Historic Road Trip
California / Nevada USA
62 mi / 98 km
Graded Dirt / 4WD
Back in 1859 as the California Gold Rush was gathering pace, daring prospectors attempted to set up far-flung outposts in the easternmost reaches of the Sierra Nevada. It was inhospitable country, but whispers of rich veins of precious metal kept folk coming.
Over the next 30 years, the duo of mining centers that had been established – Aurora and Bodie – would be transformed into two of America's greatest boomtowns, producing a whopping $3 million of gold ore per annum and supporting populations of 10,000 people.
Today, they lie totally abandoned between the scrub-dressed valleys on the cusp of the Californian mountains and the Great Basin. Our route whisks you away on rocky roads to the very heart of the Wild West to see them first hand, complete with ghostly saloons and creaking houses of miners left to the elements.
It all begins at a turnoff on the 395 north of Mono Lake. You wind and wiggle between hills tufted with dwarf pines to the barren plateaus that bridge the gap between California and Nevada.
Bodie swings into view some 12 miles along. It's now a State Historic Site, where visitors can wander between crooked homes built of weathered wood and even step into a dust-caked saloon with an original billiards table. Time has stood still there since the town was deserted in the 1910s, more than a century ago.
In the late 1800s, Bodie was a place of promise and dreams. The discovery of gold had attracted hordes of fortune seekers from all corners of the globe. The town grew rapidly, transforming into a thriving community with a population of several thousand people. Saloons, brothels, and gambling dens lined the dusty streets, tempting the miners with the lure of easy wealth.
But as the years passed, the gold veins dwindled, and the once-bustling town began to decline. The dreams that had once flourished turned to dust. Legend had it that Bodie was cursed, haunted by the spirits of those who had perished there.
Tales of eerie encounters and ghostly apparitions spread like wildfire. Visitors claimed to hear phantom footsteps echoing through the empty streets, or catch glimpses of shadowy figures peering out of long-abandoned windows.
From here, the route gets pretty gnarly on your way to the legendary Aurora. You'll need a 4WD with high clearance to push on up the canyons and gorges to the Bodie Stateline Toll House, a ruined border crossing where traveling prospectors and gold couriers would once have paid 10 cents to move between territories. Aurora lies at the end of the line over in Nevada.
Once a thriving silver mining town in the late 19th century, Aurora once boasted a population of over 10,000 people, with grand buildings, hotels, and saloons lining the streets.
One of the most notable events in Aurora's history occurred on February 19, 1861. On that fateful day, a massive fire broke out in the town, swiftly engulfing the wooden structures. The fire raged for several hours, reducing many buildings to ashes and leaving the once-vibrant town in ruins. The flames so intense they could be seen from miles away.
Despite the devastation, the spirit of Aurora persevered. The townspeople, determined to rebuild their community, came together to restore the town with new structures using bricks instead of wood.
However, the fire marked a turning point in the town's fortunes. As the years passed, the silver mines began to decline, and Aurora slowly dwindled in population. By the early 20th century, the once-thriving town had become a ghost town, with only a few remaining residents.
Little remains of its former glory, when nearly 800 homes peppered the valley. Today, all you'll find is the scattered ruins, remnants of buildings, a cemetery and the eerie silence of the Wassuk mountains.
Got a tip to share for this route? Send us yours!Bodie Road is graded dirt and is generally accessible to most vehicles, including regular passenger cars. However, it's worth noting that the condition of the road can vary depending on weather and maintenance. Beyond Bodie a 4WD capable vehicle with a high clearance is a must. View current alerts and warnings from the Bodie State Historic Park.
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