Anyone who likes Lost Places will love Bodie in California. During the Gold Rush, Bodie was a thriving city with several saloons, breweries, Chinese neighborhoods and brothels. But today only about 5% of the buildings are still standing. They are reminiscent of the time of the Wild West - a time of gold diggers and outlaws. Here I feel like I'm set in the scenery of a Western: left and right crooked wooden houses, the wind blows the dust over the streets, something rattles in the wind. In the museum you can dive even deeper into the story. There are many objects from that time on display, from the opium pipe to the black coach of the undertaker. In my following article you'll learn more about the ghost town and what you can see when you visit Bodie. You'll also get an idea how many photo motifs are waiting for you here.
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Gold Rush in Bodie
After the end of the gold smoke in the west of the Sierra Nevada in 1849, the first gold diggers left for the east of the Sierra Nevada. William S. Bodey finally discovered his first gold here in 1859. After him the gold digger settlement was named, which should develop here in the following years from the dust of the Sierra.
Gold mining was initially carried out on a small scale. But then, in 1875, a valuable gold vein was discovered. Bodie boomed and finally had 7000 to 8000 inhabitants. From 1877 to 1881, 30 gold mines and 9 stamp mills were operated in the Bodie district to extract the metals.
But the gold digger settlement Bodie did not only attract gold diggers and traders. Also the bad guys and wild guys came and brought Bodie a corresponding reputation. All together they filled the more than 60 saloons, the brothels and the opium caves in Chinatown.
Bodie becomes a Ghost Town
But already in 1881 the first mines became unprofitable and had to close. Gold mining was the city's only source of income, so many people lost their jobs and emigrated. In the years 1892 and 1932 two big fires destroyed many buildings. Gold mining continued until 1942 but was finally abandoned in the 1960s. Bodie became a ghost town and the gold mines, which brought in a total of 100 million US dollars worth of gold, were abandoned.
The family of the last major landowner, James. S. Cain has since paid guards to take care of Bodie and protect it from vandalism. In 1962, California State Park bought the old Bodie gold digger settlement to protect the historic buildings and artefacts. Since then the protection has been operated in the sense of a so-called "Arrested Decay". This means that the buildings will not be restored. Only windows, roofs or foundations are repaired.
Bodie Photography Workshops
You will find the best light for photos before sunrise and after sunset. Bodies opening hours don't allow one or the other. But the Bodie Foundation offers photo workshops from mid-May to mid-October. Then you can enter Bodie before sunrise or leave it after sunset. You can register your own workshops with a few people or register with already scheduled groups.
Impressions from one of California's most beautiful Lost Places
Due to the dry climate the buildings are still in a good condition and the old gold digger settlement Bodie is today the best preserved ghost town of the USA. In many buildings you can still see the interior through the windows. For example in the old Boone Store or in the schoolhouse, which was used as such until 1942. Some buildings may even be entered. Some of them still contain the furnishings. Some buildings are named after their functions, others after the people who lived in them.
In the ghost town Bodie there are still 170 buildings preserved. Among them are beside the old gold mine among other things a church, a school building, a Shell gas station, a shop, a prison, hotels as well as several residential buildings. In addition, there are several rusty cars, carriages and carts that provide great photo motifs. Plan at least two to three hours for your visit. Best in the morning or in the late afternoon, because then the light for taking pictures is at its best.
Devices from the Red Cloud Mine
The equipment was brought here from the Red Cloud Mine and is now opposite the parking lot. The large wooden structure is called the head frame or gallows frame. It once stood above the lifting gear of the vertical shaft of the mine. Among them are cages that transported miners, ore and rock waste.
The McDonnell / Dolan House
The McDonnell / Dolan house is the first building you see when you come from the parking lot.
The Methodist Church
The Methodist church was built in 1882 and is the only surviving church in Bodie. E.J. Clinton, head of a mining company in the 1920's, had the church restored by his own means. Inside, the benches and the organ are still preserved.
Miners Union Hall (Museum)
Today the museum with a small souvenir shop has moved into the former Miners Union Hall. Here you can also get more information about guided tours and events. The building was built in 1878 and was Bodies centre of social life. It was a meeting place for the Union members, held religious events, balls on Independence Day and masked balls, Christmas parties.
The fire station was rebuilt in 1930 by the California Conservation Corps. The largest fires burned in Bodie in 1892 and 1932. 60 buildings fell victim to the fire in 1892. Unexpected difficulties did not make fire fighting any easier: a valve that could not be opened, blocked water pipes or simply lack of water.
The school was built then as Bon Ton Lodging House. It only became a school after the first school was burned down. From 1879 to 1880 the school had its heyday with 615 pupils. It was closed in 1942. Through the windows you can still see the furniture and teaching materials from that time.
The large Gold Mine
The buildings of the large gold mine and the surrounding area are unfortunately not safe. Therefore the area is fenced off and can only be entered as part of a guided tour. These are only offered in summer. Information on guided tours can be found in the museum. The Standard Mill was the most successful of the 30 mining companies that worked in Bodie. The mine has generated more than $18 million in profits over 38 years. The buildings were constructed in 1899 after a fire in 1898 destroyed the original buildings.
Horace F. Swasey bought the two-story hotel in 1894. It also housed a clothes shop and later a casino. As it stands so crooked there it was for me one of the most beautiful cobblestones of the Ghosttown.
Boone Store and Warehouse
The Boone Store and Warehouse, built in 1879, was one of several general stores in the city. The shop fittings are still there.
Wheaton & Luhrs Store
In the early 1880s George H. Wheaton and Nicholas C. Luhrs built their business. On the front façade the later name of the shop - Bodie Store - can still be seen. In 1910 the offices for the Hydroelectric Company, which supplied the city with electricity from the Lundy Canon, were built here. In the 1920s the building was converted into a hotel.
Arrival, Opening Hours, Prices
You can reach Bodie from Lee Vining via Highway 395 northbound. After 29 kilometres the main road CA-270 E branches off towards Bodie. The last 5 kilometres are a bumpy gravel road, partly with a corrugated iron profile. Why the last 5 kilometres were not also asphalted is a mystery to me. Possibly as an authentic introduction to the historical site of Bodie?
The State Historic Park Bodie is open all year round, in winter (beginning of November to middle of March) from 9 to 16 o'clock, in summer (middle of March to end of October) from 9 to 18 o'clock. However, the road to Bodie is not cleared in winter and is not passable due to the snow. The entrance fee is 8 US dollars.
The ghost town of Bodie is best explored on your own during your visit. A small brochure is helpful, which you can buy at the ticket office for 2 US dollars. A disadvantage, however, is that you are not allowed to visit the old gold mine without a guide. If you want to visit the mine, you can join the daily "Ghost Mill Tour". Three times a summer there are also evening "Ghost Walks".
Bodie lies at an altitude of 2,554 metres. Due to the altitude it can be cold. There are clean and heated sanitary facilities but unfortunately no cafe for warming up. So besides a warm jacket you should also bring your own provisions.
Tip: If you drive through Lee Vining, then I can highly recommend a detour to the beautiful Salt Lake Mono Lake .
Book Recommendation for California
You want to know where the journey goes? Then I can recommend these books* about California.
You can order these books at Amazon with a click on the pictures. If you buy a product via one of these affiliate links, I get a small commission and you help me to keep filling Fernweh-Motive with interesting articles. The product will not be more expensive for you.
Have you ever been to the ghost town of Bodie yourself? How did you like it? Do you have any questions about my article or suggestions? If so, please write me a comment!