The California State Parks system has done an outstanding job of not sprucing up the old town of Bodie. Instead, one of the country's most authentic ghost towns lies in a state of ''arrested decay," giving visitors a true feel for life there more than a century ago.
There are fewer than 200 structures remaining in the former gold and silver mining town that boasted 10,000 residents and 30 mines during its heyday in the late 1870s. Its decline came soon after, though the town remained largely intact until the 1930s, when a fire by toddler ''Bodie Bill" leveled about 90 percent of it.
What remains of Bodie is spectacular, as is the mountain scenery you drive through to get there. The closest town is Lee Vining, 45 miles away and the western gateway to Yosemite National Park.
Bodie's setting, at an elevation of 8,375 feet, is raw and barren. Summers are scorching and winters are frigid, with snow drifts up to 20 feet tall. It was known among miners for having ''the worst climate out of doors." But the weather is only part of Bodie's mystique. Wretched working conditions, after-work boredom, and 65 saloons made it a top draw for bad boys. Killings, robberies, and fights were commonplace.
Nowadays, the streets are quiet, except for the 200,000 tourists who visit annually. In good weather, the park system offers free talks and shows a half-hour video about Bodie. Tours covering the mining district, mills, and cemetery range from $7 to $15 for adults and cost $3 for children 12 and under. A self-guided walking tour leads you to homes, hotels, and general stores, some with dusty and decayed furnishings partly intact. Artifacts and documents are displayed at the Bodie Museum.
Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of Bodie is the buildings' weathered pine timber, whose beautiful knots and swirling grains have seen it all.
Bodie State Historic Park, off US 395, 760-647-6445, www.parks.ca.gov. $3 adults, $1 children 16 and under.