The 1937 Chevy at Bodie ghost town

Mike GristGhost Towns, USA, World Ruins 14 Comments

Bodie is a ghost town east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, California, United States, about 75 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe. It has been administered by California State Parks since becoming a state historic park in 1962, and receives about 200,000 visitors yearly.

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In 1859 William (a.k.a. Waterman) S. Bodey discovered gold near what is now called Bodie Bluff. A mill was established in 1861 and the town began to grow. It started with about 20 miners and grew to an estimated 10,000 people by 1880! By that time, the town of Bodie bustled with families, robbers, miners, store owners, gunfighters and prostitutes of all kinds. At one time there was reported to be 65 saloons in town. Amongst the saloons were numerous brothels and ‘houses of ill repute’, gambling halls and opium dens. Needless to say that there was entertainment for every taste.

After a long day working the claims, the miners would head for the bars and the red light district to spend their earnings. The mixture of money, gold and alcohol would often prove fatal. It is said that there was a man killed every day in Bodie. Presumably, the undertaker never had a slow day.

There’s a story about a little girl whose family moved from San Francisco to Bodie. Depending on who tells you, or where you read it, she wrote either: “Good, by God, I’m going to Bodie” or “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie”.

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Look to the hills.

The first signs of decline appeared in 1880 and became obvious towards the end of the year. Promising mining booms in Butte, Montana; Tombstone, Arizona; and Utah lured men away from Bodie. The get-rich quick, single miners who originally came to the town in the 1870s moved on to these other booms, which eventually turned Bodie into a family-oriented community. Two examples of this settling were the construction of the Methodist Church (which currently stands) and the Catholic Church (burned about 1930) that were both constructed in 1882. Despite the population decline, the mines were flourishing, and in 1881 Bodie’s ore production was recorded at a high of $3.1 million. Also in 1881, a narrow gauge railroad was built called the Bodie Railway & Lumber Company, bringing lumber, cordwood, and mine timbers to the mining district from Mono Mills south of Mono Lake.

In the 1940s the threat of vandalism faced the ghost town. The Cain family, who owned much of the land the town is situated upon, hired caretakers to protect and to maintain the town’s structures. Bodie is now an authentic Wild West ghost town. The town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and in 1962 it became Bodie State Historic Park. A total of 170 buildings remained.

Today, Bodie is preserved in a state of arrested decay. Only a small part of the town survives. Visitors can walk the deserted streets of a town that once was a bustling area of activity. Interiors remain as they were left and stocked with goods. Bodie is open all year, but the long road that leads to the town is usually closed in the winter due to heavy snowfall, so the majority of visitors to the park come during the summer months.


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A storm rolls over Bodie.

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In its lair.

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American family.

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Shell hand-pumps.

I’ve been interested in cowboy ghost towns since I was a kid. In 1999 I took a guided bus tour around the American West, chiefly because the brochure promised us a stop in a real abandoned ghost town. We started in Los Angeles and went North to Seattle over a period of 2 weeks, taking in Vegas, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, a Utah cowboy camp where I shot a gun and learned how to lasso, and other famous and beautiful spots. It was a stunning experience, but unfortunately the ghost town stop got stricken from the rolls. Our tour guide decided to ‘treat’ us by taking us instead to his parent’s lodge, where we got to sit around a camp-fire and take it easy. At the time I didn’t realize he was doing it, but when the last few days of the tour rolled around it became clear we weren’t going to go.

Normally I’m a low confrontation guy, but I went after the tour guide quite strongly for cutting out ‘the one thing I really wanted to do!’ He was apologetic, and as small consolation took us to an old, but not abandoned, mining town on the way to our terminus in Seattle. Ever since then I’ve felt cheated of my ghost town experience. I’ll get out there some time myself though for sure, hopefully before the Chevy rusts into the ground.


Location – Bodie, California (38.212222, -119.012222)

Highlights – 1937 Chevy.


You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here:

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Comments 14

  1. Western US ghost towns are fascinating. I am awestruck to think what a bustling civilization (and our own civilization, to boot) existed in these places only a hundred-or-so years ago, but once the gold or whatever ran out everyone moved on, leaving the ruins to crumble back into the wilderness. You’d be interested in Leadville, Colorado, where my parents have a cabin. The town’s not a ghost town (yet), but it is just a whisper of it’s gold-rush glory and the surrounding mountains are dotted with the remains of abandonned cabins and mines.

    By the way, I put a comment on your About page a few weeks ago but it got lost in the latest rennovation. The new styling for this blog is very nice, and I also liked the interim style you had for a few weeks before the current look. Where does the new blog title, “Out of the Ruins …,” come from? One of your stories?

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    David- Thanks for the tip on Leadville, I took a look and the mountains make a great backdrop to differentiate from Bodie. Parents have a cabin- do you get out there much- photograph what ruins there are? As for comment lost, ah, sorry, and thanks for having the patience to re-post it. I’m very glad you like the new layout- I’m no design or coding person so it takes a lot of trial and error to put together a new look. I worry it doesn’t load properly on some browsers, or is too heavy for slower connections. Anyway- the title, right. It’s kind of from this short video story I made- , inspired somewhat by the long titles of A Silver Mt. Zion songs.

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  4. Please forgive my ignorance but can these pictures be purchased? Waiting & Look to the Hills are amazing! I’m restoring a 1937 Coupe and they would look great with my collection of prints from that era.

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      Hi Mark, thanks for getting in touch- I wish I could sell you these but unfortunately they`re sourced from various spots on Flickr and round the web, so don`t belong to me. Each photo links to the site I found it on- you could try contacting them. Good luck!

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  5. Nice article,thanks. My wife and I have visited Bodie and loved it. It’s a photographers 7th heaven.
    It also shows up on national weather maps frequently as the coldest city in th US.
    The weather can be brutal year around with high winds and bitter cold earlier and later in each season. No access in Winter except by snow mobile that I know of.
    I think one or two Rangers live there year around for maintenance etc.

  6. The story that the State Park Ranger there told me was that the girl wrote “Goodbye God” and the word spread of it.
    The town’s newspaper editor, hearing of it, and wanting to promote the town, said she was misquoted and had really written “Good! By God, I’m going to Bodie!”

    I like this story the best!

    Awesome place to visit!!! Been there twice!

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