Bodie California

Bodie, California is the ghost town by which all others are judged.  Located at 8300 in the Bodie Hills above Mono Lake, Bodie is the largest and perhaps best preserved ghost town in America. Established as a ghost town and state park in 1962, the town site is now administered by the Bodie Foundation.

Bodie, California c1890
Bodie, California c1890

Currently preserved in “Arrested Decay” a condition and phrase coined by the State of California for the Bodie, the town site is preserved as it was found in 1962. This essentially maintains the structures as the were at that time, and work may be done to keep them to that standard. Some buildings get new roofs, windows sealed and foundation rebuilt to preserve the state of degradation. It is because of this forward thinking policy that the town remains in the state of decline that it does.

Bodie CA is a town lost in arrested decay. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Bodie CA is a town lost in arrested decay. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun

I remember my first visit to Bodie was probably in the the late 1970’s.  My father drove our old Ford truck into the town, and as I jumped out my eyes found the old Standard Mill.  The Standard Mill still dominates the valley with its grayish-blue siding, multiple smoke stakes and extreme size.  The Standard Mill is the most intact mill in California and processed over $14 million dollars in gold during its 25 years of service.

Evelyn Myers, a three year old girls grave marker located in Bodie, CA reminds us that not all mine camps were filled with men. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Evelyn Myers, a three year old girls grave marker located in Bodie, CA reminds us that not all mine camps were filled with men. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Formed in 1859, the town under went several mining booms, busts and fires.  At it’s peak in 1879, Bodie hosted 5000 – 7000 souls, 65 saloons, a “Redlight” district, a china town, four volunteer fire stations, several newspapers, churches and of coarse, a Jail.  Bodie maintain a rough reputation over the years and suffers from murders, shoot outs, stage robberies and the odd bar room brawl.

Bodie, California, Dec. 1, 1909, Bridgeport quadrangle, picture by G.R. Davis, topographer.
Bodie, California, Dec. 1, 1909, Bridgeport quadrangle, picture by G.R. Davis, topographer.

By 1910 the population settled at about 700 people, mostly families, as the miners and those who service the miners moved on to more prosperous areas.  The last printed paper was in 1912, and signaled the beginning of the end for the scrappy little town.  Although labelled a ghost town in 1915, Bodie continued to linger and dwindle is size until 1940 when the Post Office closed.

The interior of a general store is virtually the way it was when the store owner left Bodie, Photograph by James L Rathbun
The interior of a general store is virtually the way it was when the store owner left Bodie, Photograph by James L Rathbun

Under threat and vandalism the state of California took over the town site, and currently hosts some 200,000 visitors per year.

"Bodie Bill" - Age 2 1/2 years - Firebug of the Bodie Fire, June 23, 1932
“Bodie Bill” – Age 2 1/2 years – Firebug of the Bodie Fire, June 23, 1932

Remote locations, harsh weather and rustic builds make Bodie is a popular site for photographers.

The road into Bodie is accessible to almost any vehicle, but can server as a launch point the many back roads and trails. Nearby attractions are Masonic, Chemung and Aurora who like to get off the beaten path.

A weathered wagon wheel in Bodie reminds us of a bygone era. Photograph by James L Rathbun
A weathered wagon wheel in Bodie reminds us of a bygone era. Photograph by James L Rathbun
General Store still found in Bodie, California. Photograph by James L Rathbun
General Store still found in Bodie, California. Photograph by James L Rathbun
A deteriorated globe in the schoolhouse windows reminds us of the life that used be in Bodie. Photograph by James L Rathbun
A deteriorated globe in the schoolhouse windows reminds us of the life that used be in Bodie. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Gold was first discovered in the Mono Lake region in 1352 and placer gold was then discovered at the future site of Bodie in July, 1859* by William S. Body. On July 10, 1860, the Bodie Mining District was organized. In August, 1859 quarts veins were also discovered in the area, but the lack of -water and the extreme difficulties of transporting supplies and equipment over the mountains and desert tended to severely restrict mining activities at Bodie for some time. From 1860 to 1877, Bodie polled only some 20 votes a year, and in 1865 the town still had only SOP 14 small frame and adobe houses.
In 1876-77, however, new quartz discoveries were made at the Bodie and Standard mines, touching off a great gold rush to Bodie in 1878. From a few shacks, a term of some 250 wooden buildings rapidly appeared in the desert and the population leaped to 10,000 or 12,000 persons, with the usual assortment of gambling dens, breweries, saloons, and the nightly shootings, stabbings and brawls. Bodie soon merited the title of “Shooters Town,” and a “Bad Man from Bodie” was then universally recognized to be a particularly unpleasant individual. In 1879, when Bodie reached its pinnacle, its main street was over a-mile long and built solidly with one and two-story frame buildings. In 1881 a 32- mile narrow gauge railroad was constructed from Mono Lake to Bodie to carry in fuel and lumber. % 1883, however, the boom was over and all but the Bodie and Standard mines closed down; these two mines finally consolidated in 1887. In 1895 Bodie had a small revival when the cyanide process of recovering gold was put in use, Mining continued intermittently up to World War II, when Bodie finally became a true ghost town.

NATIONAL SURVEY OF HISTORIC SITES AND BUILDINGS

Resources

Bodie Map

Success Mine

The Success Mine is an gold mine site located just off Masonic Road, the between McMillan Springs and the Chemung Mine in Mono County, CA.

Success Mine, Bridgeport, CA
Success Mine, Bridgeport, CA

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There is little data on this small claim.  The mine shafts eventually reached a depth of 50 feet to a mineral vein which traveled North East and dips South East and was valued at $11 / ton.  Eventually water was stuck and filled the shaft to the 25ft level.

Bridgeport. – The Success Mining Co. has exposed a 3 1/2-ft. vein of high-grade ore in its property in the Masonic disctrict.  The find was made in a drift north from the 50-ft level.  The Success mine was purchased by Elmer S. Green and associates from John H. and C. C. Hayes of Bridgeport, in July.

Mining and Scientific Press- October 29, 1921

Although I try to always stop at such locations, sadly that was not in the cards on our last trip. The Chemung Mine was rather overwelming and the little success mine did not compare. There was also some hungry kids in the Jeep as well. As with any trip, I came away with more trails to follow and history to investigate.

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…

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Spreading Phlox ( Phlox diffusa )

Spreading Phlox ( Phlox diffusa ) is a perennial shrub with small needle like leaves.  This is a small white flowering plant prefers alpine, sub-alpine environments and rocky or sandy soil.  This is a low growing plant which is commonly only two to eight inches tall which probably offers survival advantages when confronted with the harsh landscapes of sub-alpine and alpine environments, in which it thrives.

Photographed in the White Moundtains, Phlox diffusa is a small white flowering plant which prefers alpine and sub-alpine environments.
Photographed in the White Moundtains in California Phlox diffusa is a small white flowering plant which prefers alpine and sub-alpine environments. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Spreading Phlox is commonly found and adapted high in the mountains and distributed throughout in the western United States and Canada. This plant employs a tap route, which is ideally suited to capture water deeper under ground and also offers an anchor to help the plant cling to the mountain in high wind conditions. The plant is short, and when in full bloom, the flowers may completely obscure the green needle like leaves from view.

The five petaled flowers range in color from a clean, magnificent white to calming understated lavender or pink color.

The blooms are typically visible from May to August and a welcome sight to those who hike at elevation.

The Green Gopher

Growing up in the 70’s I learned and spent a lot of time camping, hiking, being outdoors and active.  Every spring summer and fall, my parents and I would load up the truck, and later the trailer and head out.  Typically preparations would start the week before departure, and the loading process would start on Thursday afternoon with my brother and I hauling all the gear into the yard, while my mom packed the vehicles.  Friday could not come soon enough and when it did, my dad would come home from work, change is clothes, wrangle up two kids, maybe a dog, adjust the mirrors, and exclaim “We’re off” as we drove out of the driveway in The Green Gopher.  For the most part, for my family nothing much has changed much from my dad.  It is however the details that matter.

In 1972, I was one year old and to celebrate my dad bought a new truck.  Details of the vehicle back then are scarce.  From my point of view, my dad previously owned a 1964 International Scout.  He drive this car for years all over the desert south west in the late 1960s.  When my dad married my mom, my mom made him sell the Scout because the breaks were horrible, and at least three times they failed completely.  It was a wise decision considering the stakes for the family at the time, but the loss of his beloved Scout was difficult and for decades despite its faults the Scout cast a long shadow in our family.

Returning to 1972, my dad decided to purchase his truck.  He chose a Sea Foam Green 1972 Ford F-100 pickup sporting a 302 inch V-8 sporting with a 3.2:1 gear ratio, two fuel tanks, and a four speed manual transmission which included a “Granny Gear”.  The extra costs of a four wheel drive were not an option for my dad at that time.  So, the truck became the “ultimate compromise”.  He opted for 2 wheel drive, but to offer improved traction he chose a four speed with granny gear.  The differential was geared up to offer improve gas mileage, but the little 200 HP V-8 could not pull a grade at any sort of highway speeds.  A camper shell, home built bed, pass-through rear window and the “green gopher” was complete for the initial incarnation.

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