One of our family traditions is to travel to the Eastern Sierra’s every fall to see the beautiful fall colors in the area. We don’t get a lot of the brilliant fall colors where we live, and certainly not with the back drop of the eastern sierra mountains, so this trip is always stunning.
Aside from hiking and taking in all the gorgeous scenery, we always visit Bodie State Historic Park. Bodie is a rather large, genuine California gold-mining ghost town. Just 13 miles off Highway 365 (7 miles south of Bridgeport), a slow, bumpy and at mostly unpaved road takes you to this town that was once bustling with around 100,000 people that is now completely deserted aside from tourists and several rangers that reside there.
Bodie is open year round but due to the high elevation (8,375 feet) it is only accessible by snow mobile or snowshoes in the winter. During the summer, Bodie is open from 9 AM to 6 PM. The cost is $8 for adults and $5 for children ages 4-17.
I think Mike and I were more excited about going to Bodie than the kids were the first time. I had never been to a ghost town but I have always adored the wild west. Western movies and the whole culture of the west has always fascinated me. This town did not disappoint. The kids felt like they were in a town made entirely of playhouse sized houses for them to explore. Although you can only walk through a handful of the dilapidated buildings, it is a lot of fun to peek through the windows of what life was like in the late 1800’s. The kids just loved running around and exploring.
In 1859 William (a.k.a. Waterman) S. Bodey discovered gold near what is now called Bodie Bluff. A mill was established in 1861 and the town began to grow, starting with about 20 miners it grew to an estimated 10,000 people by 1880. By then, the town of Bodie bustled with families, robbers, miners, store owners, gunfighters, prostitutes and people from every country in the world. At one time there was reported to be 65 saloons in town. Among the saloons were numerous brothels, gambling halls and opium dens. (https://www.bodie.com/)
I love places where we can just let the kids run free, and they love it too. As soon as you get out of the car, there is open space for them to roam and many structures to explore. We let the kids set the pace and tell us where they want to go. For kids this is a rare treat. They are usually constantly being told what to do and not to do so a little bit of freedom goes a long way. This also means that there is still quite a bit more that we haven’t seen there, based on the slow and leisurely pace the kids go.
What is really cool, and also kind of creepy, is that the buildings look like people just up and left one day and didn’t come back. The houses, saloons, and even the school house all still contain the contents of what was once housed there. This is a photo looking through the glass into the schoolhouse.
There is a guide pamphlet you can pick up that tells you what each structure was used for or who lived there. It is fascinating to me to think that it really wasn’t that long ago that life was so drastically different than it is now. It is also great for kids to look at history up close, to walk through it, to smell it even. If this place doesn’t bring history to life for you, I don’t know what would.
The park itself is pretty spread out but there is a main street to walk down with the mill looming in the back. There are guided tours of the mill that we haven’t done yet, but otherwise they don’t let you get in there to explore on your own. Our kids aren’t at a great age to go on tours yet so wandering around suits us much better.
After wandering a few hours, it was time to head back. We were staying in Mammoth, which is a relatively short drive to Bodie, and Mono Lake is also in the immediate area so there is plenty to do here. One word of caution however, there allegedly is a curse on anyone who takes something home with them from Bodie.
The curse of Bodie is one that warns visitors not to steal any souvenirs because artifact thieves will be plagued with bad luck. Supposedly, returning the items will remove the curse. (https://catierhodes.com/2012/04/the-curse-that-follows-you/)
Park Rangers say they receive items taken from Bodie in the mail every year. Many items come with an anonymous apology. Some of the letters even tell a story of bad luck that followed bringing the artifact home. There is a large book containing these letters that you can read in the gift shop, but here are a few examples:
1994: A tourist took some odds and ends from Bodie. In the following year, this same person experienced a car wreck, a lost job, and continuing illnesses. The items were anonymously returned.
Early 2000s: Two teenage girls tested the Bodie curse. They took rocks and made necklaces of them. At first, they had general bad luck. The incidents intensified into physical stuff—rashes where the Bodie rock necklace had touched, a sprained ankle. The final straw was an earthquake. The girls sent their rock necklaces back to Bodie.
Is there a curse? Who knows, but I certainly wasn’t going to test it. Just like when we hike, we don’t take anything but photos and memories home, we followed the same protocol in Bodie.
Our next visit to Bodie the kids will be a little older and we will get to see even more of Bodie, and hopefully that magic of a ghost town is still there for them. I know it will be for me.