A must-see along scenic 395 (if you like ghost towns as Steve does) is a landmark, Bodie State Historical Park. Bodie is the remains of the famously rowdy gold mining town sitting at 8,375 feet elevation, located northeast of Yosemite National Park 13 miles east of Highway 395.
Only about 5 percent of the buildings remaining from the 1880’s are still standing in perhaps the West’s best preserved ghost town. The Park Service keeps them in a state of “arrested decay,” protected but not restored. What this means is they will replace items that break (like roofs and stairs), but they do not completely restore anything. This leaves most of the buildings looking very much as they did well over 100 years ago. The interiors are maintained as they were left, providing a snapshot of the past. Looking around, we observed golden hues of wood weathered by more than a century of wind, rain, sun, snow and leaning walls propped up by old beams.
The town’s reputation then was characterized as “a bad man from Bodie was worse than a bad man from elsewhere,” due to its lawlessness and wickedness. The town once reached a population of 10,000. This story reminded us of another gold rush town, Skagway in Alaska, where gunfights, killings and robberies occurred regularly. Steve says it sort of reminds him of Oakland, CA nowadays.
What’s sad is that the prospector who first discovered the gold and after whom the town was named (with a misspelling), Watterman S. Body (a.k.a William S. Bodey) was not able to enjoy his discovery – he froze to death in a blizzard the same year he found it in 1859. His body was discovered the following year after the snow melted.
After visiting the ghosts in town we had lunch at their picnic area about a quarter mile past town. It appeared very few people were aware of the picnic area and we had it all to ourselves for a nice quiet snack.
The 13-mile drive to Bodie is a winding paved road with the last 3 miles of dirt and gravel beginning at the gate. The dirt/gravel portion is in poor condition and must be traveled slowly – NOT recommended for RV’s. The park is open year-round, but the excellent museum closes at the end of October. We were fortunate to visit the museum on the last day it was open!
On our way out we were treated to an exceptional view of the Sierra Ranges.