Bodie State Historic Park, CA
Family Friendly?: Yes
Age Range: All ages
Recommendations: Bodie is a great place to explore for the entire family. The footing can be a bit rough depending on where you explore but you can stay on very well packed roads if you choose. Families who enjoy history could probably spend the better part of a day here. Others should plan on at least a few hours.
Bodie State Historical Park in the Eastern Sierra is one of my favorite places to spend the day wandering with my camera. Once a booming gold mining town, it is now a ghost town held in a state of “arrested decay” by the state of California. Even though the buildings certainly show their age, many look like the occupants simply walked out one day and never came back.
Bodie is sort of off the beaten track, so you might want to combine a visit with some other activities in the region. It is located about 13 occasionally bumpy miles off of Hwy 395 between Lee Vining and Bridgeport. The scenery leading to the access road is outstanding and the landscape leading into Bodie really gives you an idea of how desolate this area can be. Being a state park in a state with some serious money issues, there is an entry fee of $7.00 per adult and $5.00 per child. However, it is worth every penny so don’t gripe!
The parking area sits slightly above most of the town so you get a good view of the layout before venturing in. Take a few moments here to picture the town when it was a thriving, and pretty dangerous place – it will give better perspective to your explorations.
If you follow the usual trail leading to Green Street, it is inevitable that the Methodist church will be one of the first things to catch your eye. It just drips with old-west charm even though it has been mistreated over the years by vandals. The doors have always been open on my visits so be sure to take a look at the interior. Being the last church left standing in a town with such a wicked reputation somehow brings the place to life for me.
Once past the church, you have many choices. I enjoy trying to bring places like Bodie back to life in my mind, so I have a little game that I play. Park Street is just beyond the church and it is really the only “neighborhood” left in town with a good collection of residential buildings. I like to pick one house and try imagine what it was like to get up in the morning, get their kids to the school, go to work and whatever else their everyday life entailed in such a difficult environment. I have an old park guide that I picked up years ago. It describes each building, who lived there and in general what they did for a living. With the guide in hand, it is easy to create a story to follow. It transforms the experience from looking at run down buildings to living it on some level.
Once you have explored the residential area, take a detour up Prospect Street to King Street and check out the jail. If Bodie lived up to its reputation, this building must have received a lot of visitors in its day! This path will lead you to Main Street.
Main Street is where the larger surviving buildings such as the hotel, firehouse and union hall are clustered. Even though most of Main Street burned down decades ago, it is still easy to picture it alive with busy townspeople. After exploring this area, be sure to continue up Green Street to another of my favorite buildings – the school. Enough of the furnishings remain to really make the school come to life. It almost looks like the students left for the weekend and never returned. Beyond the school there is a scattering of homes heading up the hill. All are worth at least a look.
No matter where you go in town, the Standard Mine and Mill dominates the view on the far hill. Even though the area is closed to the public, it is worth taking a stroll along the mill to see the reason that Bodie existed in the first place. According to my guide, it produced over $15 million in gold in it’s run. I have been told various reasons as to why the area is off-limits including that the ground was poisoned by the mill, the buildings are unstable and the ground is subject to cave-ins. All are probably accurate on some level.
On your way back to the car, you can check out the cemeteries if they interest you. For me, they conjure up an image of the last few people standing there pondering if they should pack it up and end Bodie’s days as a living town.
I have spent entire days there without interacting with the staff at all, but when I have they have been helpful and friendly. On occasion they have even given me access to closed buildings if I asked politely and they weren’t too busy. The few times this has happened have been in the slower times of the year when the place was pretty empty. Be aware that there is a strict rule against taking anything from the site. Even a crumbling rusty nail is considered protected so look but don’t touch!
Even though I can easily spend an entire day in Bodie, here are a few suggestions for activities to round out your day. Mono Lake and the tufa preserve are only a few miles down the road. My favorite time of day to view them is late afternoon/early evening so the timing is good. You can also try panning for gold in the creek that runs next to Hwy 395. I have found some bits of gold by swirling the soil on the creek bottom in old pie pans. Hardly enough to be worth anything, but it is fun none the less.
Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids ages 1 to 17. For more information, please visit Bodie State Historic Park.
When it comes to historical diversions, Bodie is right at the top of my list. It will easily provide a couple of hours of fun for families and could become an obsession for the historically minded. If you ever find yourself anywhere in the region, it is definitely worth a detour.