As early explorers passed through the West, Mono County remained sparsely setiled, other than the existing native population. However as the Gold Boom raged in California during the 1850's, significant ore discoveries were made in the Mono area. There are numerous historical sites where important mining towns once existed including such places as Masonic, Aurora, and Lundy, but there are few remains. Bodie, however, is an exception.
A visit to the ghost town of Bodie can be one of the most interesting parts of an Eastern Sierra adventure. A large part of the town still remains, having been preserved by the California State Park system for well over 50 years.
The Town of Bodie holds its place in history as one of the Old West's wildest towns. It was formed during the tenth year of the California Gold Rush, in 1859, but its boom days did not begin until 1876 when the Standard Company discovered a large and profitable deposit of gold underground.
Lumber to build the town of Bodie was brought all the way from the south shore of Mono Lake, and for a time was ferried across the lake and transported up Cottonwood Canyon. A railroad was built between Bodie and Benton, with plans to extend the line and connect to routes both north and south.
Bodie purportedly had nearly ten thousand residents during its peak, and many of the attributes of larger towns. By about 1890, technological advancements brought hydroelectric via a power line from Dynamo Pond on Virginia Creek,nearly twenty miles away, to the stamp mill. The Bodie project actually was known as perhaps the very first long-distance transmission line project to carry electricity.
Bodie suffered near total destruction by fire during its time, but survived into the 20th century until the decline of the mining industry took its toll. Hydroelectric energy projects began to proliferate around the Sierra to serve faraway cities with electricity, and some of the former mining workers were well-suited to perform the construction work for these projects.
Here in June Lake for example, around 1915 a tram was built up the Rush Creek canyon for hydroelectric dam construction, using rails moved from a defunct mine in Bodie. The Power Station project represented the first permanent structures to be built in the June Lake Loop. Later, in the 1930's, when the City of Los Angeles was building the Grant Lake Dam and the Mono Craters tunnel as a part of its aqueduct system, many of the laborers were former mining workers as well.
By the 1940's no inhabitants remained at Bodie other than a few caretakers who prevented the remaining buildings and artifacts from being vandalized and potentially destroyed or removed.
In 1961, Bodie was adopted by the California State Park system as a historical site, and is preserved in a state of "arrested decay." A visit to Bodie is a fascinating experience, and there is much that can be learned about life in a Wild West town of the mid 1800's.
Although the road from Mono Lake through Cottonwood Canyon is still passable, today's main road to Bodie is via State Route 270, which intersects US 395 about seven miles south of Bridgeport.
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