Off-Road Travel: Bodie Ghost Town
If you enjoy history of the West, mining towns of the 49ers and the wild country that surrounded them, then this off-road adventure is for you. We headed into the hills outside of Bridgeport, Calif., in search of one of America’s best preserved mining towns—Bodie, CA.
In 1859, E.S. “Black” Taylor and Watterman S. “Bill” Bodey first discovered gold in these hills. The Bodey Mining District was formed in 1860 and in less than 10 years produced $21 million in gold. During this time, the name of “Bodey” was changed to Bodie. No one really knows why it was done.
Bodie was a rough place to live and work. Lawless men flocked to this wild town and built the reputation for the “Bad Man from Bodie.” At its peak, Bodie had 60 saloons, a miner’s union hall, a school and even a firehouse. The saloons kept three churches and morgue busy.
By 1881, the mines in the Bodie Hills were depleted, and by 1886 the population had dwindled to about 1500. Harsh winters and fires in 1892 and 1932 destroyed a great deal of the buildings in town. Around the early 1960s, an effort to protect the remaining structures became a priority for the region. Today Bodie is a Historic State Park and also holds the prestigious title of being the official gold rush town of California.
Spending some time walking the streets of Bodie gives a glimpse into the Wild West and how life might have been. Many of the homes still have furniture and belongings left behind. A general store and merchant shops on Main Street continue to warehouse inventory that was left behind after the last people left Bodie.
In the backdrop of town is a massive building in which the Standard Stamp Mill firmly holds its place. A limited number of walk-through tours of the mill are available. Make sure to call ahead or check the Bodie Ghost Town website for event details http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509.
Up in the distance, above the Standard Stamp Mill are remnants of the Bodie-Benton narrow gauge railroad. Although the train never actually made it into Benton, its role in Bodie’s history is great. The Bodie-Benton railroad would carry lumber from nearby Mono City to help build the booming town and its mineshafts.
With the price of gold hitting an all-time high in recent months, regained interest in the Bodie hills for gold exploration has become a hot topic in Mono County. Here is an article written in the Wall Street Journal discussing the topic.
Gold Fever Stirs Ghost Town
There are several ways to get into Bodie, CA. The most popular is the entrance on HWY 395, between the towns of Bridgeport and Lee Vining. The entrance to Bodie Historic State Park is well marked by signs. Turn east on State Route 270, and drive 12 miles through rolling hills. About 10 miles of the road are now paved, with the last two miles being dirt.
Some great guides and maps we recommend:
Motor Touring in the Eastern Sierra – Free guide put out by County of Mono
Sierra Nevada Byways by Tony Huegel – Wilderness Press
Inyo-Mono SUV Trails by Roger Mitchell – Track & Trail Publication
Both of these guidebooks can be viewed electronically on http://www.trails.com/
MAP: Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
GHOST TOWN LOOP – Backwards
For the more adventurous types, several dirt routes exist into the Bodie Hills. Many years ago the neighboring areas of Mono, Benton and Bridgeport supplied Bodie with wood, lumber, liquor, food and other necessities. These wagon dirt roads still exist and are great for 4x4 vehicles.
An interesting northern route, known as the Ghost Town Loop, is our favorite. It makes its way from the Nevada border, just northeast of Bridgeport, CA, on State Route 182. Taking this route passes beautiful rolling hills, streams and the neighboring mining camps of Chemung and Masonic.
Since we were running short on time, we decided to do the Ghost Town Loop backwards. We headed into Bodie first and then continued north through Masonic and ended in Bridgeport, CA.
From Bodie, take Bodie-Masonic road #169 up Geiger Grade.
For the most part, the dirt road can be done in 2WD, but there are seasonal streams with possible mud pits nearby that will require 4WD.
Masonic is another mining town that existed during the same time Bodie was booming. It was settled by Masons, hence the name “Masonic.” It is said that Masonic was a much more peaceful mining camp than the rowdy neighboring town of Bodie.
From the top of Masonic Mountain, take the dirt road on the west side down to Masonic Road #046 where Upper and Lower Masonic once stood. Hang a left to head toward Bridgeport, CA.
Further down the road, the Chemung Mine still has structures standing, including a stamp mill. The structures are in natural state of decay, so be careful when looking around.
Continue on Masonic Road #046, which leads to State Route 182. Take a left onto S.R. 182 and head five miles south into the county seat of Mono--Bridgeport, CA.
The Ghost Town Loop can be done in either direction. It doesn’t matter which way you go, just make sure that you have plenty of fuel for the 43-mile trip. If you’re planning on stopping at Bodie, you need to do it during open hours. The Park Rangers get pretty cranky if you’re there during non-public hours.
Makes one wonder what kind of shenanigans the “Bad Man of Bodie” is up to these days.
All joking aside, throw this off-road adventure in your bucket list; it’s worth the four-wheel drive.
Bodie State Historic Park
P.O. Box 515
Bridgeport, CA 93517
P.O. Box 603
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
1200 Franklin Way
Sparks, NV 89431