State of Arrested Decay – the Ghost town of Bodie

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Downtown Bodie

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.

Panorama of the Bodie the Ghost Town

The remains of the baddest rowdy town of Bodie

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!

The road to Bodie

The road to Bodie

Lunch at Bodie

Lunch at the picnic area 1/4 mile north of town

On our way out we were treated to an exceptional view of the Sierra Ranges.

Leaving Bodie

Snow dusting on the Sierra’s

Some hidden gems along the Eastern Sierra – Scenic 395

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Convict Lake

We’ve been on this road before, yet the scenery on Highway 395 remains awe-inspiring. We had never explored much of what lies beyond the highway, the less-traveled roads that brought us deep into the area’s natural wonders and very colorful history.  Folks who have a strong interest in geology would find this place paradise.  For us who simply want to gawk and experience its beauty, it’s best to simply spend as much time discovering hidden corners and appreciate it firsthand.  We are a couple of weeks late in enjoying the full fall splendor, as the autumn colors are beginning to fade and the temps are dropping.  And yes, we realize we can’t do it all at once – especially with some areas already closed for the season.  However, there were enough beautiful sights here to persuade us to extend our stay for a couple of days.  We will come back again to do more of our favorite outdoor activity – hiking.  There are many opportunities here but we are somewhat rushed to outrun the winter weather.  I know what you’re thinking – oh those poor people with nothing else to do but follow the sun!

The Eastern Sierra is an abrupt wall reaching two miles above the floor of the Owens Valley.  It encompasses  everything from desert scrub and alkali springs to lush alpine meadows and jagged mountains holding glacial ice.  We are experiencing golden autumn leaves – fantastic fall colors in some areas.  We explored a few creeks, lakes and canyons.  But this is also a great place for so many other activities – mountain biking, 4-wheeling and lots of hiking.  And of course you skiers would be in heaven up here!

June Lake Loop– a scenic 14-mile mountain drive where massive glaciers have carved out a steep horseshoe-shaped canyon.  The area has four lakes known not only for fishing but also for many year-round activities. At the entrance to Oh Ridge campground, a slot machine has been erected in concrete to commemorate a lost slot machine supposedly tossed into June Lake in 1941 when “the Feds” were looking around for bad guys.

June Lake Loop

June Lake Loop

Mono Lake – Travelers along scenic 395 can’t possibly miss this – the oldest lake in North America.  It is described as hauntingly beautiful and its most distinctive feature is its eerie tufa towers – mineral structures created when bubbling fresh-water springs intersect with the lake’s alkaline waters.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake viewed from an 8000′ overlook.  You can’t see Steve in front of the RV on his ladder – busily cleaning the windshield so I can take more pictures!

Tufa

Steve checking out a Tufa

Crowley Lake is considered one of the best spots for trout fishing and is the focal point of Mono County’s fishing season.  To my fishermen friends, make this your next fishing destination.  The lake is named after Father J.J. Crowley, the popular “Padre of the Desert.”

Crowley Lake

Crowley Lake

At the McGee Creek Canyon we parked our car at the end of the paved road and walked further to view the wildly colorful mountains with swathes of red, orange, brown and gray.  Geologists call these “roof pendants”- chunks of older rocks remaining on top when the great gray granites Sierra rose up beneath them and glaciers ground most of the older rock away.

Mcgee Creek Canyon

Mcgee Creek Canyon

Red Mountain

Red Mountain

Convict Lake  was the site of a shootout in 1871 that occurred when local law enforcers tracked down escapees from a Nevada Prison.  The lake sits on a spectacular setting of rugged mountain peaks.  Simply beautiful!

Convict Lake

Convict Lake, my personal favorite among the lakes we visited

We drove to Rock Creek Canyon, known for its vibrant fall colors but because we blinked or we were late in the season our chances to ensure the best show had just passed.

Rock Creek Canyon

To Rock Creek Canyon

Due to the high elevation, the aspens here were the first to shed all their golden leaves.  As we drove back to camp  we saw snow starting to fall on the mountain peaks.  Time to move on!

Conway Summit

Conway Summit

Desert Scrub

Desert Scrub

Bishop

Bishop

We witnessed a beautiful sunset on our last night at Brown’s Town Campground in Bishop.  Stay tuned for more stories about our stop here!Sunset at Bishop