“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.






Ghost Towns of the Old West: Rhyolite… The Desert Series

Old grave at the ghost town of Rhyolite outside of Death Valley.

What better way to introduce a ghost town than to show where the ghosts live? This is one of the better kept grave sites in the Rhyolite cemetery. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)


What’s a desert without a ghost town or two?

Boom and bust are the go-to words when it comes to creating ghost towns in the desert. Gold, or some other valuable mineral is found. Miners, developers, speculators and others burning with get-rich-quick-itis rush in where angels fear to tread (wisely so). Eventually the vein runs out. Unless the town has other ways of providing a livelihood, people leave. The ghosts are left behind. That’s the story of Rhyolite.

Boom! At the beginning of January in 1905, Rhyolite was a non-town of two people. They struck it rich. Two weeks later the population had grown to 1200 people. By 1907 somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 people called the place home. Apparently no one was interested in doing an accurate census count. But the small city had banks, a school, its own railroad, a hospital, an opera house, some 50 saloons and a generous smattering of ladies of the evening with hearts of gold, or at least pockets filled with gold coins. There was electricity, running water, and telephones.

Charles Schwab, the steel magnate, (as opposed to Charles Schwab of brokerage house fame) was the money behind the development of Rhyolite. Thomas Edison, who was responsible for inventing the electric lights that lit up the town, once called Schwab a master hustler. It fit, but Schwab’s hustling in Rhyolite failed to pan out (to use an old gold mining term).

Bust! In 1907, a British mining engineer discovered that the ‘fabulously high-grade ore’ mine Schwab had bought was actually filled with low-grade ore. By 1910 the banks were closed. The last train left town in 1916. A motor tour organized by the LA Times in 1922 found only one person remaining in the town, a 94-year-old man who died two years later. Rhyolite began its career as a ghost town.

For enquiring minds that want to know, Rhyolite is located approximately 120 miles north of Las Vegas and sits on the eastern edge of Death Valley, just outside the small Nevada town of Beatty. It is named after an igneous rock common throughout the area.

An old truck in the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada.

Ghost truck in Rhyolite. Its engine had long since departed.

Interior of old truck in Rhyolite, Nevada.

I was torn over which interior photograph I would use, but opted for the steering wheel and dashboard. It, and the faded surrounding mountains struck me as ghostly. The odometer had stopped at 45,438 miles. Or make that 45,438.5. It was rolling over to 45,439 when its roving days ended.

Cook Bank in the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada.

Once the pride of Rhyolite, the Cook Bank’s floors were marble and its windows were stain glass.

Cook Bank in Rhyolite Nevada.

Almost everything of value was ripped out of the Cook Bank and Rhyolite in general. Many of the buildings in nearby Beatty, owe their existence to this pilferage. It led me to wonder why the fine bricks on top of the Cook Bank were still there. Were they a little difficult to reach, a little perilous to remove? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

School in the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada.

I asked Peggy, a retired elementary school principal, to pose for me in front of Rhyolite’s school. Her hair, which totally has a mind of its own, had been teased by the desert wind.

Rattlesnake warning sign in Rhyolite, Nevada.

We laughed. If the reasonable approach doesn’t work, try another. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rhyolite Nevada view.

They say it is better to be on the inside looking out than the outside looking in. I don’t think it matters in Rhyolite. But I did like the composition that pulls you out toward the mountains.

HD and LD Porter sign in Rhyolite, Nevada.

A rather classy sign that is lucky it didn’t end up in an antique shop somewhere.

The old railway station at Rhyolite, Nevada.

Speaking of classy, Rhyolite’s railway station was, and still is an attractive building. Over the years it morphed into a hotel, casino, souvenir shop, all connected to Rhyolite’s ghost town status. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Old rail found near the ghost town of Rhyolite.

Most of the rails leading up to the station were pulled out and used during World War I, but I did find this old one in a junk pile behind the station.

Caboose in Rhyolite.

One of the more intriguing buildings in Rhyolite, from my perspective, is this old caboose that was once used on the Las Vegas to Salt Lake line. It was reborn as a service station in Rhyolite to serve the visitors that came to visit the ghost town and probably the casino.

An inside view of the caboose located at Rhyolite, Nevada.

Looking inside the caboose.

Tom Kelly's hose made of glass bottles in Rhyolite, Nevada.

This house made of 30,00 glass bottles (mainly alcohol related– not surprising considering a couple of thousand thirsty miners), may be Rhyolite’s most famous building. 76-year-old Tom Kelly built it in 1905-06 and then auctioned it off at $5.00 a ticket.

Bottles used to make the Bottle House in the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada.

A close up of the bottles. The marks on the bottom indicate the company that made the bottles. AB stands for American Bottling Company, for example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Hostetter Bitters Bottle used in the Bottle House at Rhyolite, Nevada.

A few bottles are more prominently displayed, such as this Dr. J. Hostetter Bitters bottle. While it was sold to cure what ailed your tummy, it contained up to 47 % alcohol. Earlier, Hostetter had sold the bitters to Union soldiers during the Civil War to fight off diseases they might catch while chasing Confederates through southern swamps.

A final ghostly reminder from the Rhyolite graveyard.

A final ghostly reminder from the Rhyolite graveyard.

NEXT BLOG: Traveling a couple of hundred yards west of Rhyolite, we visit the Goldwell Open Air Museum