Imagine yourself driving through California’s lush Stanislaus National Forest while surrounded by verdant, old growth trees and miles of open land without any cities. Suddenly you’re transported more than 100 years back in time to the California Gold Rush days as you enter the ghost town of Bodie! Located 34 miles north of Mono Lake at an elevation of 8379 feet (2554 meters), Bodie is considered to be one of the best preserved examples of abandoned towns in America by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
In 1876 the Standard Company discovered a large mother lode of gold that transformed an existing small mining camp into a Wild West boomtown and it was officially named Bodie. By 1897 the town had grown in size to about 2,000 buildings while the population varied between 5,000 and 7,000 people. In those days Bodie’s 65 saloons were always busy, and stage coach holdups, street fights and murders were almost daily events. In 1881 the Reverend F.M. Warrington called Bodie "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion."
Gold discoveries in Arizona, Montana and Utah eventually lured the miners away from Bodie. It became a small community of families and you can still see the Methodist Church they built in 1882. But it also became increasingly difficult to support a family there because Bodie is far from California’s centers of commerce so by the time of the 1910 census, the population was only 698 people. By the time of the 1920 census, there were only 120 people left.
In 1961 Bodie was designated as a National Historic Landmark and in 1962 it became Bodie State Historic Park, a National Historic Site with 170 remaining buildings. Bodie has also been named as California's official state gold rush ghost town because nobody lives there yet it attracts about 200,000 visitors annually. What remains of Bodie is preserved in a state of “arrested decay” by The Bodie Foundation. This is important to know because when you visit Bodie State Park, you won’t find any food stores, gas stations or other commercial facilities. The park has a picnic area where you can eat food you bring with you. Restrooms with flush toilets are located there and at the parking lot.
Inside the museum there’s a bookstore where you can find information about daily tours such as the Stamp Mill Tour in which you can learn how gold ore was extracted and melted into bars of gold bullion. The museum also offers many interpretive exhibits and educational programs for families.
It’s almost 300 miles from San Francisco to Bodie and the driving time is about 6 hours. The most direct and scenic route involves connecting with Route 120 to Yosemite National Park and continuing along until you reach Route 395. Then drive north until you reach Route 270 east to Bodie (the last 3 miles into Bodie is a dirt road).
Peter Cross is an accomplished creative writer who has produced hundreds of articles for many different clients since 2006 when he retired from his consulting business.