Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Day hike Old West ghost town near Yosemite National Park

Bodie State Historic Park, Calif.

Bodie once home
to 10,000 people

Families can amble through a ghost town from the 1800s at Bodie State Historic Park near Bridgeport, Calif.

While not a wilderness hiking trail, Bodie’s streets offer a change of pace for visitors to Yosemite National Park. The state historic park provides a more complete picture of California and its past – not everyone settling in the Golden State lives in a lush mountain setting or along the ocean.

The best time to visit the state historic park is during late spring or early autumn when the desert temperatures are pleasant. The park’s hours from May 15 to Oct. 31 are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. with a 4 p.m. closing the rest of the year. The museum isn’t open during winter.

Gold and good fortune
Located northwest of Yosemite National Park, take Calif. Hwy. 120 (located north of Yosemite Valley) to U.S. Hwy. 395 at Mono Lake. Go left/north. Turn left/east onto Calif. Hwy. 270. The park is in 13 miles; the last three miles of the drive is on a dirt road.

At the park entrance (there is an entry fee), take Bypass Road to a parking lot on the ghost town’s west side. A trail leaves from the lot’s southeast corner heading past the Dolan House on Green Street into the “downtown” area. The museum and visitor center are a couple of blocks from there.

The town got its start in 1859 when William S. Bodey (note the different spelling from the town’s current name) discovered gold near what is now known as Bodie Bluff. Two years later, a mill was opened with 20 miners setting up camp.

Several years would pass before the miners’ efforts paid off and then only by happenstance – a mine cave-in during 1875 fortuitously revealed plenty of gold. The Standard Company purchased the mine in 1877, and Bodie’s boomtown days were on.

'Have a man for breakfast?'
By 1880, an estimated 10,000 people lived in town with people from several foreign countries arriving looking for a way to get rich. Bodie boasted 65 saloons, with some of them opium dens. Gunfights regularly occurred on the town’s streets.

The alcohol and gold made for a deadly combination indeed. Among the townspeople’s morning rituals was to ask “Have a man for breakfast?” which meant “Did anyone get killed last night?”

Soon the gold ran out, and the people left. After decades of decay, the California State Parks System took over the town, and in 1962 the area became a state historic park. Several original buildings still stand there.

Stroll around the streets at your leisure, and once you’ve taken in your fill of the Old West, head on home, podner.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.