Tucked away in the Eastern Sierras of California, Bodie is a gold-mining ghost town preserved in a state of arrested decay. Yet, in its hey day, Bodie hosted one of the richest gold strikes in California. Gold and silver extracted from the Bodie Hills totaled in the millions.
Discovery and Disaster
The namesake of Bodie, Waterman S. Body (William Bodey), discovered small amounts of gold in the hills north of Mono Lake. Yet, Bodie never had the opportunity to see the wealth and grandeur that resulted from his discovery. Bodie died on a supply trip to nearby Monoville when we was caught up in a blizzard. Yet, that was far from the end of mining in the area.
A Slow Ascent
Interest in strikes in Aurora, Nevada and at the Comstock Mine in Virginia City distracted most miners from Bodie in the 1860s and 1870s. Only a few miners worked the Bodie “diggins” when well publicized wealth was within easy traveling distance. The only two companies that had built stamp mills in Bodie had failed by 1868.
The tides turned in 1877 when the Standard Company bought the Bunker Hill Mine after a cave-in revealed pay dirt in 1875. Over 25 years, 10,000 tons of gold and silver ore worth $15 million were removed from the renamed, Standard Mining Company Mine. The rush was on. The town became flooded with prospectors, ballooning Bodie from a few dozen residents to thousands.
“A Sea of Sin”
Two years after Standard Company entered the town, Bodie boasted 2,000 buildings and a population of 8,500 people.
With such immense wealth flowing out of the mines, Bodie also became a crucible for revelry and crime. In 1881, Reverend F.M. Warrington described Bodie as “a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.”
Sixty saloons and dance halls offered distraction for hardworking miners. Gunfights, stage holdups, robberies, and street fights were common occurrences, contributing to Bodies notoriety as one of the most lawless, tough, and wild mining camps.
Miners had to be tough to not only survive the rough elements of Bodie but the natural challenges of a mining camp built 8,375 feet above sea level. Winters can reach highs of the 60s and plummet below zero come night fall. Drifts of snow can reach up to 20 feet high.
All Played Out
By 1881, Bodie was already in decline. Companies bankrupted and miners and investors moved on to the next big strike. Mining booms in Butte, Montana and Tombstone, Arizona and Utah drew stary-eyed miners from the dwindling returns of Bodie’s diggins. Only 1,500 people still resided in Bodie by 1886.
That is not to say that Bodie was entirely plaid out. Bodie’s 1881 ore production was valued as high as $3.1 million. Yet, the town had transformed from a bustling young mining camp to a more mature small town. The Methodist and Roman Catholic churches we built in 1882 and a narrow gauge railway was completed in 1881.
A Cyanide Fueled Second Life For Bodie
By the 1890s, a cyanide process and cheap electric power made reprocessing old tailings and lower grade ore profitable. Standard Company built a hydroelectric plant at Dynamo Pond. Transporting the AC power 13 miles from Dynamo Pond to Bodie constitutes on of the first transmissions of electricity over a long distance. The 3,530 volts alternating current generated by the plant powered Standard Company’s 20-stamp mill and a resurgence of mining in Bodie.
The second life, however, was short lived. A fire in 1932 destroyed 90% of the town. The population continued to dwindle, leaving Bodie a ghost town in the 1940s. What remained of the town was designated a state park in 1962.
The remaining structures of Bodie are preserved in a state of arrested decay. Aside from minimal intervention to prevent further deterioration, little has been done to refurbish or refinish the deteriorating structures. A small museum collects choice items from the ghost town under the roof of the Miners Union Hall. Yet, most items have been left as the original residents abandoned them, scattered about town.
Though only 10% of the town remains, it is still an impressive collection of buildings to explore.
Visitors walk along the dirt roads and peer into the cobwebbed windows where boxes, broken bottles, and rusted cans remain in the locations they were abandoned over 50 years ago.
Bodie is accessible by State Route 270, a rough but manageable dirt road. Due to its high elevation, the park is only reachable by skis, snowshoes or snowmobiles during the winter. Check conditions with park staff if there has been any notable weather events that might make traveling the road difficult. Bodie’s remote location makes towing services expensive.
In keeping with park efforts to maintain Bodie in its abandoned state, there are no commercial services located in Bodie. That means visitors are responsible to bring any gas, food, or other conveniences in and out with them. Bodie is only a day use park. There are tours, picnic areas, and informative displays but there is no overnight camping.