“Night comes to the desert all at once, as if someone turned off the lights.” Joyce Carol Oates
Bodie is a ghost town located at a high elevation in far eastern California that can trace its beginnings to 1859 when a group of gold prospectors set up a mining camp. It wasn’t until 1876, with the discovery of a profitable find that the town started to take off. Growing from a small settlement to a relatively large town of 7,000 by 1880, the town was known as a wild western town, where murders, shootouts, barroom brawls, and stagecoach holdups were regular occurrences.
A bustling gold mining center, Bodie had the amenities of larger towns, including banks, four volunteer fire companies, a brass band, a railroad, miners’ and mechanics’ unions, as well as several daily newspapers. At its peak, 65 saloons Main Street, which was a mile long.
After about 1880, the town started to show signs of impending changes as prospectors began to move to other newly established mining boom towns in other parts of the west. At the same time, the town began to enter a new stage, becoming a more family friendly town and losing much of the rough and wild qualities. Both a Catholic and a Methodist church were constructed as well as a narrow-gauge railroad, which connected Bodie to the outside world.
The steady decline accelerated by the turn of the last century and eventually became fully apparent as one by one newspapers, clubs, stores and mines all shuttered and closed their doors. The railroad was abandoned, the population dwindled and by 1920, the U.S. census recorded only 120 souls residing in Bodie.
The remaining structures, many of which are half decayed and falling in represent only five percent of the original buildings in town, the remainder having been lost to fire or general decay over the years. The town was rescued in the 1960’s and given official National Historic Landmark protection as well as made into a California state park, which preserves the town in ‘a state of arrested decay’.
As spooky as the facades and open vistas are on the outside, the interiors of these structures are particularly eerie. One can peer into the former lives of people long gone and imagine what life must have been like out here in the heyday of the gold rush on the Eastern Sierra or during the long decay that plagued the town. Still in place are the tables and chairs where people ate, beds where they slept and saloons and churches where they drank and prayed.
Bodie can be accessed by taking U.S. route 395 to California state route 270 in the Eastern Sierra, just north of Mono Lake, which itself is a scenic wonder. Highway 270 is a winding, high route, with the last three miles being extremely rough, so caution is advised.