Bodie, California*

In the California Sierra Nevada Mountains, down a side road off US 395 (last three miles graded but not paved), lies the town of Bodie, shown here in the Twenty-first Century. A part of the California State Park System, it is preserved in a state of “arrested decay.”

Like many ghost stories, the story of the Bodie ghost town is based on a death.

There are several versions of what happened, but it is generally accepted that in the summer of 1859, W. S. Bodey** found gold and silver in what became the Bodie mining district. That Fall/Winter he died in a blizzard and the body was found the next Spring. Tales of the gold led to the Bodie mining camp.

Map circa 1877, courtesy of the Calif. State Library

By 1890, Bodie had changed from a rough mining camp to a thriving town for families

(Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Brodie, 1890 (Public Domain; Library of Congress)

Sadly, Bodie suffered two major fires, the first in 1892 and the second in 1932. Most of the residents of Bodie gave up and left town; by 1910 the population had already dwindled to approximately 698, and by 1920 to 120.

During World War II, the War Production Board ordered conversion of industries to war production which led to the last mine closing in 1942, followed by the closing of the US Post Office.

Reno Gazette Journal, November 26, 1942.

By 1962, Bodie was a ghost town, and the largest land owners, the Cains sold their holdings to the State of California.

A visit to Bodie is a step back in time, whether you want to believe the legends or the research. But keep in mind, Bodie is one of the coldest places in the lower 48 states of the US, based on Western Regional Climate Center records. As of 2012, the record high for July was 91F (33C), but the record low for July was 12F (-11C). The record low was -36F (-38C) in February.

Readings store postcard dated 1911. Courtesy of California State Library (Public Domain, published before 1922)

So shall we wander down a few of the streets in town to see some of the roughly 200 structures still standing in Bodie today?

James Stuart Cain and his wife, Martha Delilah Well, lived here. A lumber merchant and banker, he bought many of the properties in Bodie.

The only church left standing in town, the Methodist Church was built in 1882.

Interior of the church today.

The Standard Consolidated Mining Company operated this stamp mill where ore was crushed to remove gold and silver deposits. The first mill on the site burned in October 1898 and was rebuilt, starting in 1899, adding corrugated steel siding and roof to the wood frame. Future U.S. President Herbert Hoover’s brother, Theodore was Superintendent of the Mill, circa 1905.

The vault of the Bodie Bank; the contents of the vault survived, but the building was destroyed by 1932 fire.

Boone Store and Warehouse, with Shell gas station to the right.

The wooden firehouse in a town known for fires. It was rebuilt by the California Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

The schoolhouse, built in 1879 as the Bon Ton Lodging House; when the last families with children moved away in November 1942, it closed.

The Swasey (or Swazey) Hotel (center) was probably a brothel. The Wheaton & Luhrs (or Wheaton & Hollis) Hotel is to the left across Green Street; it had various incarnations as land office, store and hotel. The confusion of names comes from overlapping painted signs where the paint is fading.

Through the window at the Wheaton and Luhrs.

Left to Right beginning with brick building: DeChambeau Hotel (built as the Post Office in 1879); Independent Order of Odd Fellows building; Miners’ Union Hall (built 1878), Morgue (smaller building on right)

A peek in the window at the morgue.

Goodbye, God, we’re going to Bodie***

*There are lots of books and internet sites on the history of Bodie, and a lot of it is based on legend. If you want real history, the best I’ve found are http://www.bodiefoundation.org and http://www.bodiehistory.com. My blog isn’t intended to be as in depth as the history of town and mining deserve; I am only trying to give you a “taste” of Bodie!

**The spelling of his last name was somewhat inconsistent, some versions are Body & apparently his mother used Boddy; “Bodie” is supposed to be a mistake made by a sign painter. Even his first name has been cited as Williams, Waterman or Wakeman. The story of finding gold and Bodey’s death wasn’t recorded until 20 years later.

*** Legend has it that a little girl in Truckee in the 1870s learned her family was moving to Bodie, “a sea of sin,” and was overheard saying her prayers: “Goodbye, God, we’re going to Bodie.” When various newspapers picked up the story, the Bodie paper countered that it was a grammatical error and should have read: “Good, by God, we’re going to Bodie!”

Red Rock Canyon, Calif.

The Old West in Fact and on the Screen

A 1933 postcard of the rock formation, Western Publishing & Novelty
(C.T. Art-Colotone printer) (no copyright notice)

Located in the Mohave Desert at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Red Rock Canyon is a “pass” between the Sierra Nevada and the El Paso Mountains; it was used by Native Americans as a trading route for centuries. The local Kawaiisu used the area as a winter settlement at the dawn on recorded history in the area, calling it “the canyon with rocks on fire.”

In January/February 1850, pioneers who crossed Death Valley in the “lost ’49’s party” followed a native trail through here, finding water and passage to the west after having spent months in the desert on a “shortcut” to the coast. By 1862, a wagon route was established, used by freight wagons and stage coaches. In the 1890s, gold was mined, but the deposits were never plentiful.

1901 USGS photograph by Marius Robinson Campbell.
1901 USGS photograph by Marius Robinson Campbell.

From October 1908 until December 1910, the 8.35 mile Red Rock Railroad carried supplies to the local camp of the workers constructing the Los Angeles Aqueduct from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.

Purportedly the first automobile trip through the Canyon was in 1905. By the 1930s, a paved road ran through the canyon on the route from Los Angeles to Bishop (along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas).

By the 1920s, tourists has discovered the area, and soon the spectacular scenery caused it to be used for location filming for numerous movies and TV programs (Jurassic Park, Westworld, Wagon Train, Battle Star Galactica, to name but a few).

In the photographs above, Yuccas figure prominently in the landscape (1933 USGS photo).

After decades to talk about preserving the Canyon, in 1968 the area became a California State Park.

1999 USGS photo by Dominic Oldershaw

Yuccas are not as prevalent due to climate and geological changes, as well as humans disturbing the soil.

July 2015, by the author
The yuccas are returning.

These photos were taken on a trip up the Eastern Sierras in 2015; State Route 14 runs through the State Park. It was a hot summer day on the desert and the Park was not manned due to budget issues in the State government, so there was no one around when we turned into the parking area (there is very limited camping). This would be a spectacular year to visit the park as we had late rain and the wildflowers must be magnificent.

Red Rock Canyon is only a couple of hours out of Los Angeles, but a world away!

Araz Junction Revisited

Stage Depot as identified by California Division of Highways

I have found a real picture photograph (courtesy of the Eastman Collection, Univ. of Calif. Davis, circa 1940s) that shows the adobe building identified as the stage depot erected in 1856. At the time this was taken, the building as adjacent to US Route 80 (now designated as Historic U.S. Route 80 by California). See blog below for current photos.

Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino, CA

Santa Fe Depot today

A hundred years old July 15, 2018, the depot was the largest west of the Mississippi when it opened in 1918. Today it has been beautifully restored and not only functions as an Amtrak and Metrolink Station, but also houses a wonderful History and Railroad Museum. Entering the lobby is stepping back in time to the heyday of rail travel.

I’ve been tied up first with a number of repairs here on the ranch and then caught some hideous “bug” that laid me low, but a dear friend encouraged me to make the effort to go the the Depot and it is was wonderful!

The Museum is staffed by great volunteers, and is open Wednesdays 9-12 and Saturdays 10-3. Take the 2nd/3rd Street exit off I 215, planning to turn west on 2nd Street, follow the signs to the Amtrak Station, 1170 West Third Street.

FELICITY, CALIFORNIA A HISTORY TROVE TWO WAYS!

Felicity is both a treasure trove of history and history in the making.

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Created by Jacques-Andre Istel and his lovely wife, Felicia, the Town of Felicity is the Center of the World, and the location of the History of the World in Granite. It’s hard to describe and monumental to see.

Open December 1 – March 30 of each year, 10 miles east of Yuma on Interstate 8 (exit 164), it is well worth a visit; take sunscreen, wear a hat, and prepare for an outing. The guided tour (nominal fee) takes you into the pyramid that houses the plaque locating the Center of the World.

The hand of God points to the Center of the World and to the Church on the Hill (not visible behind the pyramid). Photo by author
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Between there and the tiny inter-denominational church on the hill, there are massive red granite plaques engraved with history lessons.

View of Felicity from the Church on the hill

The people who own Felicity are extremely nice and helpful. You can spend as long as you wish, exploring the grounds and the relatively new Court of Honor. Each year they add something new!

Eiffel Tower stairs