Highway 395 weaves between Reno and Mammoth amid some of the West’s most majestic scenery. The mostly two-lane road hugs the eastern flanks of the dramatic Sierra, traveling past cottonwood-lined creeks, through the raging Walker River canyon and over rolling sagebrush country. Along the route, small towns you might miss in a blink give little indication you’re near a formerly bustling city. But an hour north of Mammoth lies the ghost town of Bodie, once the second largest city in California.
William S. Bodey discovered gold here in 1859, and though he froze to death the next winter, the town bearing his name became a thriving gold and silver mining town. By 1880, 10,000 people lived here, working 12-hour shifts for what was then a tidy sum of $4 a day. Bodie had its own newspapers, churches and banks to support the men (10 for every woman) who worked and played hard. There were also 65 saloons, plus brothels, gambling halls and one very busy jail.
When the gold and silver ran out, the town went bust, and by 1940 Bodie was abandoned. Today, 170 buildings preserved in a state of arrested decay await visitors who want to step back in time.
Of the 250,000 annual visitors to Bodie, only a few hundred come in winter. Highway 270 to Bodie is often open through Thanksgiving, but soon there-after the Sierra snowfall makes Bodie accessible only on foot—a three- to five-mile hike, ski or snowshoe. The easy-to-follow trek is uphill on the way in, downhill on the way out. While there are no supplies or trinkets to buy, there is a ranger on duty to answer questions.
“In winter you really experience Bodie as a ghost town,” says Bodie State Park interpreter Terri Geissinger. “You get a very real sense of time here.” The rusted mining equipment set against the white snow is dramatic. On a big snow year, you can climb the banks and look into the second-story windows. “It’s not fixed up or fake,” ranger Mark Langer says. But be prepared: When the winter sun dips behind the mountains, temperatures plummet. Geissinger adds: “Not a lot of people do it in the winter, but those who do never regret it.”
IF YOU GO>>>
From Mammoth, take U.S. 395 to State Route 270 for 10 miles to the end of the pavement. Continue three miles on an unpaved road to Bodie. Check in with the ranger station before setting off.
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