The Gold Rush ghost town of Bodie in California was high on my list of places to visit when we did our California road trip. Designated a California state park in 1962, it’s collection of buildings built between 1870 and the 1920s are frozen in time in a state of arrested decay. Its one of the best ghost towns in California and a really interesting place for a day trip.
Where to stay to visit Bodie
We stayed the night before in Bridgeport, at Walker River Lodge. It’s obviously aimed at the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ crowd, but the room was clean and warm with a good wi-fi connection and a nice selection for the continental breakfast.
There’s not much going on in Bridgeport, but I do recommend a visit to Sweetwater Outpost, a wonderful little gift shop.
- Admission cost: $8 for adults. We also bought the guide booklet which I think was $3. They take credit cards and cash.
- Opening hours: 9am – 6pm March 8th – October 31st. 9am – 4pm November 1st – March 7th.
- Dog friendly: Yes! There was quite a few people with dogs, which was nice to see.
- Facilities: There are washrooms near the carpark and in the centre of the site. We took a picnic as there is nowhere to buy food.
How to get there
There is only one way into Bodie, and that is along the long bumpy and windy state route 270, also called Bodie Road. It’s over 14 miles long, the last 3.5 of which isn’t paved. Definitely not a route you want to take in a low car. It must have been hell hundred and forty years ago, especially in winter.
History of Bodie
Excerpt taken from the California Parks website:
“In 1859 W.S. Body (Bodey) and others came upon what was to be one of the richest gold discoveries the West had ever known.
During its heyday (1877-1881) Bodie rose to a population of approximately 10,000 and acquired over sixty saloons and dance halls. Bodie became known as the “most lawless, wildest and toughest mining camp the far west has ever known”. Killings occurred with regularity.
Bodie’s heyday was short-lived. After 1881, mining diminished and homes and businesses were abandoned. The town was threatened by a disastrous fire in 1892, when many homes and buildings were destroyed. The advent of electrical power to run the stamp mill and the introduction of the cyanide process aroused interest once again; however this rise was also short-lived. While playing with matches, 2½ year-old “Bodie Bill” was blamed for starting the 1932 fire which destroyed all but 5-10 percent of the town.”
We had never visited a ghost town before, so weren’t sure what to expect. A useful tip: it is a very desolate place, and can get very cold and windy. Lots of layers are recommened. We visited on October 1st and out of the sun, and when the wind blew, it was freezing. We ate lunch in the car while trying to warm up!
Mostly we followed the route given in the guide. The main buildings have been named (after past functions, or people who lived there) and numbered and some of their history is explained in the booklet.
The first building we stopped at was the Methodist church, built in 1882, and perhaps one of the most well known and photographed buildings in Bodie.
The house above belonged to James S. Cain who moved to Bodie in 1879, aged 25. In 1888 he became a banker, purchasing Bodie Bank in 1890 and keeping it open until 1932. Through court action in 1915 he acquired the Standard Company mining properties and became the main property owner in the town. Further along Main Street you can still see the bank vault, all that was left after the fire of 1932.
A lot of the properties are built of wood (which explains why so much was destroyed by the fire). One brick built buildings which is still standing is the post office, later the DeChambeau Hotel and finally a bar and cafe. The detailing on the building is stunning.
Just up from the post office is the site of Thomas Treloar’s murder. Witnesses said he was killed by his wife’s lover, DeRoche, who was arrested but managed to escape. DeRoche was recaptured and jailed two days later, but a vigilante committee took him from his jail cell and hanged him at the same place Treloar was murdered.
One of the most interesting things about Bodie is how well preserved everything is. While a lot of the buildings are ruined, plenty look like they are waiting for their owners to return.
A lot of people just upped and left, leaving their belongings behind. I don’t know how much of the things in the buildings were as they were left and how much has been placed, but it’s fascinating to peer through the windows at the interiors that are frozen in time.
A lot of the buildings contain furniture, from beds to table and chairs and even the pool table in the saloon of the hotel. Pictures on the wall and dishes on the tables makes it feel as if someone is going to walk into the room while you’re peering through their windows.
The next building along from the hotel was the schoolhouse. In 1879 – 1880 the school saw its highest enrollment of 615 students. It finally closed in 1942.
The town’s inhabitants were well catered for; general stores, saloons, hotels, brothels and casinos were all prevelant. Infact, there were more than 60 saloons in the town. Bodie attracted a rougher element alongside the miners and merchants, giving the town a reputation for bad men and wild times.
Looming over the entire town, visible from wherever you are on the site, is The Standard Mill.
The most successful of 30 mining companies that operated in Bodie, the Standard Mine, on the hill behind, yielded more than $18 million over 38 years.
The house with the large porch in the back right of the photo below is the Hoover House, named after a Standard superintendent Theodore Hoover, brother of the U.S president.
We walked up the edge of the mill site. It is closed to the public, apart from during a guided tour which wasn’t available when we visited.
This was the furthest point we went to at this end of the site, but there are a few more buildings along Green Street.
We looped back around the sites of the Occidental and US hotels, the site of Bodie Bank and were Chinatown once stood. There is not much to see at this end of town, but do check out the fire station as it has a beautiful period fire engine in there (which I forgot to take a picture of).
There is lots of vehicles and old mining equipment scattered around the site, some of which is huge. It is also incredibly well preserved considering how exposed the site is.
After we’d finished looking around the town we walked over to the opposite hill to visit the cemetary and get a view back across the town. One thing that struck me was that given how large the population was in it’s heyday, there were remarkably few graves. I don’t know if this is because the population was transient, always looking to move to where the next big gold strike was.
Although there were quite a few other people there when we visited, it was such a big site that at times it felt like we had the place to ourselves. Naturally, the further away from the car park you went, the fewer people!
Bodie ghost town was an incredibly interesting place to visit and I highly recommend it. We were there for about 5 hours, and could have easily spent longer. I would love to return one day and do the guided tour of the mill.
If you do visit, just don’t forget to take some warm clothing!