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by Frank Shortt
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While traveling down Hwy. 395 in the Eastern Sierras, My wife, Sharon, and I came upon
many interesting sights. We had decided to go to Bodie Ghost Town before we had left on the trip. We had heard from friends that we
could not afford to miss this, almost forgotten and out of the way attraction.
the gateway to Bodie Ghost town, had little to offer in the way of scenery, antiques, and especially dining. We had a quick lunch
in Bridgeport, then across the street to a Native American jewelry shop, manned by a Native American woman who craved customers as
well as someone to talk to. I did find and purchase a very nice inlaid Torquoise and Coral Navajo crafted belt buckle. The bear paw
really stands out on this piece. By this time it was late afternoon and we needed to decide whether or not we would go on to Bodie,
which was our purpose of stopping in Bridgeport. We decided to take our chances and go on to Bodie.
The turnoff to Bodie heading south from Bridgeport is about seven miles. Bodie is thirteen miles off Rte. 395. The paved part of the
road winds for about ten miles, fraught with leaning rocks, wind created rock tunnels, and possible rock slides. The paved section
suddenly ends the traveler is reminded that the remainder of the way is unpaved. And unpaved it was. The Parks service, although overladen
with funds which have been hidden away for a while, are unable to pave the last three miles of the way to Bodie. One would think that
they could at least run a water spraying truck once or twice a day to keep the dust down. The only way to survive is to close all
windows and turn off the air conditioner to prevent filling one’s vehicle with dust.
appears out of nowhere just as one thinks he will never reach the top of the last hill. It lies in a hilly valley at almost 8400 feet
elevation. This depends on whether one stands in the lower part or the higher part. Upon entering the park, which by the way has no
discount for veterans of the armed services, the road winds up towards Boot Hill, the local cemetery. The cemetery was closed to visitors
the day we chose to go. I had planned a photo shot lying down in the cemetery and shooting up toward the main town. I intended the
shot to be captioned, “View of Bodie from a Permanent Resident’s Perspective”. This was not to be.
We entered Bodie at the stamping mill. This is where the ore is pounded out of the rocks prior to processing and shipping. One can
just imagine the noise produced by this contraption. How the residents of Bodie escaped without insanity or tinnitis, is hard to fathom.
This began our photo op which lasted until about 4:30 p.m.
After the stamping mill, I needed
to use the restroom. As I entered the ancient edifice, I heard the most mournful sound that emanated from the walls. It was either
the wind, my imagination, or there were sounds piped in just for the convenience of the unwary visitor. These eerie noises set the
pace for what lay ahead. Had it been nightfall, the sounds would have been much more effective.
Advancing further into the town of Bodie, we were confronted with remnants of homes that
miners and their families had lived in when the town boomed.
The winters there must have been harsh and the summers were hot and dusty. If residents
had not laid in an extra store of wood, there would have been newly turned up sod on Boot Hill each spring. Many families suffered
greatly when food ran short, fuel was depleted, and when neighbors were unwilling to help out. These were rough times. These were
‘dog-eat-dog’ times. The lust for gold alters a man’s thinking to where he attains a ‘one tract mind’. His every waking moment is
spent thinking of the riches he will obtain. His nights are restless thinking of losing what he has already obtained. There seems
to be no rest for one lusting for gold and silver.
An old store remnant we encountered
showed not only what men buy while slaving for gold, but also reflected how Bodie looked in the past. I was overwhelmed as I thought
of how that once this deserted town bustled with activity. Life was rampant, schools thrived, saloons watered men’s thirst for alcohol,
stores provided what women desired, and what men thought they needed.
The old church sits as a reminder that, with all Bodie’s faults, there was still an element
which trusted and relied on their Creator. Women and children were the most constant members of the congregations on Sunday, or whenever
the church doors opened. Sermons were provided by itinerant preachers who traveled from mining town to mining town seeking for the
‘last Seed’ promised in Scripture to come to the Throne of grace. Mules were mostly used for their transportation as the mule is more
sure footed than the horse and displayed much more stamina for the long and arduous trips these ‘circuit rider preachers’ were required
to take. As Sharon approached the church, the young people seemed to be wondering if she were one of the past parishioners coming
The museum at Bodie is maintained to show the everyday activities of the miners and their
families. The sign-in book revealed a far-ranging interest in the old town. There were families from England, Scandinavia, Germany,
China, Korea, and a host of other places. The item that interested me most was the gigantic mirror reflecting almost the entire museum.
It was probably once part of one of the many saloons which thrived at Bodie during the boom times. For some reason when men drink
they want to see their reflection while imbibing. I could never quite understand why.
As we left the ghost town of Bodie, we asked ourselves many questions. Why would anyone
want to leave all that was good, all that was safe, all that was secure, to face rugged terrain, desolation, starvation, and the uncertainty
of riches? I guess we will never know what goes on in men’s minds as they embark on perilous journeys to the unknown seeking adventure,
peace of mind, and trying to find themselves and the ever-elusive dream.