Bodie, California has been on my bucket list ever since I first discovered my fascination for all things lost, forgotten and abandoned. In fact, the first leg of our California road trip has been more or less centered around reaching the historic gold mining town which boomed through the late 1800s, only to become completely deserted by the 1950s.
Bodie is probably one of the most unique ghost towns in the world, isolated in a desert mountain range of Mono County, California, preserved in an arresting state of decay but truly frozen in time, with interiors still stocked with goods and personal belongings left behind.
It’s like a little bit like Disneyland for urban decay buffs, a playground for ghost town enthusiasts. At its peak it was home to 7,000 people and had over 2,000 buildings but even after two devastating fires, there is still an impressive amount of buildings and houses that remain standing, fully in tact.
But like I said, Bodie is a little bit like Disneyland, so despite my cleverly angled pictures, we were certainly not alone with the ghosts of this town. In fact the old mining town, now a historic park, attracts nearly 200,000 visitors a year, which doesn’t leave much room for the ghosts of Bodie’s past.
The story of Bodie’s rise and decline is a familiar tale. It went from being an isolated gold mining camp in the 1870s after the Standard Company discovered a profitable deposit of gold-bearing ore, to a Wild West boom town, reportedly one of the wildest in the West.
At its peak, 65 saloons lined Main Street in Bodie and prostitution murders, shootouts and stagecoach holdups were a part of daily life.
By the late 1880s, the gold stopped flowing and get-rich-quick miners that accounted for a large chunk of the population began to move on to other boom towns.
Those that remained loyal to Bodie created a family-orientated community, but by 1910 the population was down to just 698 people.
The last Bodie newspaper, The Bodie Miner, was printed in 1912 and the railway was abandoned in 1917. Bodie was labeled a “ghost town” as early in 1915, but the lonely community still had a heartbeat well until the 1940s when the last handful of residents finally abandoned ship.
The post office remained open until 1942, but I overheard a park ranger saying that the last residents didn’t actually leave until the 1950s. When the town was declared a state historic district in 1962, those last residents even returned to Bodie to help set up the park for visitors.
Bodie’s resident caretakers, who actually live in one of the historic properties on the site, have done a fantastic job at preserving the town and making it accessible to visitors. It really is worthy of a Hollywood film set. My only disappointment, as I hinted before, is that when I go in search of a ghost town, I want to feel the ghosts of that town breathing down my neck. With constant flow of curious tourists flowing through Bodie, that’s just not the experience you’re going to get here.
I thought I might take this opportunity to introduce Alex. If you’ve ever checked my About Page, you’ll know he’s the magic elf of MessyNessyChic, or the guy that took me from my little itty bitty small-time blog to this shiny new website you see today. He’s also my buddy on this road trip.
Once out of Bodie, we began heading West winding through the beauty of Yosemite Valley towards the Bay area. We turned off the main highway to take the back roads where we stumbled upon another mining town, one that survived total desertion but would ironically feel ghostlier than Bodie itself; a living and breathing historic ghost town…
Welcome to Coulterville, California…
Settled in 1850 with a current population of 201, Coulterville is sorta what Bodie could have been if it had survived.
We rolled into Main Street, not a soul in sight…
Coulterville has streams which still produce gold to this day, but it feels like this town is hanging on tight for survival…
This is Hotel Jeffery, where 17 ghosts are said to be roaming its halls. Past guests include Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain.
The Magnolia Saloon was the only sign of life in the town, as country music wailed out from its doors onto the street. Part of the Hotel Jeffery, the Magnolia is the oldest working saloon in California, complete with the original “bat wing” doors and is one of only a few saloons to still have them.
At the bottom of main street there’s also a little western museum founded by local residents, many third and forth generation descendants of the original miners that settled the area,, which offers a glimpse of the life and times of early California, from the early 1800’s through the boom days of the 1849 gold rush.
If you’re on the hunt for ghost towns in California, make sure Coulterville is on your list. It’s eerily devoid of people but comfortingly, it still has a beating heart. Help ensure this historic little town stays afloat for generations to come and make it part of your road trip…
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