Thursday, January 14, 2010

bodie, not so old ghosts

Another detour on our way to Lassen Volcanic National Park in August 2009 was Bodie State Historical Park just north of Mono Lake. It is well worth the three miles of unpaved road for those interested in the mining history of California east of the Sierras or for those just seeking something weathered and picturesque. Bodie ghost town is sold as a gold rush boom town (which it was) and a relic of the old west, but I was surprised to learn just how many of the remaining buildings are relatively recent. Several fires swept Bodie and the last one in 1932 obliterated most of the old town center. There are a few brick buildings that survived, but so much of the town built in the 1930s just isn't old west.

In one house open for visitors to walk through, the deteriorating floor reveals layers of art deco patterned linoleum. In the center of town stands the electric transformer building that stepped down the hydroelectric power wired in to run the stamp mills and the mine elevators. It was dark and dirty inside so I can’t show any pictures but the large transformers inside looked like they were plucked right out of a modern electric substation. Still, the place is intriguing.
The last three miles of rough unpaved road doesn't deter the summer crowd. The place was crawling with German and French tourists (and many 'mericans in flip flops, shorts, and visors). There was even a French tour group that had been outfitted by a rental agency with Harleys and black leather 'cycle duds. We arrived early enough that there was only about 15 other people wandering through town, but by the time we were headed out the dirt parking lot was over full and it started to feel like Disneyland.

One of the brick buildings that is relatively stable (or shored up) has been outfitted as a little museum for all the odds and ends found around the town; photos, bottles, two (!?) hearse carriages, signs, books, mine ledgers and maps, a few toys, clothing bits, some medical odds...
All that was fun to see, but again it was not all terrifically old. Not really gold rush but early 20th century small town. I was surprised to find that there are residents in at least three of the old houses. These had shades in the windows and relatively new roofs. They clearly were trying to keep the exterior of these houses looking old and weathered but they were definitely lived in. It's a state park and I know that one of the houses is where the full time ranger lives. I suppose someone has to stay there year round to keep out the looters. There was plenty of old stuff mrs. a-go-go was itching to steal. That said, I don't know what was up with the other residences. Volunteers to help with upkeep of the "arrested decay" of the town? People who still have a family claim to the house and want to live there? Who knows? There was no explanation in the little brochure after the note about the full time ranger. I listened in on one of the tour guides and it was reveled that the rolling green hills surrounding the town had been covered with a juniper and spruce forest before the miners consumed it all for fire wood. If the forest ever returns the town won't look so lonely, but I suppose by then the remaining buildings will have crumbled and the ghosts will be truly old.
more of mrs. a-go-go's Bodie pics


  1. The biggest house is the ranger's house, the park aides share the smaller houses. A friend of mine used to work there every summer, and I had the privilege of staying in one of those little houses on several occasions, and getting tours of all the off-limits stuff that is closed to the public.

    Oh, and the park aides? They have the glamorous jobs, like cleaning the toilets and working in the tollbooth.

  2. ahem! i was not itching to steal! i was wishing to have stumbled across it in a field or something...harumph!



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