Located in California’s rugged Eastern Sierras, Bodie was once a rough-and-tumble boomtown. It was named for William S. Body who discovered a small amount of gold in the surrounding hills in 1859. The name was subsequently changed by the local citizenry to insure proper pronunciation. Shortly thereafter the population grew from a few dozen to over 10,000, when a nearby cave-in revealed a rich strike of gold ore. After 1888 the population declined significantly, until the last stragglers left in the late 1950s. Today, it looks much the same as it did in the olden days. And although the cowboys are long gone, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like back then.
The town itself is a little bit out of the way, but getting there is half the fun. Just head south on Highway 395, from Bridgeport, then turn left on State Route 270. The first 10 miles of the road is paved, but it’s open range and sheep often wander out into the road. And they move when they feel like it, not when you want them to, so be prepared for sheep jams. The last three miles of the road is not paved, but it is graded, and I managed just fine in my low-clearance car.
There are two accessible parking spaces on cement pads, near the paved walkway which leads to the ghost town. Alternatively, you can park near the Museum & Visitor Center on Main Street. Just let the ranger at the entrance kiosk know that you can’t manage distances, and they will open the gate for you.
There is ramp access to the Museum & Visitor Center, which is located in the Miners Union Hall. Not only was this home to the first organized union in the state, but it was also the hub of Bodie social activity, as many parties, balls and celebrations were held there. Inside, there’s good pathway access around a collection of vintage items; from carriages, dishes and bottles, to insulators, mining equipment and even a few Bodie Foundry items.
The rest of the town is preserved in a state of arrested decay, and although some of the streets are a bit rocky, Main Street and Green Street are level and doable for most people. Most of the buildings have one or two steps, but since they’re not open it’s not a problem. Additionally, some buildings are missing walls or windows, so it’s easy to peek inside.
The morgue — complete with caskets — is located next to the Museum & Visitor Center, and the surrey shed is behind that. The old firehouse, which is down the street is also worth a look. The fire company itself was largely ineffective, and the whole town almost burned down twice. Apparently the screens at the reservoirs weren’t replaced when they were cleaned, and the pipes became clogged with mud and debris, so they didn’t have the needed water to extinguish the fires.
Thee firehouse was an important component of funerals though, as they rang the bell every time someone was buried. And that was fairly often in this wild west town. Indeed, robberies, street fights, stage hold-ups and even lynchings were commonplace in this town that had over 60 saloons.
Along Green Street old bottles line the windows of the James Stuart Cain residence, and the Methodist church sits at the end of the street. Sadly the church has been vandalized over the years, and an oilcloth depicting the 10 Commandments was even stolen from the altar. Still it’s a good example of an old western church.
All in all, Bodie is a nice place to wander, so take your time and explore as little or as much as you want. Although the park is technically open all year, the roads are not passable in the winter, and the Museum & Visitor Center is only open from May 15 to October 31.
It’s also a good idea to visit early in the day, as it can get pretty hot in the afternoon. Remember to keep hydrated too, as the elevation is over 8,300 feet. Water fountains are located at the end of Main Street across from the post office, and there is a picnic area and an accessible restroom on the other side of the main parking lot. It’s also important to remember that Bodie is a ghost town, so it doesn’t have any commercial facilities such as restaurants or gas stations. That said it’s a great opportunity to get a glimpse of what the wild west was really like.
If you Go
Bodie State Historic Park