Bodie: Quiet Ghost Stirring; Gold and Silver Mining Built It. Talk about a New Mine Is Rousing Interest

Sunset, May 1990 | Go to article overview

Bodie: Quiet Ghost Stirring; Gold and Silver Mining Built It. Talk about a New Mine Is Rousing Interest


"Goodbye God! We're going to Bodie." That saying--familiar to all who visit--was written in a young girl's diary as her family was leaving for the remote mining town in California's eastern Sierra Nevada. It's now believed that she was misquoted, and that she really wrote, "Good, by God! We're going to Bodie." But it's easy to see why she may have felt the other way. In Bodie's 1879 heyday, the population of 10,000 citizens included many considered the wickedest badmen in the West. With only two churches and 65 saloons, the town was renowned for street fights, holdups, and daily killings. One minister called it "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion." Today, an eerie stillness pervades the town, where only cows meander down dirt streets, and sagebrush skips and rolls among long-vacated homes. Inside storefronts, antiquated furniture and sundries--a broken desk, rusted sink, an old shoe--lie in disarray, covered in dust. One day, the vistas and the silence may be impinged upon--if a consideration to reinstate mining operations comes to fruition. But starting May 28, you can explore the state park on organized tours. And from May 5 you can delve into Bodie's history at a photography exhibit in Bridgeport and nearby Mammoth Lakes. Left alone with your thoughts, it's tempting to resurrect what lies before your and imagine what life might have been like.

Digging up Bodie's past

Nestled in the Sierra about 30 miles northeast of Lee Vining, the 486-acre park is open year-round, but the best time to visit is late spring through summer after snows melt. From Lee Vining, at the eastern approach to Yosemite Park, take U.S. Highway 395 north 18 miles over Conway Summit to the turnoff for Bodie (State Highway 270/Bodie Road). The road is paved for the first 10 miles and is dirt for the remaining 3. Admission is $3 per car. For the trip, bring a good supply of food and water, since the town has no services. A picnic area 1/2 mile from the parking lot provides tables and a spring-fed faucet. No overnight camping is permitted.

Self-guided tours. Walking is your only mode of transportation once inside Bodie (which retains roughly 5 percent of its original structures). A detailed map of the park with a self-guided historic walking tour costs $1. The tour takes you across town to some 69 sites and can last from an hour or two to most of the day. Among the favorite stops are the cemetery on the town's western slope, and the museum and visitor center. The center offers a limited bookstore and displays a variety of artifacts. Among them are an opera believed to be written and produced for the townspeople (including a large Chinese population), the red light of infamous prostitute Rosa May, 1879 Bodie Bank checks, wooden snowshoes for horses, and the payroll and gold scales from the Standard Mine. …

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