Bodie, California, is located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains and is preserved in a state of “arrested decay.”
I’ve been to a lot of ghost towns, ruins, and forgotten places; in all of those travels, I’ve never seen anything quite like Bodie, which is located at the end of a dirt road about an hour and a half from the east entrance to Yosemite.
A state park since the 1960s, it is as complete a ghost town as I’ve visited, but lacks the tacky tourist attractions of places like Calico, California, or the carefully curated atmosphere of Nelson, Nevada.
Bodie began as a mining camp after W. S. Bodey discovered gold in the area in 1859. For the next few years it remained a small mining camp, but eventually grew after a mine collapse revealed gold ore.
At its peak, Bodie was home to about 7,000 people. It grew to multiple newspapers, a brass band, saloons, banks, and even a Chinatown.
Bodie shrank as other mines were opened across the West, but not everyone immediately left; some families stuck around well into the 20th Century and the town ended up with things like a gas station and the first long-distance electricity transmission lines.
In 1932, a fire destroyed much of the town, and what remains today reflects this diminished version — a remarkable fact considering the layout of the town is still very much observable.
By the 1960s, the family that owned most of the land in Bodie was worried about vandalism and so it was converted to a state park. The buildings are maintained in a state of “arrested decay,” meaning the state repairs roofs, windows, and foundations, but otherwise lets the buildings exist as ruins.
If you go:
Admission to Bodie cost $8 per person as of the time I am writing this. Summer hours are from 9 am to 6 pm, and they actually enforce them. The dirt road was in good condition and in good weather shouldn’t be a problem for any car.
Winter hours are shorter, and the road can get snowed in. Visit the park’s website for more information.
— Jim Dalrymple II