Was the table laid out because the family was ready to sit down to supper? Did the students and their teacher leave the notebooks on the table because they would return the next day? Did the residents leave in a hurry? Why didn’t they pack their things and carry them away? These are some of the questions that rise in your mind as you stroll through Bodie in California. But there is no one to answer because today Bodie is a ghost town.
Located in the Basin Range of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Bodie lies about 13 miles (around 20 km) east of Highway 395 in central California. However, even the final three mile (nearly five km) of unpaved dirt road does not prepare you for what lies ahead. A town that is frozen in time. A 19th century gold mining town that has tried in vain to stop the passage of time.
Declared a State Historic Park in 1962, it is now maintained by California State Parks. You have to pay an entrance fee to enter the ghost town now protected in a state of ‘arrested decay’ by the Park authorities.
Bodie shot to fame in the 1800s when gold prospecting was in its heyday. After William S Bodey discovered gold in the area (today known as Bodie Bluff) in 1859 and a mill was established in 1861, the town began to grow. By 1880, the town had an estimated population of 10,000 people. Apart from residential quarters, the town had its own church, school general stores, hospitals, and hotels and restaurants. But life was not easy. Apart from the extreme weather, Bodie had become notorious for its bars and brothels, gambling houses and opium dens. But as the mining of the yellow metal began to wane, Bodie’s economy suffered. According to records, two fires also laid much of the town to waste. By 1931, the town was abandoned, its residents all gone.
The best way to enjoy the ghost town is to take a guided tour. You may also take a self-guided tour with maps available at the Bodie Store or the museum. There are about a hundred odd buildings in various states of dilapidation. Apart from the homesteads, the church, the school building, and the cemetery, you can see the remains of the infamous salons that once lined the Main Street. Remains of the Standard Mill will take you back to the time when it used to process gold from the Standard Mine. Entry into most buildings is not allowed owing to the delicate nature of the structures. But you can see through the dusty windows to take a look inside. Guides at Bodie will remind you to take a look at the old furnishings, the dated newspapers that the homeowners used to plug etc.
The town is strewn with memorabilia, from farm implements to a lonely Chevrolet to nails, and more. It is difficult not to give in to the temptation of picking a small something as a souvenir. Even if you are not convinced by the prevailing Park laws that specify that you cannot remove anything from here, you may heed the ‘Bodie curse’ which says anyone who carries away anything is sure to meet with bad luck. And if you think it is only an old wives’ tale, read the letters kept at the Bodie Museum!
Information: Bodie is about seven hours’ drive from San Francisco. Depending on your level of curiosity and walking ability, it will take from three or four hours to a good part of a day to see Bodie and browse through the museum. Also, since Bodie is perched at 8,379 feet, a stroll through the town may be physically tiring. Hence it is better to book an accommodation in a nearby town. Carry plenty of drinking water and some food.