Bodie and Aurora rivalry continues to this day

Two towns located in the hills above Mono Lake maintain, the Bodie and Aurora rivalry continues even now, long past their demise.  Bodie, CA and Aurora, NV boomed with the gold rush of the 1870s and busted just years later when the gold ran out and faded into history.  Miners, merchants, and people would undoubtedly moved either direction between the two cities and with good fortune would undoubtedly talk down the previous city.  Such is human nature, but why would this rivalry continue long past the demise of both towns?

The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Bodie, CA is the crown jewel of ghost towns.  Maintained in a state of arrested decay and located just 13 miles off the 395 highway outside of Bridgeport, CA, Bodie hosts over 100,000 visitors each year.  The current site has some 100 structures, flush toilets, museum, guided tours, on-site staff, a website, Facebook presence and a gift shop.  (I own two coffee mugs and three shirts)  During a visit two Bodie, I over heard two fellow visitors joking about a StarBucks coffee located near the fire station.  Bodie, justifiably is a popular place to visit, there are many people there when you visit.

Aurora, NV Photograph by James L Rathbun
Aurora, NV Photograph by James L Rathbun

By contrast, Aurora is a forgotten intersection of two roads.  The town was raised long ago for its brick, and only two structures are not lost two the bush and those are unrecognizable monuments to the towns past.  Few visitors will reach the town site of Aurora and those who do might be disappointed in what they find.  By almost any measure there is no comparison in the quality of a visit to the two towns in modern times.  So, why would there be an active effort on the part of those affiliated with Bodie to discourage visitor from driving to Aurora? Does the Bodie and Aurora rivalry continue to this day?

On a visit in June, 2016 I walked into the museum and spoke with one of the park staff / ranger to inquire about Aurora.  I told the ranger I was planning to drive to Aurora and asked “How many miles is it to Aurora?”

The Ranger replied, “I think it is about 30 miles?”

I answered, “Well, I thought it was about 9 miles, but I don’t remember the source so I could be wrong.”  I thanked him and moved on.

Perplexed a bit, I walked around the museum and studied a few exhibits.   Once of the exhibits I saw was a hand written note / map, which noted that it was 6 miles to the Nevada border and Aurora was 10 miles past that point.  I returned to the Ranger at the front desk and told him, “Apparently, we are both wrong you have a document which states it is 16 miles to Aurora.”

He replied, “Well, it can be a rough road and I heard the bridge is out.”

Again, I thanked him and walked off towards the jeep.  Rough roads do not cause much concern, and a bridge being out is a binary concern.  We can either pass or not pass and will not know until we get there.  I loaded my family into the jeep, reset the trip odometer and sent off east towards Aurora.  We followed the road and Bodie Creek North from Bodie and soon we reached a small bridge.   As we drove over the bridge, I thought to myself, “Well so much from that bridge being out…”

As we continued down Bodie Creek there was another bridge, which was indeed out but immediately the obstacle was passable via the road to the right.    The bypass simple dropped down a few feet, crossed Bodie Creek and up the other side.  Not any issue with our Jeep JK.  We continued down the road and made a right turn to climb the hill into Aurora.  We soon reach an valley covered in sage brush with a wooden structure which appeared to be a head frame.  A moment later we reached and intersection and another concrete structure which was the remains of a building.  Surely, this must the Aurora.

Everything about the small valley was screaming Aurora.  The map told me we found Aurora.  Memories from my last visit 30 years prior told me it was Aurora.  The structural remains told me we found Aurora.  Everything told me that we found Aurora, except my trip odometer.  Since my cell phone GPS is worthless with no Internet connection, the one piece of measuring equipment told me I was 5 miles off of my destination.  After lunch we headed out again and soon found ourselves in the highlands above Mono Lake in extremely rough terrain.  We finally reached mile 16 and knew that the distance measurement found in the Bodie Museum was flat out wrong and wrong in a big way!

Remains of Aurora bricks found deep in the undergrowth. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Remains of Aurora bricks found deep in the undergrowth. Photograph by James L Rathbun

We turned around and returned to the site we believed to be Aurora.  Again we checked the maps, and everything appeared to match.  We had an intersection with another road.  We had a few limited structures.  One further investigation, we began to see flattened buildings in the over growth of sage brush.  Two structures became several.  As I walked through the thigh high sage brush, I looked down and saw bricks!  Bricks are the sure sign that we found Aurora!

Photographic landscape comparison between our trip and a historical photograph.
Photographic landscape comparison between our trip and a historical photograph.  The angles are slightly different but clearly the hillside line up.

So, how do we explain the differences in the distances.   My memory, which is fallible, was 9 miles.  The Ranger told me about 30, which I believed was way off.  The map in the museum told me 16 miles, and my odometer measured 11.5.  I reset my odometer and drove back to Bodie and duplicated my initial measurement of 11.5 miles and made a mental note of the dilemma.  Why is the distance so wrong?  I am willing the accept a slight variation in the mileage measurement of the jeep.  I have 35″ tires on the 4×4 and the gears are changed to 5.13:1.  The computer was changed to reflect these modifications.  This could explain a slight variation but not 4 miles over 16 if the program parameters are not exact or correct.

When we returned to camp that night I checked the “Bodie State Historic Park” guide purchased when I arrived at Bodie and published and revised in 2010.  On page one there is a town map with a reference to Aurora at a distance of 18 miles away!!!  Great, another number for the distance between the two towns.

When I arrived home I opened up Google Earth and check my measurement for the Bodie to Aurora Trail.  This measurement from Google Earth is 12.1 miles are more or less corroborates my measurement.  So, why would California State Parks publish an erroneous value and lengthen the distance of the Road from Bodie to Aurora?  Could the fact that California “lost” Aurora to  and its revenue to Nevada when the area was surveyed in 1863 explain this behavior?   Does the Bodie and Aurora rivalry between the two towns continue?  Could it be that the mile distances site actually describe a longer route around the mountain to the north west of Aurora.  Perhaps no one from California State Parks has checked?

I prefer to think of this is the last argument in the rivalry between two lost mining towns. An underhanded slight to history. The Bodie and Aurora rivalry continues…

Bodie and Aurora Trail Map

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