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Bodie: quiet ghost stirring; gold and silver mining built it. Talk about a new mine is rousing interest.

"Goodbye God! We're going to Bodie." That saying--familiar to all who visit--was written in a young girl's diary as her family was leaving for the remote mining town in California's eastern Sierra Nevada. It's now believed that she was misquoted, and that she really wrote, "Good, by God! We're going to Bodie." But it's easy to see why she may have felt the other way. In Bodie's 1879 heyday, the population of 10,000 citizens included many considered the wickedest badmen in the West. With only two churches and 65 saloons, the town was renowned for street fights, holdups, and daily killings. One minister called it "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion." Today, an eerie stillness pervades the town, where only cows meander down dirt streets, and sagebrush skips and rolls among long-vacated homes. Inside storefronts, antiquated furniture and sundries--a broken desk, rusted sink, an old shoe--lie in disarray, covered in dust. One day, the vistas and the silence may be impinged upon--if a consideration to reinstate mining operations comes to fruition. But starting May 28, you can explore the state park on organized tours. And from May 5 you can delve into Bodie's history at a photography exhibit in Bridgeport and nearby Mammoth Lakes. Left alone with your thoughts, it's tempting to resurrect what lies before your and imagine what life might have been like.

Digging up Bodie's past

Nestled in the Sierra about 30 miles northeast of Lee Vining, the 486-acre park is open year-round, but the best time to visit is late spring through summer after snows melt. From Lee Vining, at the eastern approach to Yosemite Park, take U.S. Highway 395 north 18 miles over Conway Summit to the turnoff for Bodie (State Highway 270/Bodie Road). The road is paved for the first 10 miles and is dirt for the remaining 3. Admission is $3 per car. For the trip, bring a good supply of food and water, since the town has no services. A picnic area 1/2 mile from the parking lot provides tables and a spring-fed faucet. No overnight camping is permitted.

Self-guided tours. Walking is your only mode of transportation once inside Bodie (which retains roughly 5 percent of its original structures). A detailed map of the park with a self-guided historic walking tour costs $1. The tour takes you across town to some 69 sites and can last from an hour or two to most of the day. Among the favorite stops are the cemetery on the town's western slope, and the museum and visitor center. The center offers a limited bookstore and displays a variety of artifacts. Among them are an opera believed to be written and produced for the townspeople (including a large Chinese population), the red light of infamous prostitute Rosa May, 1879 Bodie Bank checks, wooden snowshoes for horses, and the payroll and gold scales from the Standard Mine.

Ranger-led tours. Bodie's only current residents, nine in all, are park rangers and their families. Rangers maintain the grounds year-round, and, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, offer free 45-minute history and mill tours. History walks are held at 3 daily except Mondays and Thursdays, mill tours at 11 and 2 on weekends and holidays.

Weekday workshops. Throughout the summer, visiting photographers offer monthly weekday photography workshops. Most have limited space, so reserve early. Fees vary, but average is about $150 for 2 1/2 days. For further details, call the park at (619) 647-6445. May 5 through June 30, three Mono County galleries will exhibit Portrait of Bodie--contemporary photographs of the town. For details, call (619) 934-3342.

Proposed mining: returning to the town's roots, or a possible threat?

Mining's long history in Bodie begins with the town's namesake, William S. Bodey, who--with three others--discovered gold nearby in 1859. Unfortunately, Bodey died that first winter, and never garnered any of the bounty--to date, 1.5 million ounces of gold, 15 million ounces of silver. Today, exploratory drilling by the Bodie Consolidated Mining Company (BCMC), a subsidiary of Galactic Resources Ltd. of British Columbia, has produced estimates that at least 1.25 million ounces of gold and 8 to 10 million ounces of silver still lie within the Bodie Mining District. Mark Whitehead, chief geologist for BCMC, states that the company is still in the preliminary research stages and has no intention of disrupting the historic park. The company also feels that renewed mining would be historically consistent with five major production cycles that occurred in the Bodie Mining District between 1859 and 1942. To inform the public about their plans and research, BCMC intends to lead appointment-only tours to the mining site. Led by Whitehead, the 2- to 3-hour walks will focus on the district's history and geology and explain the permit processes, environmental considerations, and how mining property is evaluated. For details and reservations, call (619) 932-7201. The California State Park Rangers Association, a Sacramento-based statewide group committed to protecting state parks, has formed a Save Bodie! coalition, fearing that Galactic "will develop an open pit mine and remove the entire ridge behind town." Possible threats also include noise and air pollution from heavy truck traffic and blasting, drilling, and cyanide leaching processes. For more details, call (916) 383-2530.
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Title Annotation:California
Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1990
Words:880
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