It was once the most lawless town in California, a place where the fire bell ringing out the ages of those being laid to rest seemed to never stop ringing. Today, what's left of Bodie is the ghostly shell of a rough-and-tumble Gold Rush town, a window into a time long lost.
Nestled in the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, just north of Mono Lake (another beautiful spot—a salty lake with large tufa formations), Bodie grew quickly from a quiet town of 500 people to a rowdy mining city. Its population exploded during the second boom of the California gold rush and the beginning of the Nevada silver rush. By 1879, Bodie boasted a population of 10,000 and had 65 saloons, 50 mining companies, a thriving red light district in the north end of town, and the worst reputation in the state. Despite its nasty reputation, gold- and silver-seekers came from every corner of the country to this harsh environment to "see the elephant," as heading West was called. Bodie's promise of gold and silver fortunes even attracted the likes of railroad tycoon Lelan Stanford.
Perhaps predictably, the mines quickly reached full capacity, and soon the mining companies cut their losses and closed. Just as fast as Bodie had boomed, it busted, and the population had dropped below 100 by 1888. Locals held on until the 1920s, when Standard Mining closed down. Despite popular belief, Bodie was never completely abandoned, and a few stragglers held down the fort until Bodie was absorbed as a National Landmark in 1962.
Today the windswept streets of Bodie are open to the public. It is the best-preserved ghost town in California, with about 200 structures remaining (about 5% of its original glory), along with rusted-out cars and machinery and boarded-up mines. Many of the building-interiors still contain original artifacts and cannot be entered.
Generally closed during the winter, the most reasonable access to Bodie is dusty highway 270, from highway 395. Call ahead during the swing months between winter and summer to check accessibility. Sometimes, a gate 1.5 miles out keeps away vehicles and advises hikers that the road is not fit to drive on.