GHOST TOWN FOR TRAVELING

The history of Bodie reads like a parody of Wild West clichés. The discovery of gold transformed this one-horse mining camp into a boomtown of banks and brothels, saloons and schools. When the gold supplies dwindled in the early twentieth century, so did the population, and today Bodie is preserved in a state of arrested decay.

Rough Guides writer Greg Dickinson travelled to Mono County, California, to prospect these haunted streets.

The time portal to Bodie is located about three miles west of the town. Only, unlike the DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future, you need to reduce your car’s speed to cross this wormhole.

The tarmac road reaches a sign that reads “Bodie Historic Park” and a crunch falls beneath your tyres as you land on the sun-bleached dirt track. There’s no looking back now, literally, as a cloud of whipped-up dust in the rear window distorts any memories of the modern world.

Slowly and jerkily I approached Bodie, air conditioning blasting the hell out of my face. You can’t help but feel a bit intrepid on this track near the border of California and Nevada, but I knew mine was just one in a long list of vehicles that had pounded the road over the last 160 years.

The first horse and carts arrived in 1859, when prospector William S Bodey discovered gold and established a mill here. Over the next couple of decades the dozen-strong population swelled to ten thousand – families, thieves, miners, journalists. All moved to this remote town in the foothills of Eastern Sierra in hope of a more prosperous life.

These days, it’s tourists who make the journey – about 200,000 per year – in cars during summer and snowmobiles during the treacherous winter (Bodie is over 2500m above sea level). And there are some unwelcomed guests, too.

“The ghost hunters are a pain in the neck,” the park ranger told me as we wandered along Main Street, her swagger reminiscent of a gun-totin’ sheriff. My flip-flopped feet were chalky white, the camera slung around my neck already disconcertingly hot in the midday sun. “They watch these ghost hunting TV shows about Bodie and try to break into the park at night. Now we have to patrol the place twenty-four seven.”