Bodie State Historic Park is in northern California, just north of Mono Lake and Lee Vining, California, 13 miles off of Highway 395. Bodie is an old mining town that is now a ghost town–and, a protected state park. Despite two devastating fires, and a remote location that would be ideal for vandals and artifact poachers, many of the town’s buildings are still standing, and still contain furniture, clothing, and everyday items. The first ten miles into the park are paved through a gorgeous valley where sheep graze; the last three miles into Bodie are on a rough dirt road, with large rocks, wash-boarding, and pot holes. Bodie sits in a high valley, surrounded on the south and the west by the incredible beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
During its heyday in the 1880s, Bodie had around 10,000 residents–and 65 saloons. Today, only 5% of the buildings remain that once stood. The buildings are closed to the public with the exception of the Miner’s Union Hall, and one other home. All others, you must either look in the windows or the front door area, which will usually have a fence up to keep people out, as so many of the buildings were vandalized. The Methodist Church is the only church building still standing in Bodie; you can look in through the fencing erected at its front entry.
People lived in Bodie until the 1940s. In 1962, the state of California created Bodie State Historic Park, and the buildings that were left are now preserved in a state of “arrested decay,” meaning they keep the roofs and the windows in good condition so the buildings don’t fall down. The park is open from 9 am to 6 pm, enforcing strict adherence to the hours to better protect this amazing cultural resource. There are also on-site rangers and elaborate alarm systems for many of the park’s buildings. The J. S. Cain residence is now the park ranger’s office.
The buildings still hold many historic artifacts, pieces of furniture, old clothes, pots, pans, lamps, and anything else you could imagine, along with a healthy amount of dirt, dust, and debris. The general store was especially intriguing–it was as if shopping was still going on there, circa 1911.
Walking around the town, you get a sense of what the daily life there was like. There are debris piles and cast-off metal objects littering most open spaces, from bath tubs to knife sharpeners, and farming implements. There is also a lot of broken glass on the ground, everywhere. Many buildings have siding and roofs made from flattened out kerosene cans–the patina of rust on these rudimentary building materials is a nice, rich reddish brown to wine color. Nothing went to waste in this remote area.
Architectural elements, like door knobs and brick masonry, speak to a time long gone. The vault room of the Bodie Bank, which burned down in the 1932 fire that destroyed many of the town’s remaining buildings, is all that remains of the bank–its elegance, timeless.
Some of the town’s best preserved artifacts are on display in the Miner’s Union Hall building, where visitors can still enter and take a look around, buy souvenirs, donate to the preservation and upkeep of the park, and marvel at what kind of town Bodie must have been in 1880s.