Adam Blauert

Adam Blauert: Bodie, the last great ghost town

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK
Adam Blauert, outdoor columnist
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK Adam Blauert, outdoor columnist Merced Sun-Star

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is the first in a series spotlighting California State Parks that are likely to close indefinitely after Labor Day due to the current budget crisis.

When I was a boy, my grandpare-nts had a book that could hold my attention for hours. I worked my way through Lambert Florin's "Ghost Towns of the West" until I wore out the spine and memorized the names and stories of hundreds of abandoned mining towns. These places grabbed hold of a young boy's love of adventure and mystery.

The only problem was that Florin had done his exploring long before I was born. By the time I found the book, Florin's pictures were almost 40 years out of date. All those seasons of heavy snows and vandalism had knocked down much of what he had chronicled.

Bodie is the great exception to this rule, and it is in our own backyard. The State Park Service has preserved the town of Bodie in a state of "arrested decay" since 1962.

"Arrested decay" means that the historic buildings are preserved in an abandoned condition, but further deterioration is prevented by careful maintenance. Over 100 buildings still exist and visitors can wander around and gaze through the windows at the possessions that Bodie's citizens left behind. The saloons still have bottles on their shelves. The houses have beds, books, clothes, family photos and dishes. The school looks as if the bell rang at the end of the day and no one showed up the next morning. Coffins of all sizes in the coffin-maker's workshop wait for occupants who didn't stick around long enough to need them. The empty pews in the Methodist Church await a congregation that moved on.

There is an excellent museum in the old Miners Union Hall that depicts life in one of the West's wildest towns. Regularly scheduled tours of the Standard Mill give visitors a glimpse of what a miner's work was like.

You can get more information at the park's website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509 or by calling (760) 647-6445.

One of the best sources is http://www.bodie.com/, the website of The Bodie Foundation.

Bodie is reached by taking Highway 120 through Yosemite National Park and then heading north on U.S. 395 to California Highway 270. The last three miles of the road are rough, but any car can make the journey. Now is the time to visit, because winter temperatures can drop to minus-40 Farenheit and the park becomes nearly inaccessible after the first snowfall.

There's another reason to visit this summer: Bodie is slated to close indefinitely after Labor Day (September 7) due to the state budget crisis.

The towns of Lee Vining and Bridgeport have food, lodging, gas and supplies. There are unlimited options nearby for camping, hiking, fishing, rock climbing and your four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Bridgeport has a helpful website with local information: http://www.bridgeportcalifornia.com/. If you want to extend your adventure, come home over Sonora Pass (California Highway 108).

This is also a way to avoid paying the $20 entrance fee to drive through Yosemite -- and the scenery is magnificent.

Bodie is a good destination for all age groups. I've been to Bodie almost every year since I was 4. Of all the people I've taken there, not one has ever been disappointed.

I still look through Florin's book from time to time. It brings back that old sense of mystery and adventure, though now it is mixed with a bit of nostalgia and sadness. Going to Bodie always reminds me that not everything is lost with the passage of time. The past still comes to life vividly in a few carefully preserved places.

Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman and local historian who enjoys exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com

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