There’s Gold in them hills – Bodie, CA

I had a couple of days to kill before meeting my buddy Lenny and his west coast friends on the 4th of July for our backpacking trip through Stanislaus National Forest. One place on my list that happened to be nearby, is Bodie, California. Bodie is a California Gold Rush town located on the eastern side of the Sierras. It takes about 2 hours to drive from Tahoe to Bodie. Route 89 takes you out of South Lake Tahoe and over the Sierras which made the first half of the drive extraordinarily scenic. I turned off of US 395 onto route 270, which basically exists just to take you to Bodie. There is a sign as soon as you turn onto 270 that states that the road is rough after 10 miles. My GPS said 14 miles to Bodie, so the final 4 miles are gravelly. As soon as I got to the gravel section, some cars started turning around due to the rough road. I could only manage about 10 miles an hour with a lot of slowdowns for ditches over the last 4 miles. Eventually I crested the final hill and the tiny former town appeared in the distance.

At the entrance booth, the attendant walked outside and informed me that the entrance fee was $8, but I could purchase the guidebook for an additional $2. In my head I thought, “I see what you are doing here California State Parks, trying to make it an even $10 to get into the park.” In case you couldn’t tell, I have an issue with parks charging high entrance fees. I don’t think $8 is particularly high, but I don’t like it when an establishment tries to nickle and dime you, especially at the gate! Maybe I am just spoiled from attending so many free Smithsonian museums in Washington DC. I digress.

Gold was discovered in Bodie in 1859, and throughout its history, $100 million worth of gold was mined in the Bodie area. The town was eventually completely abandoned by the 1950s, and the state of California converted it into a park. I was a little disappointed to discover that much of the park has been “staged” to look as if the residents of the town all decided to leave at the same time. Shovels and wheelbarrows were scattered in the yards and rolling pins and rusted washtubs were turned over inside the homes. The tools and houseware did appear to be authentic, and the houses have been refurbished (I’m sure as a safety issue). Either way, it was interesting to see all the old west paraphernalia.

There is also a small museum that appears to be converted from the old general store. Inside the tiny museum there are possessions from the former residents of Bodie, including cars, pictures, doorknobs, tea kettles, and clothing. I also visited the series of cemetaries on the small hill near the entrance booth. It was surprisingly interesting to visit. Based on the headstones, it is evident that many of the former residents were immigrants seeking fortune (or at least a better income) in the California gold rush. Many of the headstones read “native of” with the native country following. Many of the residents also died young. It must have been a tough life, due to the high elevation (~9000 feet), tough weather, and poor soil. It’s amazing to think how far and how fast the western United States has developed since the late 1800s.

So at the end of the day, Bodie is certainly worth visiting if you are in the area. Although I expressed my distaste for the staged displays, walking through the town is like taking a step back in time. I particularly enjoyed the old cars that have rusted, decayed, and/or sunk into the soil.

Think it still runs?

Hopefully the following pictures will inspire you to check out Bodie if you get the chance.

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