Summer’s here, road trip time. Whether you plan to head north or south, find a way to go via US Route 395 on the Sierra Nevada’s east side. Route 395 was once known as The Three Flags Highway, because the original ran from the Mexican border to British Columbia. What a trip it is, still.
The summer view is distraction enough, the grand drama of the Sierra’s craggy eastern side, all that snow.
But there are many worthy distractions, great reasons to pull off the highway. One of the best is Bodie, an official gold-mining ghost town and a very remote state historic park well worth the visit.
Told that her family was moving to this bad, brawling frontier town in the late 1800s, a young girl reportedly said, “Goodbye, God. We are going to Bodie.”
But a Bodie newspaper editor felt the need to defend this godless Gomorrah, in its heyday a gold mining town with a population of more than 10,000 employed at some 30 mines.
He claimed the child had been misquoted—that what she’d actually said was: “Good, by God. We are going to Bodie!” Which certainly underlines the importance of emphasis, not to mention spelling and punctuation.
The townfolk boasted that Bodie had the West’s widest streets, wickedest men, and worst climate and whiskey. Fisticuffs and murders were daily events.
As another local newspaper editor observed: “There is some irresistible power that impels us to cut and shoot each other to pieces.”
Virgin Alley and Maiden Lane in Bodie’s redlight district boasted neither, and a local minister described the community as “a sea of sin lashed by tempests of lust and passion.”
California’s largest ghost town actually survived as a living, breathing community until 1942. What remains of the busted boomtown of Bodie is now protected as part of Bodie State Historic Park.
A strangely silent place still standing—more or less—in the shadow of the old Standard Mine, Bodie still evokes the truly wild Wild West.
Preserved in its entirety in a state of arrested decay, no thanks to occasional earthquakes and brutal sagebrush winds, this ghost town is well worth some relaxed exploration. Only about five percent of Bodie’s weatherbeaten 1860s and 1870s wood-frames still stand, the rest destroyed over the decades by fire and the elements. But still, there’s plenty to see. Pick up the self-guided tour brochure at the small museum or download the PDF online.
Visitors can wander at will through godless, lawless, treeless Bodie. Peek through tattered lace curtains into the Boone Store and Warehouse, Wheaton & Hollis Hotel and Bodie Store, Sam Leon’s bar, and other restaurants, saloons, livery stables, and miners’ shacks abandoned for more than a century.
Peer into dusty rooms furnished with peeling wallpaper, rusted woodstoves and bedframes, banged-up wash basins. Inside the Henry Metzger and Lester E. Bell homes are wicker baby carriages; the morgue features three child-sized coffins. Sadder still is the time-twisted child’s wagon rusting in the middle of the street.
Done with town, head for the hillside cemeteries to meet some of Bodie’s former residents, colorfully memorialized there. Fenced-in cemetery areas were set aside for decent folk; most bad Bodie boys were buried on Boot Hill.