After three days in Yosemite we headed east over the Sierras to see the ghost town of Bodie. The road out to the east from Yosemite seems to be much quieter than that in from the west and hence is easier driving although it does rise up very high to over 9000 ft.
As we have now come to expect, the scenery is magnificent with Lake Tioga looking very blue and large (plus some snow still on the nearby peaks)
and the road down through the Tioga Pass is a challenge to the brakes of anyone not driving in a low gear.
Eventually you get to the 365 which has Death Valley to its south and Nevada to it north and a view of Mono Lake appears.
As is usually the case with a large natural feature in the USA, the National Parks Service have a centre on the lake and we signed up for a free tour which will explain its unique ecology. We were the only people who went on the tour that day and therefore we had our own personal guide who enthusiastically answered all of our numerous questions. Tours is one of the things which the National Parks Service does very well and we have never met an unhelpful Ranger.
The Lake is very large – one could say 165 km2 but that does depend on the depth of the lake and this is the issue. In the early 1940s, Los Angeles started to draw water from the rivers which feed the lake and hence the surface started to drop (by over 20 feet). There are no outflows to the lake and so the composition of the water changed and it is now very alkali with a PH factor of 11 (as we found out when we measured it with litmus paper).
As the water level dropped, Tufa towers appeared
Tufa being created by the actions of calcium rich fresh water bubbling up through the lake bed into the carbonate rich lake water creating Calcium Carbonate towers under the surface of the lake - go to the Mono Lake website for more details.
Tufa is very light in weight and in some countries is used in rockeries.
On the surface of the lake are billions of Alkali Flies which provide food for migrating birds
and beneath the lake surface are billions of Brine Shrimps, again with their own unique role in local ecology.
The shrimps are easy to catch and many years ago, formed an essential food for local Indian tribes – apparently one shrimp is worth 10 calories and hence it does not take many shrimps to provide a meal.
Numerous statistics are given about the lake here. It is a great and unusual place to visit.
We are staying at an RV camp near Bridgeport which is a perfect example of very small town America. The Court House is an original dating from 1890
and it is easy to see the original buildings behind the facades of some of the shops
and the motel still has the original sign from the 1950s
Our campsite is near the Bridgeport Reservoir which is rather low due to a poor winter snowfall. A dusk approaches, a rain storm heads in from the east
and the resulting sunset is very atmospheric.
The Ghost Town of Bodie
A few miles down the road is Bodie which once was a large town on the western side of the Sierra Nevada. In 1879 there were 10,000 people living there, all attracted by the prospect of finding Gold.
Nowadays, after the gold fields went dry and a number of fires, only about 10% of the town remains and no one lives there apart from a few park rangers during the summer
season when large numbers of visitors make their way up the 13 mile road (the last three of which being rough and
unpaved) to see the remains of this genuine wild west town.
In its heyday, the town had a lawless reputation. Killings were regular, robberies, stage holdups and street fights were common and there were 65 saloons providing drink and other entertainment. In 1879, upon hearing that she was being taken to Bodie by her parents, a small girl wrote “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie”, and in 1881 it was described by a clergyman as “a sea of sin, lashed by the tempest of lust and passion”.
Everything about the town reminded us of the wild west we had seen in films or read about in books or had imagined. Even the telegraph poles are slightly bent and it is easy to imagine a desperado appearing on the horizon and riding down the road into town
to stay at the Wheaton and Hollis hotel (above)
which still has the remnants of it trading days
behind the very dusty and dirty glass windows.
The remaining houses are in various states of preservation
and in some the insides show the
dust and decay of the years since they were abandoned.
The remains of a Gold Mine are on the edge of the town
this being known as Standard Mine in 1877 and from which $15 million of Gold was extracted over 25 years.
All of the gold was initially stored in the town bank before being shipped out by stagecoach.
All that remains of the bank is the safe (in the above two pictures).
The town store is is quite good condition
and its insides show what it looked like back when it was open.
For effect, a 1927 Dodge Graham truck is parked outside.
The old school house is one of the few two storey buildings remaining standing.
The inside of the classroom is pretty much as it would have been at the time
and we were particularly taken by the reading text on the easel which pupils would have been expected to read.
The Town has an air of desolation about it but going there (and driving the last three miles on a very rough track) provides a unique opportunity to visit a town which feels to be straight out of the wild west.
As we drove out of Bodie on the same unpaved rough road, we had a great view of the mountains we had driven
over when we left Yosemite a couple of days earlier.