Updated: Feb 20, 2019
The air was fresh and the sun just began to burn the morning dew from the top of my tent. I woke up slowly, naturally, as the temperatures started to rise. Fully rested, I took a deep breath; it was immediately obvious that the day was going to be beautiful. My destination was Bodie State Historical Park, once a booming city that dug a fortune of gold from its earth, today one of America’s best preserved ghost towns.
As we packed up camp, I bid my two cycling friends farewell and off I went. Bodie was another hour drive away but first I made a stop at the Mono City Park to fill my water bottles and prepare breakfast.
There are a few ways to get to Bodie which is located north of Mono lake and just west of the Nevada boarder. I took the 167 to Cottonwood Canyon Road which turns into a windy but manageable dirt road. About 30 lonely minutes later I arrived at the gates of the state park where a ranger took seven of my hard earned dollars. The town is nestled in a valley among rolling hills that showed obvious signs of mining activity. Dark brown buildings barely standing on their rotting, wooden skeletons littered the barren valley, an eerie reminder of a once booming settlement. The main street had the tallest buildings, the hotel and the recreation building, the restaurant and a few stores as well as the morgue and the fire house. Behind and to the side were the homes of the miners and their families.
Upon discovery of gold deposits in 1859 Bodie quickly transformed from a typical wild west settlement of miners and prospectors into a community of eight to ten thousand people, all directly involved with the mining operation that the new town desperately depended on. The buildings were simple, lacking electricity or plumbing, save for the one house with gutters and a white picket fence on top of the hill. This house belonged to the superintendent of the refinery that stamped the ore of gold and silver; a man by the name of Theodore Hoover, brother of president Herbert Hoover. He overlooked the profitable operations of the stamp mill that would ultimately dig up today’s equivalent of one billion dollars of gold and silver from the earth.
I was intrigued by the history of the place so I spent a few hours walking about the dusty streets of the once booming town, much of it a sad victim of time, although it still remains one of Americas best preserved ghost towns. I then took a guided tour of the stamping mill where crude machinery crushed the ore into dust that was later separated from the specs of gold by unhealthy chemical processes that sucked the lives out of so many poor souls. One can’t help but imagine the hard labor these tough men had to endure under money-hungry businessmen, in the end giving up their lives not seeing any of the riches they helped create. The large cemetery on the hill now stands as a cruel testament of the Yankee version of the struggles between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. And all I could think about as the guide spoke is how I would go about getting my hands on at least some of the product. When he asked the group why the mill chose to transport huge 100 pound clumps of low grade gold to be processed in San Francisco by outside companies if they could have done it all in Bodie themselves, my mind was already plotting.
In the first decade of the 20th century people started leaving Bodie as prospectors discovered more profitable opportunities elsewhere and soon the city became nothing more than what it is today. So I too left Bodie, heading west again towards Jackson California, a small town where the very first Serbian church was built more then a century ago and where new adventures (a broken down motorcycle) awaited.