Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Goodbye, God. I’m going to Bodie.

Bodie is a California State Historic Park, a Ghost Town that once housed approximately 8,500 people and more than 2,000 buildings by 1879.  Bodie was a pretty wild place back-in-the-day with its gutsy, lusty, gold and silver crazed men and the women who loved them (and their gold and silver).  The entire town had a reputation of non-stop gunfights, robberies and the “workin’ wimmin” of Maiden Lane.  Bodie was a town so lawless that one Reverend F.M. Warrington described it as “…a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.”  It was a rockin’ raucous place until around 1881 and by then the population (and the gold and silver) had declined to about 1,500.  Fire was always been a threat to California’s extremely dry Gold Mining country and by 1932 a final fire had destroyed all but 10 percent of Bodie and that 10 percent is still standing  today (or, to be fair, leaning), preserved in what’s know as “arrested decay” which means it is just as was when the last residents left.  The buildings are still furnished and stocked with goods, giving visitors a snapshot of the past.

As a lifelong fan of California’s colorful mining history, I had always wanted to go to Bodie to walk the streets of the men and women of yore.  What I didn’t expect, was walking those streets after the world’s wild and woolliest drive off of Highway 395.  Anyone who has ever driven the beautiful roads of 395 out of Lake Tahoe will tell you that the landscape is breathtaking as you travel down the mountains toward Mono Lake on the way to Bishop, CA.  What they don’t tell you, and I will be doing a public service by doing so today, is that the 18 mile drive to Bodie is a test of fortitude, nerves and tire tread.  It’s also an interesting way to fully digest your breakfast.  Let me explain.

 

When you turn off scenic 395 toward Bodie you start up a dusty road that you hope won’t become more narrow, but it does.  Then, when you tell yourself you can handle the roughly maintained (as if) pavement you being to notice the drop-off to your right and are hopeful that no other cars will be coming down the hill to challenge you, but they do.  Right about the time you think you have a handle on the death-defying drive on irregular pavement, it ends.  The next four miles up the mountain the tires underneath you bump up and down mercilessly, causing the entire vehicle to shimmy and shake as you struggle to maintain control even though you are only going 10 miles and hour, and you have four-wheel drive.  In your rearview mirror, you see your poor friend and her offspring in the car behind you (should you choose to follow in my ill-advised footsteps and invite people to join you, as misery really does love her company).  Guilt washes over you as you see her vibrating behind the windshield of her Saturn sedan and you can almost read her lips as she repeatedly says: “Y-Y-YOU have a four-wheel drive!” and you know that whatever torture your fanny is being subjected to, hers is minus-four (wheel drive) times worse.

 

In the mid 1800’s a young girl who was being forced to move to Bodie with her parents wrote in her diary, “Goodbye, God.  I’m going to Bodie.”  Personally, I think someone must have told her about the impending 18 mile rustle in her bustle that gave her such a pessimistic view of the journey.

 

Arriving at the State Park entrance there is a surprisingly long line of cars, which is odd, since I never saw another car going ahead of me for the entire 18 miles of vehicular Magic Fingers.  I wonder how long these other people could have been here and check tags for expiration dates.  If this was going to be a ghost town looking for current occupants, I was going to turn right back around and make it a total of 32 miles of pulsating agony for me and my guests.  Before I can make out any dates on dusty license plates, the ranger comes up to the window and asks for money.  While I’m all for supporting our State Parks, this was a little bit of in-my-face insult to on-my-rear injury.  I ask myself, how bad can the town be, if all these cars are lined up to get in?  The food must be good.

 

Regardless of the axle-inducing agony, my party of two women in improper shoes accompanied by three kids in search of lunch and a good time, start off down Park Road to see what’s left of the once bustling town of Bodie.  But Bodie, as the pamphlet tells you for two more dollars at the entrance gate, is a ghost town – an honest to Pete ghost town and they’re not lying about it.  Therefore, there is no food or refreshment to be found in a bonafide ghost town.  There are no fun, touristy amusements, but there is a bathroom near what could be perceived as an amusing outhouse and for that, your battered bladder will be grateful.  Trust me.

 

It is eerie to look inside buildings to see 100 year old wallpaper falling off rotting walls onto the furniture sitting below.  There are signs of life, but no living.  Everywhere you look there are dilapidated buildings and signs that warn to keep away from a few of the sites that are especially hazardous.  There are also warnings everywhere that anyone removing items from the park will be severely punished, which is kind of funny, considering how lawless the town once was.  Once upon a time you could shoot a man for looking at your minerals or your maiden funny, but nowadays you’ll be punished to the full extent of the law if you take a wormy book off a shelf.  Who says progress isn’t good?

 

My party and I wander around for about half an hour when we come up to what’s left of a Methodist church.  With such an unruly, unlawful flock in the 1800’s, I can’t help but wonder if this building was the first building to be deserted long before Bodie became an official ghost town.  I also think about how many connotations the word spirit has and how the Holy Spirit lived here in a town with 60 saloons that sold spirits to spirited men and women who were spirited away after many fires and I realize that dust and hunger are likely pushing me toward insanity.

 

The church has iron bars on the front door, which prevents anyone from entering to pray or pilfer hymnals, but there is a metal pan on the floor where people have thrown coins, presumably to make a wish and a small donation to the spirit of Bodie (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  I turn to the three young people in our group and tell them that I have coins they can toss inside and to make a wish.  God bless my young son and his autistic inability to tell the truth and nothin’ but the truth, he tosses his coin and loudly announces for all to hear, “I wish I wasn’t here.”  He then turns, opens his eyes to realize he’s still standing in Bodie and cries, “Lies!  All lies!  That didn’t work!”  I sigh and have to sort of agree.  I have had enough of Bodie, too.  But that’s my fault, not Bodie’s.  Bodie is town that requires serious pre-planning, like a fabulous picnic lunch, a cooler full of delicious rehydrating beverages, sturdy hiking boots, large sun hats, previously prepared attitudes and maybe some bug spray.  I may be fascinated by the wild, wild West but I honestly don’t know how they did it without bug spray.  Or shock absorbers.

 

Despite all of my whining (thanks to my lack of preparation) I really did enjoy visiting Bodie and it saddens me to think that California’s financial problems may force the closing of this fascinating State Park.  It may be a dusty, God-forsaken place with an endurance test of a drive, but it is part of our history.  Bodie is an outdoor historical museum that invites you to walk in the footsteps of those who came before.  It is important that our children and future generations have this landmark to come to, to see, touch and breathe a bit of their history.  I would encourage you to send a note (www.calparks.org) to your state legislator to let them know your thoughts on the state parks, whatever you thoughts might be.

 

As for me, I am hoping that Bodie Historic State Park will be still be open the next time I turn off 395.  I promise to be better prepared for the adventure.  In fact, I’ll make my friend leave her coupe at the bottom of the hill and with a smile on her face and determination in her heart (and fanny) she’ll say, “Goodbye, Hot Rod!  I’m going to Bodie.”  And a good time will be had by all.

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