"Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie," or so the story goes that a young girl wrote this in her diary when she was told that her family was moving to Bodie, California.
Bodie is a genuine California gold-mining ghost town left in a state of arrested decay. The town was founded by Waterman S. Bodey (William Bodey) when he discovered gold in the hills north of Mono Lake in 1859. It became a boom town in 1877, and by 1879 it boasted a population of about 10,000. It was considered to be second to none in terms of lawlessness, badmen and the "worst climate out of doors." At one point in time there were 65 saloons, numerous brothels, gambling halls, and opium dens. The Reverend F.M. Warrington, in 1881, called called it "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempest of lust and passion."
The boom was over four years later. A fire in 1932 nearly wiped the town out and Bodie faded into a ghost town in the 1940's. It became a state park in 1962 and is maintained in a state of arrested decay. Less than 10% of the town's buildings remain standing but it is still the largest ghost town in the western United States.
A long and dusty 13 mile dirt road led us to Bodie. Along the way we saw a shepherd with his flock of sheep and trusty dogs, and I had to get out to take a few shots despite the bad angle of the sun. He waved to us and shouted "Good morning" and we responded in kind. It was very cool to watch the dogs work the flock.
Bodie hosts Photographers Days one Saturday a month during the summer. $30 buys the right to enter the park 1/2 hour before sunrise and remain a half hour after sunset, and reservations are required. That did not fit into our plans, but we were there mid-week (Tuesday) as soon as the park opened, and I suppose that since it was a hot July day in the midst of heat wave, there were very few people there; one family of six and a lone man with a camera. As soon as we entered we took off in the opposite direction and practically had the place to ourselves.
Although most of the buildings are identified with a small sign discretely place so as to not interfere with photography, we found the $2 map guide a worthwhile purchase to help us find our way around. Bodie is an entire town so it covers some ground. With the temperature rising and several uphill walks to reach portions of the town, it helped to narrow down our plans. We had lucked out with gorgeous early morning sun and an unbelievably blue sky, although I had wished for some clouds to add drama. I only shot the east-facing buildings because I didn't think my 580EX would provide sufficient fill-light on the west-facing buildings and I wasn't pleased with the way the light was hitting the north- and south- facing buildings. But the light on those east-facing buildings more than made up for it with amazing depth and warmth of the wood.
It's spooky to peer into the windows and see that it looks like everyone just disappeared while in the midst of going about their daily lives. The park service has left everything in place, and it's easy to imagine that someone is hiding around a corner, or that the ghosts come out to play at night.
All too soon the desert light turned harsh, as it always does. I hadn't had enough of a chance to photograph nearly as much as I had wanted, but you can't argue with the light. I took one last photo of the rusted car that I had seen in so many images and couldn't leave without, then we jumped in the jeep and headed toward Napa.
You can see the rest of my Bodie gallery here