“Goodbye God. I am going to Bodie.” Ghost Towns of the Old West


Tattered curtains, a cracked window, and a reflection of weather warn buildings capture the essence of the Old West ghost town of Bodie, California.

Ghostly curtains, a cracked window, and a reflection of weather worn buildings capture the essence of Bodie, California.

Goodbye God, I am going to Bodie,”  was a statement made by a ten-year old in her journal when her family took her to Bodie during its glory days as a gold rush town.

She was right to be concerned. There was plenty of sin to go around as various bad men of the Old West came together with gold seekers and other adventurers in the 1870s. Killings took place almost daily. The fire station would toll the age of the person killed. Robberies, stagecoach holdups and barroom brawls filled in around the edges. It’s “a sea of sin lashed by the tempests of lust and passion,” Reverend F.M. Warrington noted.

And if that weren’t enough, there was the weather to contend with. Winter could bring snows as deep as 20 feet, winds up to 100 miles per hour, and temperatures that dropped to 30˚ F below zero. Freezing to death was on the list of things that might kill you.

Today Bodie is maintained in a state of “arrested decay” as a California State Historical Park. This makes it substantially different from Rhyolite, where things are more or less allowed to fall apart. Most of Bodie’s buildings are still intact– even though some may need a little help. (Grin)

Propped up outhouse in the ghost town of Bodie, California.

Decay doesn’t get much more ‘arrested’ than this propped up outhouse. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Leaning building in the Bodie State Park ghost town. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This building is a little confused about which direction it wants to lean. The support beam it is ‘leaning into’ is on the left.

Building held up by support beams at Bodie State Park in California.

A building that apparently needed a lot of help. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Bones of building at Bodie State Park in California.

Almost beyond help, this building relies on its neighbor for support. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Bodie is located east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains off of Highway 395 near the town of Bridgeport. A paved side road that soon turns to dirt delivers visitors to the ghost town. When we arrived, Mono County was seriously engaged in tearing up the dirt section of the road. Our truck was not happy. (I assume they have put the road back together by now.) Peggy and I got ‘lost’ leaving the town. It is really hard to do. I chalk it up to subconsciously wanting to avoid another personal encounter with the Mono County Highway Department. Anyway, we explored 20 or so miles of dirt road before finding our way back to the highway.

Mining equipment at Bodie State Historical Park in California.

As expected, one place to find old mining equipment is in old mining towns. The cages seen beneath the head frame were used to lift miners into and out of the mines.

Place setting covered in dust at Bodie State Historical Park.

I’ll classify this as a ‘still life’ photo. Apparently it’s been still for decades. It’s what happens when you are late for dinner.

Old bed at Bodie State Historic Park in California.

Why does ‘spring into action’ come to mind?

An old truck at Bodie State Historical Park in California.

This truck had character including the yellow rim on the back wheel. I assume the roped door was to keep kids (both small and big) out of the vehicle.

Old car remains at Bodie State Historical Park in California.

This car was more open for inspection.

Prairie dog at Bodie State Historical Park in California.

Speaking of inspection, a prairie dog stopped his busy rounds of grass chomping to check us out. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Shell gas station at Bodie State Historical Park in California.

A Shell gas station.

Old Shell gas sign at Bodie Historical Park in California

Apparently someone was upset about the increased cost of gas. Maybe it had jumped from fifteen to sixteen cents a gallon.

Methodist Church is Bodie State Historical Park in California.

The end of the bad old days in the West was often signified by the building of a church. It appears they weren’t quite over in Bodie however. An oil cloth painting of the Ten Commandants in the Methodist Church that hung behind the altar was stolen. So much for “Thou shalt not steal.”

The morgue at Bodie State Historical Park in California.

If there are haunted places in Bodie, the morgue is a prime location. The featured casket provides a window to view the deceased. A Bible rests on the table. Or maybe it is a copy of Mortuary Science for Dummies.

Old power pole in the ghost town of Bodie.

This power pole seemed sufficiently ghostly to reside in a ghost town.

House of mine worker at Bodie ghost town.

Peggy stands in front of one of the shacks where a miner  lived.

The J.S. Caine residence at Bodie State Historical Park in California.

Here she stands in front of the house of the guy who owned the mine.

IOOF Hall in the ghost town of Bodie.

The International Order of Odd Fellows Hall. I’d almost join for the name alone.

View of the ghost town of Bodie.

A wider view of Bodie. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Getting lost on the way out of Bodie wasn't bad considering the scenery.

Getting lost on the way out of Bodie wasn’t bad considering the scenery.

We did become a little concerned as evening approached and we were still wandering around on our dirt road.

We did become a little concerned as evening approached and we were still wandering around on our dirt road. But eventually we arrived in Bridgeport and could declare our detour another adventure.

NEXT BLOG: We journey up California’s beautiful Highway 395 and stop to admire Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. And, I might add, a mountain I have climbed six times.






56 thoughts on ““Goodbye God. I am going to Bodie.” Ghost Towns of the Old West

  1. I would never associate California with “snows as deep as 20 feet, winds up to 100 miles per hour, and temperatures that dropped to 30˚ F below zero.” Very interesting to learn.

  2. This so very much reminds me of the Yukon gold rush – same buildings that sway in the middle, same issue with the cold. Great photos, but especially the first one – superb.

    • Thanks Alison and Don. My experience has been that the boom and bust ghost towns of the Old West all share a lot in common with ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ being on top the list. 🙂 They also shared a lot of the same folks. As one site panned out, the miners moved on to the next. I was raised in a gold rush town about 13 miles from where John Sutter found gold at Coloma and started the 49ers on their way to California. Diamond Springs was lucky in that it had lumber and lime to sustain it after the gold ran out. Still, the population was around 500. It had been close to 10,000 in the 1850s.

      Ancestors on both sides of my family participated in the California gold rush. My great grandfather struck it rich and was killed for his gold. Fortunately, for me, he left a pregnant wife behind. Otherwise I wouldn’t be typing these words. 🙂 –Curt

  3. Just brilliant! I love the captions…. And the images are amazing. I’ve always wanted to visit these places; I can’t fathom how life must have been for these souls.

    • Thanks Fey Girl. Good to hear from you.:) Life would have been wild, that’s for sure. The boom phase in most of these towns was relatively short– a few years at the most. The easy gold ran out and the townspeople got tired of the violence. Families wanted schools and churches. I’ve always romanticized the prospectors who were out on their own searching for gold, working with a gold pan and pick. (My brother and I were raised in gold country and sometimes wandered around with a gold pan finding specks of gold.) But working down in a mine, any mine, has never had any appeal to me. No, no, no. 🙂 –Curt

    • Good observation. That certainly wouldn’t have been the case with Rhyolite that I blogged about last week. Everything that could be picked up and transported to Beatty was, including all of the houses. –Curt

  4. As I’ve said before Curt, I love these ghost town posts. “A sea of sin lashed by the tempests of lust and passion” – you gotta love a padre that speaks Old Testament. And stealing the Ten Commandments has to peg the bad karma meter (in case you didn’t recognize it, that’s a mixed-religious metaphor). ~James

    • I can see you wandering around looking for gold. LOL Found a few specks when I was out backpacking a few weeks ago. Almost made me want to head home and get a gold pan. 🙂 –Curt

  5. I received this post on my Iphone but not on the computer. Never mind, a lovely historical tour of an old gold mine of which Australia also has many. Lovely shots and the sun-lit ghosts of so many trying their luck behind every photo. Reminds me a bit about Mrs Miller and McCabe with the somble Leonard Cohen singing ‘oh Susanne’…

    • Thanks Gerard. Sun lit ghosts… maybe I should have stayed around until after dark. Mrs. Miller and McCabe– that goes back a while. But not as far as Oh Susanna… that one goes all the way back to elementary school. 🙂 –Curt

  6. These photos are just superb, and I’m so glad that considerable effort’s being expended to maintain the place. My great-great-great-grandfather, David Crowley, went off to Colorado during the Gold Rush. There’s not much record of his time there at all, except that he was there, and came back to help establish the 34th Iowa when the Civil War broke out. The one thing we know for sure is that he didn’t get rich while he was there. But I suspect his place during that time wasn’t so different from what you show here.

    My heart’s always warmed by the sight of a prairie dog – I don’t exactly recommend them as pets, but the years mine was around were great. Do you happen to remember which direction the mine owner’s house faced? With all that glass, that would have been a great winter sunporch, if it’s facing south.

    • Good observation, Linda. The mine owners house did face south. Then there was the 20 feet of snow to contend with. Wonder how the windows related to that? Maybe it was boarded up in the winter.

      Wish we had prairie dogs here. Instead we have their cousins, ground squirrels. They are a terror on gardens. Peg and I spent a lot of effort squirrel proofing her garden. Once we saw ground squirrels running around it in frustration. So far so good. I use a Have-a-heart trap and transport the little buggers over to BLM land where they have to earn their food the natural way. Twelve so far this year.

      They have done a great job with Bodie. The state almost dropped the effort four years ago during the financial crunch. Fortunately it didn’t.


    • The morgue was a little eerie with its wall paper falling down. It definitely looked like a ghost haunt. The walls were much thicker than any other buildings in town… helping keep it cool in summer for obvious reasons. –Curt

  7. Leaving Bodie and discovering we were on an “unmarked” path was just a bit worrisome, even for our love of adventure! Crossing a snow bank with a plummeting drop off on the right got my attention. I was ready to pitch the tent and delay our adventure until the morning, but…then I realized Curt was having way too much fun!

    • Well, an unmarked path that showed up on our GPS. (giggle) As for snowbanks and drop offs, that’s what we have four wheel drive for, right? I will admit that country doesn’t get much more lonely. We didn’t even see a cow, 🙂 –Curt

  8. What an absolutely FABULOUS post Curtis. The photos and back-stories were so captivating I wish I’d been along with you in California on that shoot. Many many thanks for showing me this new part of America I’d never heard of.

      • I’m beginning to schedule photo assignments for 2015 and one which just came in will have me at Mono Lake. And since I just learned about Bodie I’m already looking forward to heading up there. Thanks for sharing this great information Curt.

  9. This is wonderful Curt and Peg. The story and photos actually riveted my constantly wandering attention span. The composition, the light, the depth of the photos has me wondering “how do they do this?” But mostly the subjects are just fascinating and your narrative is brilliant– Witty, light and yet kind of ominous. BTW if you like falling down, leaning and/or dilapidated strange looking buildings, come spend some time on the farm again. I think we could see some of our outbuildings in a whole new light.

  10. I never knew this place existed – let alone as a state park. It was indeed amazing to see items like Bible and dishes left alone as today’s punks just don’t give a hoot, much more than yesteryear.

    The photos were excellent as always. I did love the photo of the dusty cup and dishes and of course, the morgue. But… Weren’t you and Peggy out there a little late? Trying to sneak in a date out in the wild with an unsuspecting woman, eh, Curt?? 🙂

    And climbing Mt. Whitney six times???

  11. Pingback: Upper Works: The McIntyre Blast Furnace and Adirondac the Abandoned Mining Village | White Postcards

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