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The Road to Bodie

by Shelly Rivoli
Published: Last Updated on

After we rambled on through Yosemite, catching waterfalls and wildflowers in their prime, we dipped down to Mammoth Lakes where we had the great pleasure of building a snowman on summer vacation (don’t miss my Mammoth tips & review on TravelSavvyMom.com—with video!). Then it was time to head north on our Eastern Sierra family road trip adventure.

As we drove along the almost lunar landscape of Mono Lake, we were faced with a tough decision: To Bodie, or not to Bodie? Bodie State Historic Park is one of the United States’ biggest and best-preserved ghost towns. While it sounds like a natural road stop for any family traveling along Highway 395 you should be forewarned, as we were, that “The Road to Bodie” is a 13-mile stretch that may take a few years off your tires. And when you get there, don’t expect to find flush toilets and shave ice. Or shade. As you can see, we decided to go for it.

The Road to Bodie (a.k.a. CA 270) quickly transformed to a glorified asphalt that somehow reminded me of hiking Hawaii’s Big Island. After 10 miles, it became an official washboard, dirt-rock affair which may have added another mile to the final stretch as we dodged and veered the jagged monoliths and marveled that horse-drawn carriages had ever survived passage here. I braced the baby’s head between my hands as he jiggled in his infant car seat. But it was too late, and too narrow, to turn back.

At last Bodie came into view. Our eyes popped, seeing buildings stretch for several city blocks, and dirt roads wending on up to the old mill on the hill. I could see now that the $2 self-guided tour book I’d purchased at the entrance was going to be more useful than I’d expected (proceeds support the Friends of Bodie). We found space in the dirt parking lot and quickly determined the stroller (with its thankfully rugged pneumatic wheels) would be the best option for keeping Baby Theo shaded and sheltered from the wind.

With sunhats, water, and snacks, we set out to explore the streets of Bodie. At around 8,500 ft. elevation with nary a shade tree in sight, hit by the full force of the Eastern Sierra winds at high noon, I was suddenly reminded of an expression I’d often read in history books: “Died of exposure.” How this town, which began with a handful of miners in 1859, somehow supported a population of 10,000 just 20 years later is a true marvel.

It was not an easy place to live—in fact, someone died there nearly every day. Most deaths, however, were due to gunpowder-peppered disagreements among the salty miners, prospectors, gamblers, and outlaws who largely populated the town (that’s a Bodie-style hearse in the one-room museum you’ll find on Main Street). But there were also plenty of families in Bodie, as well, and I nearly stopped in my tracks as I ventured inside the Tom Miller home and found this antique baby “dining booster” parked on a kitchen chair.

The layers of linoleum also found in this house reveal the story of how the town rose and finally fell in the late 1930s. Bodie has been a California State Park since 1962. There are nearly 200 structures still standing in Bodie, and some 80 headstones remaining in the Bodie Cemetery. There are no hotdog stands, however, so be sure to bring plenty of snacks and refreshments for your crew.

All in all, we are very glad we went. Particularly since we made it out without a flat tire or broken axle. If you’re heading to Bodie with a baby or young children, I offer these additional tips:

Tips for your family’s visit to Bodie:

  • A jogger or all-terrain stroller may help protect your child from the sun and wind, but it will limit your access to the few old buildings that are open to visitors.
  • In the summer, expect it to feel hot in the sun and most likely cold in the shade (where you’ll find it along the old store fronts and in buildings), so dress everyone in breathable layers.
  • If you need a breastfeeding stop, there are benches in front of the museum. While they’re shaded in the afternoon, it’s a pretty cold shade and not exactly private. Both good reasons to bring an extra baby blanket along.
  • It’s windy. And dusty. You’ll be glad to have a lightweight windbreaker and sunglasses (also for the kids).
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good shape and well-fueled before turning onto the Road to Bodie, as you cell phone likely won’t help you if you should need roadside assistance, and it can be tough “catching a ride out” for help when you have a family-size group, some of whom ride in car seats. (And I wouldn’t want to be left behind!)
  • Stock up on extra provisions (O Pioneers!) at the towns of Lee Vining or Bridgeport before visiting Bodie, and be sure to carry your water and some snacks with you as you explore. Once you get started, it’s a long way back to the car.
  • Bring the camera, and extra batteries or film. You could go crazy taking photos of this place.

    View Bodie Historic State Park, California in a larger map

The park is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer months, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter—though subject to weather conditions. For more information about Bodie, including some of the legends and lore, and a great slideshow, check out www.Bodie.com. This post is part of Photo Friday at DelciousBaby.com.

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby

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