Bodie ghost town: shadows of Far West on the Sierra Nevada


Bodie ghost town
Often when talking about Ghost Towns the first image that comes to mind is that of an Old West village, a place now become a legend and a time, that of the gold rush, now become a myth. In the 19th century more and more pioneers looking for fortune flooded the west of the United States, towards the frontier and towards unexplored lands where starting a new life was possible. Thus were the first deposits of gold and other precious metals discovered, and cities were built around the mines. Cardsharpers, cowboys, prostitutes, all overflowed these small towns in the middle of the desert, where soon rose saloons, playrooms, brothels and, yes, also some houses. With time, though, the mines ran out and these towns were abandoned as fast as they were built. Many ghost towns have been admirably restored and today have a great appeal, especially to the European visitor, who often knows about those years only from what they could see in Hollywood cinema. But to experience the prototypical Far West ghost town, Bodie is the way to go…

Lying in California, along the Sierra Nevada’s barren scope, Bodie can be dated back to 1859, when a certain W.S. Bodey found a nugget in a deserted zone over 2.500 metres of altitude. Soon a village was born from nothing. Its first winter was dire: the dead, the isolation and the difficult supplying drove many gold diggers to leave. Bodie, however, survived, and in 1879 it gave its inhabitants a very rich gold seam. In a few weeks the small town became the second most important city in California after San Francisco. It reached a population of 10.000 between adventurers, desperados, bandits, prostitutes and preachers…in 1880 there were as much as 65 saloons, countless brothels, a Chinese district and 4 cigar shops!
Bodie ghost town

But Bodie certainly wasn’t an Eden… the miners were forced to work from 100 to 200 metres deep underground for 3 or 4 dollars a day. At the time, those who went to Bodie used to say "Goodbye, God, I'm going to Bodie". To counter its profane reputation, they decided to raise money for a Methodist Church, but no pastor ever wanted to come because the money came from brothels and opium bars. In Bodie everyday someone got killed, so much that the miners jokingly used to say "Well, have we got a man for breakfast this morning?"

Bodie ghost town
In 100 years the mines of Bodie made 100 million dollars, until, in 1942, the War Production Board had the town abandoned. Only a dozen of “forgotten souls” kept living there, and 10 years later a fire set by a boy laid it to waste. 95% of Bodie burned, but a number of houses, now restored, a church, hotels, banks, the firefighters’ house, the funeral home, a school, a prison, the old mines and the lavatories (now the only available toilette for tourists!) survived. Luckily the renovation wasn’t overdone, and since then nothing has changed: it will really feel like being thrown back to the legendary Old West. Placed in a barren land, Bodie manages to be eerie and at the same time peaceful, immersed in the deepest silence, broken only by the occasional passing tourist. Most of the buildings are closed, and from the dirty windows some objects are visible as if frozen in time. In the houses in which it’s permitted to enter there’s crumbling wallpapers, dust, old gnawed armchairs, sinking floors, set tables, old Coca-Cola bottles and shop windows still dressed. The best-conserved building is the church, inside which is still kept an old organ. Everything is there but the townsmen, buried in the cemetery just out of town, often still wearing their boots.

Today Bodie and its surrounded are protected as a State Historic Park and taken care of by rangers. This writer visited Bodie 4 years ago and can confirm that the authentic ghost town charm and the feeling of breathing the air of the true Far West resides here, and is something that must be experienced.

Bodie is along Route 270, 13 miles from Highway 395, near Bridgeport, north of Lee Vining towards Lake Tahoe. The final 5 kilometres to get there are on a dirt road, but easily practicable even without an off-road (taking precautions to avoid puncturing, because there are no services for miles around). In winter the road might be inaccessible due to the snow, so it’s best to go there between April and October. Be sure to have enough gas with you because there are no stations in the area. There are also no restaurants or fast foods, so bring along something to eat. Bodie can be visited in the summer period (May 15th – October 31st) from 8am to 6pm and in the winter period (November 1st – May 14th) from 9am to 15pm. The price of admission is 7$ for adults and 5$ for kids. It’s also possible to partake in a guided tour by going to the Visitor Center in the city centre, inside an old building with a museum.
If heading to Lake Tahoe, one can stop for lodging in Bridgeport, a few miles north along route 270. If you’re instead going to the Yosemite Park and/or the Death Valley, Bodie can be reached within a day from both, even including a stop by the wonderful Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America with a saltiness level three times higher than the sea. The east entrance (Tioga Pass Entrance) of the magnificent Yosemite National Park is about thirty miles south of Bodie, and it takes about three hours by car to reach the centre of the valley passing through breathtaking landscapes. The incredible Death Valley National Park is a bit farther (about 5 hours by car), so it’s advisable to stop by LonePine, a small village deep in the wonderful Alabama Hills, where many Hollywood western movies were set. Here you may stay in the Dow Villa Motel, where John Wayne himself used to sleep.

For more information, visit the official website: Bodie State Historic Park.

For more pictures of Bodie, visit the gallery on our website and the video from the town’s official website.

Source: Routard.

Translation by Marco Salvadori

No comments:

Post a Comment

I commenti non verranno pubblicati immediatamente perchè saranno moderati. Non verranno accettati insulti, post di carattere politico o non attinenti all'argomento del post o del blog in generale.