|ghost town of Bodie, California|
At nearly 8,400' elevation, the old mining town of Bodie, California takes your breath -- literally from the altitude, but also from its stark beauty. It's high in the Eastern Sierra Mountains on a wind-swept plateau.
Getting there is tricky: 10 miles off Hwy 395 up a winding canyon, then another three miles of jaw-rattling washboard. There are no trees. When you finally arrive, you understand why this historical park is called a "real ghost town." The buildings are in a state of "arrested decay," meaning some day they'll just crumble into the sagebrush. The stores remain stocked with goods, just as they were when people up-and-left. A coat hangs from a hook in one of the homes, a hat nearby. A table is set for supper. It's eerie peeking in the windows. Visitors are instructed not to touch anything, but to leave every rusty can and fencepost in place for others to see.
In its boom years, Main Street was a mile long with 65 saloons. Shootouts, stabbings and stagecoach robberies added to Bodie's reputation as the most wicked mining camp in the West. There were brothels and gambling halls. Its Chinatown had opium dens. In 1879, a newspaper quoted a young girl who had learned her family was moving there: "Goodbye, God! We're going to Bodie!"
I had visited many times, but not until we took our young sons did I imagine this rough place through their eyes. Greg and Cody wished they could have roamed the hills without parents, smoked cigars and stayed up all night. That sounded like fun to me!
So on a subsequent trip, Dave Marquart and Susan DesBaillets from the California State Park Service, escorted us through Bodie's deserted stores, schoolhouse, morgue, hotel, and the frightening stamp mill. My copious notes became a middle-grade novel, Orphans Runaway. It was a lot of fun writing about two young brothers who tumble through adventures in this wild camp of 1879.