'm sure that means there are more people there than when I showed up in the off-season, but still probably worth it. A dirt track to get there would be pretty cool. I'm sure it's doable, with the requisite planning, and pit stops for fuel and food. Happy T-day!

      • Kenny
        Kenny November 25, 2021

        I hear you, I just don't like too many people in the busy season but it may be worth it. I figure it might be unlikely to do all dirt roads. I used to travel on a DP bike mainly staying on dirt and gravel and staying in motels. The motorcycles are just too hard on me anymore so I am still looking for that perfect or near-perfect 4runner. Most 4runners I see are town cars for the most part. I will keep searching even out of state would be okay too.

        Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

  3. Ralph Turner
    Ralph Turner November 25, 2021

    Another interesting item is the power for Bodie came from the west side of 395. There is a water source/pond that is aptly named the Generator Pond. Quite a distance back over to Bodie. Enjoyed your article as always.

    • turbodb
      turbodb November 25, 2021

      Wow, that's a super cool detail Ralph! Thank you. 👍

  4. Alex Whitney
    Alex Whitney November 26, 2021

    Lots of great pictures and informational! What a great ghost town!

  5. Jeannie
    Jeannie November 27, 2021

    Fantastic trip! Thanks so much for the great photos and history. Wish my hubby was still alive and we still had our old bronco. He'd be wanting to take us on one of your trips. We use to love off-roading and seeing great places. Then we spent yrs going to and chasing our race cars from vegas to reno and many great places in btween. REALLY ENJOY YR PICS AND NARATIVE. THX AGAIN. JEANNIE

  6. Sean
    Sean November 27, 2021

    scheel-mann!!!!! what?!?! Awaiting to see if they are worth it. $$$. Amazed at how your Bodie pictures came out so amazing. Did that route during the summer. Great route. Would have been a good journey to go around mono lake on the old dirt road with the moon dust.

    • turbodb
      turbodb November 27, 2021

      I'm looking forward to the scheel-mann, for sure. They still aren't installed yet - I've been on too many trips, and the weather hasn't cooperated between adventures, but they are patiently waiting for a few nice days to be installed! Obviously, I'll be writing them up when I do. I tried some Corbeau seats, and wasn't happy with them - though I can't say enough good things about Corbeau service through the entire ordeal.

  7. Lapsley Hope
    Lapsley Hope November 29, 2021

    Very interesting and well documented with some excellent photography.

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