While less gun-happy and spur-rattling than depicted in the movies we know, the wild, wild west remains a rich part of California’s historical backdrop. Gleaming golden nuggets of that nostalgia can be unearthed by visiting the ghost town of Bodie, a leaning, rickety remnant of the Golden State’s boom-and-bust gold rush economy.
Roughly 140 miles from Truckee, Bodie State Historic Park was established in 1962, two decades after its last residents realized there was more opportunity elsewhere. To get there, pass Bridgeport on 395 south, then go left on 270. It’ll be the first ghost town you see. Can you hear the miners of the past panning for gold?
Bodie is a National Historic Landmark, as authentic as it gets. Its architecture mirrors much of what lines today’s Downtown Truckee.
Perched on a sun-drenched slope of sage and burrobush, Bodie became a beacon for late 19th-century entrepreneurship. Miners and hustlers beat it there to stake claims and tap gold veins, numbering close to 10,000 residents at its peak. Businesses of all types emerged from the dust.
Mining claims don’t produce forever, and Bodie’s existence eventually teetered like its heat-beaten wooden facades: thriving and sturdy, then cracked and flimsy. People vanished, leaving shelves stocked and billiard balls still on faded felt.
A quick trip to Bodie might best be done as an overnight in Bridgeport. Consider a run up to Twin Lakes from there, or down 395 a few miles farther to Virginia Lakes for searing fall blasts of Aspen yellow. Camping is plentiful in the area, too. The park is undergoing maintenance this fall but remains open.
Bodie can also be toured in winter. In 2017, Red Bull freeskier, Truckee’s own Cody LaPlante, then 15 years old, repurposed a snow-blanketed Bodie into a playground of booters and kickers — with permission from the state, of course.
The appeal of ghost towns can be hit or miss, as some leave a lot to the imagination. Maybe there’s a church or collapsed corral, perhaps a commemorative plaque.
But not Bodie.
Sure, it’s not what was, considering how recently folks lived there. Much of the town’s history has become exactly that, unable to be safely preserved by the state. However, isn’t history more intriguing when there are holes to fill? When there’s a balance of tangible artifacts and things left up to the imagination?
Bodie wrangles in that concept perfectly, showing visitors enough to know life in the ol’ west was close to what Hollywood shows us without tarnishing the legends that go with it.