Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Historic Park (end of Dirt Road 270, 760/647-6445, www.parks.ca.gov, daily 9 a.m.–4 p.m., weekends Memorial Day–Labor Day 8 a.m.–7 p.m., fees) is the largest ghost town in California. Preservation in a state of “arrested decay” means you get to see each home and public building just as it was when it was abandoned.
What you see is not a bright shiny museum display. You get the real thing: dust and broken furniture and trash and all. It would take all day to explore the town on foot, and even then you might not see it all. Tours let you into the abandoned mine and gain a deeper understanding of the history of the buildings and the town.
The town of Bodie sprang up around a gold mine in 1877. It was never a nice place to live—at all. The weather, the work, the scenery, the people… all tended toward the bleak or the foul. By the 1940s, mining had dried up and the remote location and lack of other viable industry in the area led to Bodie’s desertion.
A visit to Bodie takes you back in time, to a harsh lifestyle in an extreme climate at least 10 miles from the middle of nowhere. As you stroll down the dusty streets, imagine the whole town blanketed in 20 feet of snow in winter, then scorched by 100° temperatures in summer with precious few trees anywhere around to provide shade or a hint of green in the unending brown landscape.
In a town filled with rough men working the mines hundreds of miles from civilization, you’d hear the funeral bells tolling at the church every single day—the only real honor bestowed upon the many murder victims Bodie saw in its lifetime. Few families came to Bodie (though a few hardy souls did raise children in the hellish town), and most of Bodie’s women earned their keep the old-fashioned way. The prostitution business boomed just as mining did.
Today, most of the brothels, stores, and homes of Bodie aren’t habitable or even tourable. Structures have been loosely propped up, but it’s dangerous to go inside so doors remain locked. However, you can peer in the windows at the remains of the lives lived in Bodie, and get a sense of hard-core California history.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition