Bodie, CA – The Disney World of Ghost Towns

This was the first place we visited on our way down from Reno.  We planned to go there during the trip, but not so soon.  However, we found ourselves very near to it so decided to switch up the schedule.

I knew going into it that it would be kind of a zoo, tourist-wise (worse even than Rhyolite), and I only lost my patience once or twice.  After that we moved out of the normal flow of people and ran sort of counter to them.  It made things easier on me.  I hate to be crowded, edged, pushed or otherwise dogged through my travels.  Even if it’s not deliberate on the part of other people it bothers me.

Given ideal circumstances, this place would be a delight to visit.  It’s supposedly been preserved exactly the way people left it, but I’m not really buying that.  Some of the houses are set up like aliens came and took everyone.  Things are a bit too artfully arranged if you know what I mean.  Even so, it was a fascinating look into a mining town during the boom years.

I won’t go into the whole history of Bodie here since there are many other good websites for that.  I’ll talk about the challenges of photographing it instead.  I was very disappointed by the available light.  I’d been hoping to access the park close to or during civil twilight, but it’s not open anywhere near those times.  So I had to deal with harsh, high altitude desert light.  Hm.  My first mistake was not bringing my tripod for the interior shots.  I should have gone to get it, but I was disappointed and cranky and it made things worse than they needed to be.  That’s seriously a problem for me, but that’s for another post.

I tried stepping outside of the traditional though and I think I did an ok job.  Here’s a shot of a house on the mill side of Main street.  It was fenced off as a lot of the area is on that side of town and I couldn’t approach it.  So I decided to focus on its isolation.


Post-processing wise I started with a LR preset (I forget which one) that altered the white balance and color hues just a bit.  I also used the adjustment brush here and there to focus attention on the house and give the hill some contour.  The sky I left as scornful as it looks.  For me it helps me envision how difficult life probably was in Bodie.  Those patches of white on the hills in the shot below are snow.  The town lies at 8300 feet and so it takes a long time for snow to melt.  Plus this was a banner accumulation year.  Most of the buildings were buried completely, with only the church and similarly tall buildings visible above the snow.

I imaging that if you came upon it from a distance, on another nearby hill looking down at it, you might think it was an oaisis.  A refuge of sorts from the unforgiving desert.  I think you’d be wrong though.  Even with a church, I don’t think it had much of haven about it.  California mining towns rarely did.


I spent a little time on Main Street where the farrier, machine shop, hotel and store stand along with the fire station.  Later in its life, Bodie had a small gas station as well.  You can see it reflected here in the hotel door.

Reflections of Bodie

This is my favorite image of Bodie.  I was surprised that the lens focused to infinity on the glass; it too fooled by the image presented there, and the door frame was rendered out of focus even though it’s less than an inch from the glass.

I really wish I could have gone into the hotel.  Great stuff in there including a pool table and stuffed animal heads over the bar.  Mostly though I just waited for people to get out of the shot.  If they’d been less garishly dressed, I could have left them in, but as it was they didn’t add anything to the shots, only detracted so I waited.

As you can see the light is really contrasty.  Shadows everywhere and I was less and less inspired as I walked through the town.  Plus my husband was starving and lunch was in the car.

I did want to visit the cemetery though so we ate quickly and I went up there.  By that time though, he was anxious to go and giving me the silent treatment so I rushed through and didn’t really explore it at all.  One of the only touchy times for us on this trip.  As I said, I have to balance relaxation for him and photography for me.  Time to time they don’t coincide exactly and I have to back off. I’d have  liked to explore more of the town, but it was near to park closing hour and we didn’t want to get caught in a parade, so we left early.  It wasn’t too great a disappointment though.

Here are a few more images that I did manage to produce.

Couch Trip
You are getting very sleepy...
Two Tears in a Bucket
Star by Star Declined

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