Bodie, historic ghost town, and Mono Lake make Eastern Sierra memorable!

Bodie's school house, built 1879, replaced another which burned down when set fire by disgruntled students!

Interior of the 1879 Bodie schoolhouse, almost as if the students just left!

Bodie, with Bodie Bluff in distance, spreads across the high valley.

Old Bodie home, and telephone pole, are leaning in opposite directions!

From Bodie, heading south on Hwy. 395, Mono Lake stretches out in the hazy summer sun.

Tufa towers rise on the south shore of Mono Lake, with the snow-dusted Sierra in the background.

My last blog post and article in the Stockton Record newspaper profiled our recent trip over the Sierra, and along Hwy. 395.  We found this section of the Eastern Sierra green, with rivers flowing, dotted with scenic lakes and full of other-worldly destinations!

Here are more photos on the historic ghost town of Bodie, and a couple more on the eerie Mono Lake Tufa formations.

From Lee Vining at the intersection of Hwy. 120 and 395, we trekked north to tour Bodie State Historic Park.  Bodie, high in the volcanic mountains north of Mono Lake, was founded in 1859 when Waterman Body discovered gold.

Bodie’s population, 20 years later, had grown to 10,000, famous for its lawlessness, robbers, and some of the worst climate in the west.

Today, the town is maintained in a state of “arrested decay” by the State Historic Park. Only 5 percent of the original buildings remain – but it’s an impressive remainder!


Among its evocative old structures are the Methodist Church, erected 1882 and the old sawmill, used for cutting firewood for winters when snow reached 20 feet deep, winds up to 100 MPH and temperatures down to 40 below zero!

It’s second schoolhouse still stands, with classrooms decked out just as students would have left it (the first school house burned down when disgruntled students set it afire!

Above the town stands the old Standard Mine and Mill, on the west slope of Bodie Bluff. Though the old mill buildings are unsafe and closed to the public, the mill extracted more than $15 million in gold over its 25 year run and remains an imposing presence over the town.

Along Bodie’s Main Street you’ll find the old post office, the IOOF Hall, Miner’s Hall with adjacent morgue, Boone Store and Warehouse, the old firehouse and Wheaton and Hollis Hotel (the hotel lobby, complete with bar and pool table, looks like gold prospectors just left minutes earlier)!

Stroll down Green Street to the red-brick hydroelectric building. In 1882 a hydroelectric plant was built on Green Creek above Bridgeport, developing 3500 volts and 130 hp. Electricity was run 13 miles over power poles set in a straight-line – the concern being that electricity could not be made to turn a corner! This engineering breakthrough spread throughout the world, and soon similar power plants became a worldwide standard.

Just south, Mono Lake is one of the oldest in North America, 760,000 years old. It has no outlet and is fed by six major streams that keep it from evaporating. With minerals flowing into the lake for eons, it’s 2.5 times saltier than the ocean and extremely buoyant. Though no fish can live in the alkaline waters, it’s flush with life – millions of brine shrimp and alkali flies feed thousands of migratory birds. And touring the shoreline tufa tower gardens is an experience like no other.

Tufa tower formations are the result of springs rising up from the lake floor and depositing minerals as they grow upwards. Once 30, 40 or 50 feet under the lake’s surface, they have been revealed in stark, alien contrast over the past 90 years, as LA water interests siphoned off tributary streamflow, causing the lake surface to drop by 60+ feet. A 1994 court decision has required the streams to be left unchecked, and the lake level is starting to slowly rebound.

To reach the South Tufa Reserve, take Hwy. 120, 5 miles east of Hwy. 395; a one mile easy hike takes you through some of the most intriguing topography – tufa towers rising 30 feet, appearing like ghost ships at lake’s edge!

From the Bodie Hills to the north, a variety of volcanic craters circle the lake. Most distinctive is Panum Crater which erupted 640 years ago and is easily reached off Hwy. 120, 3 miles east of Highway 395.

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 or Hwy. 99 south, then go east on Hwy. 120, into and through Yosemite Park, to connect to Hwy. 395.  Lee Vining is about 170 miles and 4 hours from Stockton.

For more information: Bodie State Historic Park, PO Box 515, Bridgeport, CA, 93517, phone 760.647.6445; WWW; Mono Basin Visitor Center, PO Box 429, Lee Vining, California, 93541; phone 760.873.2408;

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!

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