There are ghost towns scattered all across the West, but the one that impressed me the most is Bodie, just north of Mono Lake, at an altitude of 8,375 feet (2,553 meters). It is above the tree line and suffers from icy winters and occasional major snowfalls. Founded in 1859 and named after a prospector who froze to death before he ever saw the town named after him, it saw its greatest glory between 1877 (when it was the third largest city in California) and the early 1880s. After the main gold and silver veins gave out, there was still some mining taking place through the Second World War.
In 1962, Bodie became a California State Historic Park. Instead of Disneyfying the buildings that survived several major fires, the State decided to keep the buildings pretty much as they were—with the original furniture that the inhabitants left behind when they quitted the region. The only repairs have been to replace badly damaged roofs and shore up buildings that were about to collapse.
The original outhouses behind the buildings remain, though they have been filled in to protect visitors from accidents. Several of the better preserved houses are current residences for California State Park personnel.
In the long run, this ghost town will become a total ruin. Until then, it provides a fascinating and totally unvarnished look at life in a 19th century mining town. Most of the buildings cannot be entered, but one could peek in through the windows and see store merchandise, gaming tables, coffins, as well as kitchen, bedroom, and living room furniture. Why is this stuff still here? Because Bodie is in an isolated area, the miners and others who left thought it was cheaper to buy new stuff at their next destination than to arrange for expensive transport of their shabby belongings.
There are tales of gunfights—and people were shot to death in disputes—but when remains are not the gun fighting legends, but the stories of miners and their families, and the people who sold goods to them, ran the newspaper, the bank, the whorehouses and opium dens. There is no picturesque boot hill because the ne’er-do-wells who filled each other with lead were buried outside the cemetery without any monuments to commemorate them.