We had spent the previous ten days hiking and backpacking as much as our bodies could take in Yosemite National Park and we needed a little diversion. Some time to rest the bones. Since we were camping at Tuolomne Meadows Campground, we were on the far eastern side of the park so we set our eyes on sights nearby. My wife had never seen a real Wild West ghost town and Mono Lake sounded photogenic. Bodie State Park would provide the former and was only 50 miles away though in this land of small mountain roads, it would take nearly 90 minutes to get there. Mono Lake was about the halfway point so to insure good light for photos we headed there first.
Once in Lee Vining, a small town that makes its living from tourists, I noticed gas prices were even higher than in Yosemite, and they were higher than anywhere we had seen on our trip from South Florida to the West Coast. It was the summer of 2008 and oil was at an all time high with gas prices over $4 as a rule. They were more like $5 in Yosemite and though we had arrived with as full a tank as we could muster, it was being used up quickly with driving around the very big park. So, as you can guess, my tank was low and I had hoped Lee Vining would provide a cheaper alternative. I decided to chance it and hope for a better price closer to Bodie. Lee Vining was after all a tourist town and maybe this was plain old fashioned price gouging. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
I enjoyed it as much as I could but as hard as I tried, our gas situation was never far from my thoughts. I knew at some point I was going to have to face the drive back to Lee Vining. We got going perhaps a bit more quickly than we might otherwise have done to make sure that if we did get stuck it would be in daylight. It might have been a nice place to settle back in the day but it was not an area we wanted to spend the night. I resumed my coasting mode and added a few prayers on the uphills, I was pretty much expecting to run out of fuel at this point. I was just hoping to get close enough to walk to the gas station. But prayers are sometimes answered and after what seemed the longest drive of the trip, we pulled into the pumps and could finally breathe a sigh of relief. This sigh was replaced by another one as I watched the pump spin faster than I had ever seen before. At $5.29 per gallon, it was the highest price of not only the trip but in all my years of driving in the US. A quarter tank was close to $30. I guess we really were on empty.
We couldn't get back to the relative comforts of Tuolomne Meadows fast enough. We had enjoyed the excursion the best we could but it was unlikely we would be back that way again. Some places are so remote that the once-in-a-lifetime moniker seems to fit. Maybe it was the bad taste of pricey gas in my mouth or maybe it was just time to move on.
Mono Lake was even more scenic than we anticipated and we took lots of photos and did a small trail. We saw the brine shrimp and alkali flies we had read about in the vast visitor center on the way in. The shrimp are no bigger than a thumbnail and are found nowhere else on earth, a product no doubt of the extreme salinity of the lake. The even odder flies live in self-encasing bubbles allowing them to travel underwater. Sometimes the darnedest things are so small you would miss them entirely if it weren't for visitor centers. We later spotted a snowy plover making a nest in a tuft tower, Mono Lake's hallmark feature. She no doubt was making good use of those alkali flies. The food chain continues, no matter how small the players. We had captured the images we wanted so we continued also on to Bodie State Park, driving right by that gas station in the process.
About halfway there, I remembered how much more gas you use when driving uphill. Living in Florida, this is never an issue but now my low on gas was veering on running out of gas. I started to coast the downhill sections of the road to conserve our precious fuel and at least we made it to Bodie. I wasn't really sure we would make it back.
It was a beautiful day and the park was more photogenic than I had imagined. It was the best preserved ghost town I had ever seen and we walked around snapping photos with only a smattering of other tourists, making for some atmospheric shots. We wandered around the cemetery and with the rolling hills surrounding, it was easy to see how people would have settled here. An old saloon's interior was even visible through its windows and I imagined going in for a beer though from what we read about the town's inhabitants, it was unlikely to be the kind of place to bring the wife. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Favorite thing: When you pay your fee to enter the park, the ranger will likely asked if you want to buy a guide prepared by the Sierra State Parks Foundation for a few dollars. Be sure to buy a copy. The guide has a map of the town that identifies many of the structures. It provides descriptions and histories of many buildings and their inhabitants. In addition, it gives a suggested walking tour. The guide also contains some great old photographs.
Not only are the buildings abandoned, but a lot of equipment and everyday items are scattered throughout the town. Mining equipment, wagons, early automotive parts, and household items can be found lying around. Be sure to look around.
At one point, we came across a small ravine littered with hundreds of tin cans. It was a bona fide ghost town dump.
Favorite thing: No Food or services are available at the park. There is no gas available so fill up accordingly. Bring any refreshments you may want with you. There are restrooms. The Park Service has constructed them to blend into the surrounding. The photo is not one of the restrooms, but a formerly state of the art restroom from the time of Bodie.
Favorite thing: Bodie is kept in a state of “arrested decay”. Basically, they are trying to prevent further deterioration while at the same time they are not refurbishing or restoring the remaining buildings. Gathering of souvenirs, artifacts, or natural resources from the remains of the site is not allowed.
It is an empty desolate place. It is very cold outside and there are still some patches of snow although it is the end of May already.
In this picture you can see a typical example of the little wooden houses that are here. The guide, that you get at the entrance of the park, tells you some more about who has lived in these houses, their family history and sometimes how they died. Looking at the houses and reading these stories make the place come alive and imagine how it must have been like in those days.
Favorite thing: Be sure to fill up your car before heading out to Bodie. The gas station in Bodie doesn't seem to have very good service, that truck has been waiting for gas for as long as I can remember!
When you click on the picture to take a closer look, you can see how thick the layer of dust is on the furniture. No one must have touched these things in years.