Ghost Town

The Ghost Town of Bodie As Seen from the Cemetery

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.

Buildings Shored Up from Total 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.

The Standard Stamping Mill Reduced Ore into Its Mineral Elements

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.

 

Eastern Sierra Road Trip

The Alabama Hills Near Lone Pine

The Eastern Sierra Road Trip is now a definite go for next week. Today, Martine managed to get a few of her healthcare scheduling issues taken care of, so I went and reserved accommodations for our trip. I just have to do a little shopping, like getting good AA alkaline batteries for my little Canon rangefinder.

Most people don’t know much about the Eastern Sierras. They’re usually familiar with the National Parks along the Western Sierras, places like Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite—but the eastern edge of the range is steeper and the base is, for the most part, desert. In fact, we will have to drive through a good chunk of the Mohave Desert between the town of Mohave and Olancha, where the interesting sights begin, right near the turnoff for Death Valley. (Mind you, we don’t intend to visit Death Valley in July: That’s the sort of thing that only German tourists do for some reason.)

If you want to get an idea of what there is to be seen along Highway 395 as it wends its way along the eastern slope of the mountains, click on the California Through My Lens website, which does a fairly good job of enumerating what is to be seen along the way.

As I mentioned elsewhere, our three main destinations are:

  • The ghost town of Bodie
  • The Devils Postpile National Monument
  • The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

I have been to Bodie, though Martine has not. Neither of of us have seen the other two places. All three are on high ground off Highway 395, somewhere around the 10,000-foot (3,000 meter) elevation mark.

The great thing about traveling through the desert is that there are always a ton of minor destinations that amuse you without eating up too much time. One such place is Pearsonville, the “Hubcap Capital of the World,” where you can find a 25-foot-tall statue of a young woman:

On the Road to Olancha

 

Owens Valley Escapade

Ghost Town of Bodie, California

Although Martine and I have been to the Owens Valley before, Martine suggested another visit to see some of the sights we have missed. To be specific, there are the following three destinations she’s never seen before:

  • The ghost town of Bodie, a town which was abandoned by its residents, especially after the mine closed in 1942. It is now a State Historical Park which will be allowed to decay naturally—but not before I’ve had another look at it.
  • The Devils Postpile National Monument, a natural feature that resembles the Giants Causeway of Northern Island with its hexagonal columns.
  • The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains, containing the oldest living things on earth: trees that are thousands of years old.

The Devils Postpile National Monument

In addition, there are a number of other sights with which we are familiar and which we may revisit:

  • The Manazanar camp for the resettlement of Americans of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War.
  • The Eastern California Museum of Inyo County
  • The Lone Pine Film History Museum and the nearby Alabama Hills where hundreds of Westerns were shot.
  • Mono Lake and its natural tufa structures
  • The Laws Railroad Museum near Bishop, California

Bristlecone Pine Tree

There is a very informative website called Highway 395 Roadtrip Stops complete with photographs, of the many features along the route.

We will probably be gone for five days sometimes in the next month or so.