Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Living Ghost Town: Bodie, CA

Not a Buster Keaton film set. Bodie, CA

 Date: May 29, 2016
Place: Bodie State Historical Park, California
Coordinates:   38.216271, -119.004687
Length: as many rounds as desired.
Level: easy

Bodie has been on my wish list ever since my friend had been there with her family and returned with interesting story and photos. Still, it took me over six years to get there. Even when I finally did, I cannot say that the town of Bodie has been on top of my interest list: the main reason Bodie made it into our trip's agenda was the chance of seeing sage grouse.

Bodie is an interesting place, no doubt. The largest and most famous of California's mining ghost towns that sprung to life at 1875 when gold and silver were found at Bodie Hills, and died when the ore run out and hard living combined with calamities such as fire had finally driven all its human residents away.
Bodie became a California State Park on 1962 and has been a draw for fascinated tourists ever since.
Lat week we finally got to visit Bodie. We were camping with friends at the Crags Campground near Bridgeport for the weekend and it was a perfect opportunity to explore this park.
Bodie: a view to the south.
Bodie is now a ghost town. Good thing I'm not into ghosts. I don't like to dwell on the dead past, I'd much rather focus on today's living. That, it turns out, Bodie has plenty of.
A local Resident
The decomposing houses that once housed humans have now completely different residents, who make a great use of the rotting structures.
Local residents: Cliff Swallow
People had abandoned Bodie in a hurry, like fleeing a disaster. They had left much of their belongings in the houses and they're still there today, a silent testament to the 'golden' olden days.
Drop everything and go!  A kitchen in Bodie through a window glass.
Park personnel must do some maintenance and window cleaning so that the town can now funcion as a museum of California's past. 
Soon I got tired of looking through windows, but Papa Quail, always into birds, had directed my attention to an interesting furniture design.
After the obligatory visit to the visitor center I decided it was time for a hike. A century ago my hike would have been considered a city street stroll but today going uphill through Bodie's deteriorating streets is something else altogether.
Our friends decided to stay downtown. 
Shortly after we started uphill Papa Quail and elder chika found other reasons to stay behind: there were birds on the roof tops. 
Violet-green Swallow
I continued uphill with my younger chika. A bit further uptown I spotted some yellow off trail and immediately forgot all about the structures and their associated history. There were flowers about!
Clumping Buckwheat (Eriogonum caespitosum)

And then the dam broke open. I mean, there were wildflowers everywhere! Under and between the grayish appearance of the sagebrush scrub there was plenty of color. 
Purse Milkvetch (Astragalus purshii)
All ranged from small to tiny. I spent a lot of time on my hiny, trying to get the best shots I could of these miniatures, many of which were completely new to me.  
Brewer's Navarretia (Navarretia breweri)
I was happy whenever I recognized the genera of these flowers. Or at least the family. 
Humboldt River Milkvetch (Astragalus iodanthus)
Actually, I was plain happy about everything I've seen there. This was shaping up to be a very gratifying tour. 
Matted Lupine (Lupinus breweri)
I made my way slowly uphill with my young chika who was very helpful pointing out to me everything interesting. then she asked about those piles of soil over at the next hill and had me clamber dizzily to me feet and look yonder.
I remembered where I was. Mining rubble, still waiting for the vegetation to rehabilitate the earth.
Mining rubble at Bodie
I returned to appreciate the flowers, not caring about the sun that was getting higher and that the day was getting significantly warmer. It was hard to imagine that only the night before the earth frosted over.
Looking at the sun above there were little suns below.
Dwarf Goldenweed (Stenotus acaulis)
Little cushions of cushion phlox hid underneath the greenish-gray bushes like shy little starts. Me and my chika were alone at the end of the street, the only ones there to appreciate their beauty.
Cushion Phlox (Phlox hoodii)
We continued slowly uphill until we came upon a fence and a sign announcing danger beyond, so we didn't make it all the way to the ridge. I turned around and looked down at Bodie. From the distance it didn't appear to be in ruins, I could almost imagine it was living town still. Almost. The lack of bustling, busy people (although it was full of tourists) and the silence of no motors gave away the towns sorry state. And there was the greenery. The sagebrush scrub that grows between the structures.  Nature is taking over and in time the remains will be covered and turned over to wilderness again.
It was time to head back down. I led my chika to a narrow path connecting to a parallel street and immediately stopped: a new wildflower was there, blooming underneath the sagebrush. 
That was the first time I've ever seen the sagebrush bluebells in bloom. I was so excited I gave this little plant a long attention time. Later on, of course, I so many other bluebells down the street. And I was no less excited. 
Sagebrush Bluebells (Mertensia oblongifolia)
A less colorful flower, but one that stands out - the rock cress. There are several species of rock cress in the area, some are pretty rare. Unfortunately I don't have yet the knowledge to tell them apart.
Rock Cress (Boechera sp.)
Me and my chika were making our way slowly back to downtown. I guess that strolling through Bodie isn't a 'hike' as usually defined, but one can certainly walk around the park and explore all day long, and most of it is, in fact, Nature.
Fleabane (Erigeron sp.)
Coming back to town, I made one more window peep - into the schoolhouse. Fascinating how everything was left as is - a math lesson frozen in time. 
School's Out Forever!
We rejoined Papa Quail and elder chika. Then we saw another current resident of the town, and it was a squirrel of a species new to us.
Belding's Ground Squirrel
Our friends were nowhere to be seen. I assumed they went back to the car so we started too in that direction. At that time we were all ready to leave. Even I had had enough of wondering between ruins.
But then again, even on the way back I saw another spring bloom: low cinquefoil flowers that were hidden in the grass.
Cinquefoil (Potentilla sp.)
We walked around the toppling structures on the east side of the park on our way to the overflow parking area. I guess we were walking through the red lights district of this town.
I don't think I should buy a house in this street.
Our friends were coming down from the west side of town. We got into our cars and drove away without seeing any sage grouse, but with a life list of California wildflowers that had increased significantly and a satisfied check on a long-time sight-seeing destination.

On the following day we would be back in the area of Bodie Hills, this time for a real hike and another shot at seeing the sage grouse.


  1. I think I know the friend who went there 6 year ago...
    but we didn't see so many flowers there:-)

    1. Gotta be there at the right season :-) I'm glad you got to see this place. It is fascinating.