Bodie is the gold standard of ghost towns. Where other ghost towns have ten or so old buildings in varying degrees of disrepair or renovation, Bodie may only have 10% of its original structures but that still accounts for 110 structures preserved in a state of arrested decay. There is a stamp mill with it’s original machinery literally falling through the floor, off kilter structures, and occasional doorways that lead to…nowhere.
Bodie, like so many ghost towns, was a mining boomtown. We thought Cerro Gordo had an impressive grade but the elevation and elements in Bodie can be so severe that even the town’s namesake died of exposure shortly after discovering gold and before he could ever see the bustling town that would eventually bare his name. Gold prospectors don’t tend to get briefed that a region they are exploring is a dry-summer subarctic climate. Bodie is rivaled only by Barrow, Alaska for the most nights below freezing. The original Bodey (the town’s name experienced many phonetic spellings aside from the founder’s actual name) likely did notice the 100mph winds that can score through the shrub land of the region. But it wasn’t a tropical vacation he was looking for, it was gold.
There had been placer gold discovered in the streams below Bodie. Bodey, the prospector, new that the small flakes of gold found in river bottoms were displaced from a larger, deposit of ore, somewhere upstream of the riverbed gold. While he initially discovered gold bearing ore in 1859, the town didn’t take off until a large deposit was discovered in 1876. Bodie boomed into the 1880s.
The elevation also meant that resources were limited and difficult to access. The town is above the tree line. All the structures were built with wood and brick brought in by teamsters. The massive metal machinery, similarly, had to be imported. All this work, to live in such an extreme environment.
As the gold petered out, men moved on to new prospects such as Tombstone, Arizona. Bodie continued to be an operating mining town and even experienced a minor resurgence in the 1890s when new technology allowed more gold to be recovered from the tailings of inefficiently processed ore. Yet the dwindling resources and extreme environment made Bodie less and less desirable of a place to live.
Today Bodie is a state park. While visitors can freely walk around the town, access inside the buildings is limited to scheduled tours with park rangers. Even without a tour, one can look into the windows to see pool tables, lonely bars, and partially stocked general stores with goods on display. It is impressive to get a sense of the wide swath of humanity that chose to live in such inhospitable conditions on the chance of getting rich.