eastern sierras travel journal: bodie

The mornings in mid-October in June Lake are chilly but warm up quickly – each day started at about 20 degrees but soon heated up to a whopping 60 degrees, which made it comfortable in a long-sleeved shirt or sweatshirt.

IMG_0032After checking our crawdad trap first thing – we got skunked – we packed up the truck and headed off to Bodie State Park, in the Bodie Hills just east of Bridgeport, near the Nevada border.

Bodie is the coolest ghost town I’ve ever seen. Let me repeat, Bodie is the coolest ghost town. Ever.

With no cheesy reenactments requiring you pay to see famous landmarks (ahem, Tombstone), Bodie’s history speaks for itself as you walk the streets of a town long abandoned but never forgotten. A short-lived rough and tumble boom town in the 1800s, Bodie saw it’s rise and fall through a series of events that eventually led to its current state today.

“Good, by God, I’m going to Bodie!” or “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie!” A little girl once wrote this in her diary before leaving her home in San Francisco, but which version she wrote remains a mystery, and her words now a ghost town legend.

IMG_0047The buildings lean and when the wind blows there may be a slight moment spent wondering, “How on earth do these ancient wooden structures stay standing?” But with California State Parks constantly assessing and restoring the site while keeping it’s historical integrity, Bodie gives visitors the unique experience of really feeling what it may have been like to live there some 150 years ago.

This was our first trip to Bodie with the kids and what amazed me was how Bodie reached our son – at just three years old, he was fascinated by “ghost town,” as he called it. He wanted to be our navigator and so he carried our map and learned how to orient himself and find his way!

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We checked out the old schoolhouse, several homes once inhabited by Bodie residents, the hotel and hydrostation before the kids started to lose interest. The map clearly shows what each building was and just enough information to let you imagination take you back in time. We felt that we got to see a lot of Bodie but didn’t want to push our luck, especially since we had already explored the town plenty in the days before kids, so we turned around and headed back toward the parking lot.

IMG_0055On previous trips to Bodie, we have always made a point to stop at Boot Hill, the town cemetery. It sounds a bit morbid, but reading the tombstones and seeing a bookended glimpse into the sometimes very short lives of the town’s inhabitants is a humbling experience. For those interested in learning more about the people who lived in Bodie, be sure to read their in-depth stories here.

There are so many historical buildings to see in Bodie that it’s definitely worth spending a couple hours wandering the dusty streets. Here are a few insider tips to make your trip that much more enjoyable:

  1. If you are visiting in the spring or late fall, check that Bodie Road (SR-270) is open and current park hours before leaving camp. There is poor reception once you leave Lee Vining at the south and Bridgeport at the north. Do your homework ahead of time!
  2. There is an entry fee – they take credit cards as of October 2017, if they have reception to do so. However, we highly recommend bringing cash, just in case, and double-checking the fee amount, once again before leaving Lee Vining or Bridgeport. (See current fees here.)
  3. There is no potable water available at the park so be sure to pack plenty of water, especially during the hot summer months.
  4. There are bathrooms available in the parking lots.
  5. Park Rangers run daily tours of the Stamp Mill so, if you are interested, be sure to check the times for that prior to heading out to the park. (scroll all the way to the bottom of the info page)
  6. Most importantly, have fun learning all about the history of what was the wild West!

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When looking for a side trip that’s a little off the beaten path and a different kind of day than fishing or hiking, Bodie has you covered. There is something for everyone to explore and learn that honors the rich history of the Eastern Sierras.

To learn more about the town and people of Bodie, check out this page, compiling years of historic information all in one place.

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