Ghost Towns of the Wild West~

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Bodie is a gold rush era ghost town east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Mono Lake California. In its heyday it was a wild west era boomtown with shoot outs, bar-room brawls, stage-coach robberies, and murders. Dust and mayhem in the old wild west!
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It had a jail, saloons, a red light district, and a morgue, everything you needed in the lawless frontier, just like all those western movies we’ve all watched.
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Bodie also had a Chinatown with an opium den and Taoist temple. I don’t remember Taoist temples in the old western movies, do you? I guess this doesn’t quite fit with the six-guns and society ethos of those movies.
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There was a Catholic and Methodist church, to counteract the lawless ways of the frontier, no doubt.
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Bodie was founded in 1859 and at its peak it had a population of almost 10,000 people and around 2000 buildings.
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It began to decline as a boomtown in the 1890’s, and became more of a family oriented frontier community.
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There was a doctor’s house, a town hall, a couple of hotels, a barber shop and a schoolhouse, and I would imagine much less murder, mayhem, and general excitement.
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By 1910 there were 688 people living in Bodie, and by 1915 people started referring to it as a ghost town even though it was inhabited by a few hangers-on until around 1942.

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Bodie is now designated as a protected state historical park and is maintained but not improved.

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We encountered several wild west ghost towns in the Eastern Sierra, some we found while hiking which were completely unexpected and quite a surprise. Each of them gives you the wonderfully eerie feeling of walking back in dusty time.
Cheers to you from the living ghosts of the old wild west~

287 thoughts on “Ghost Towns of the Wild West~

    • Yes, sounds very similar to Bodie. She must have some incredible stories to tell. I imagine life in one of these towns would have been wonderful for a child. So much to explore!

  1. One of my faves is Rhyolite, Nevada, not to far from Beatty as you leave Death Valley. Last time I was there it had two residents and they didn’t like each other.

    • “it had two residents and they didnโ€™t like each other.”
      Classic! So cool that you visit there.
      There’s a town I always drive through called Red Mountain. It has around 100 or so residents and one tavern. I really need to stop in Red Mountain and get a sense of what life is like there.

      • One of the residents was Wheelbarrow Tommy and the original bottle house that they replicated at Knott’s Berry farm is there. Wheelbarrow Tommy was a legend in his own mind and lived in the bottle house. He was a pretty good guy. A true desert rat. I haven’t been there in a very long time, but it used to be a regular stop.

  2. I love these photos – spent much of my childhood pretending to be a cowgirl in Oregon (!) – loved and still love the idea of the Wild West – too many John Wayne films I suspect ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. What a cool piece of history, I actually love the wild west history, would like to live there a bit isolated(more than a bit I guess) I just wonder if they have wifi over there

  4. Sรญ. Seguro que los fantasmas de los antiguos habitantes merodean por allรญ ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Siempre produce una sensaciรณn extraรฑa ver lugares abandonados con enseres de sus รบltimos moradores. ยฟQuรฉ les hizo alejarse para no volver? Siempre quedan preguntas por responder y la imaginaciรณn se pone en marcha. Asรญ se escriben las buenas novelas ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I got this sad “tugging” feeling in my gut when I got to Pictures 7 and 8….a haunted/hollow feeling. Makes sense I guess, it is a ghost town! Thanks for sharing your visit!

    • Yes. I went into a home that was old and abandoned in another western place. There was an oil painting over the fireplace of the daughter of the family. She was around eight and there were mementos and furniture left by the family. This was not a tourist place and I went with my son who had a key. It was a very empty sad feeling. I eventually learned the whole history of the family.

      • Wow, that explains those feelings then. You really captured the essence of the place with your photo, well enough for me to pick up the vibes both from you and the place itself. When I looked at the general store I immediately thought of all things, Little House on the Prairie (the tv show). I don’t know if you ever watched it, but Mr. Olson’s store looked a lot like the one in your picture! In trying to find a picture, I was lead to this blog that has pictures from their Landis Valley Museum trip, check out the store! http://withoutlovewehavenothing.blogspot.com/2012/04/landis-valley-museum.html

  6. I have been here!!!! Went about 12 years ago. It was fascinating. It is almost a pity that they are not maintained a bit. I would hate to think it might all disappear one day.

    • They do maintain them. There are roof repairs and such, and they have rangers that live in one of the houses to protect the place. They just don’t add to or embellish the place. Fabulous you visited. It took me a long time to get here~

  7. Like many others my age, I grew up with the Cartrights and High Chaparall. And I saw many westerns on TV…It is just what you say about
    shutting my eyes…and being there , in the movie, for real.
    Love your images and the story!

  8. I’m amazed at how well preserved it is. What a treasure. Where my folks live in western CO there are quite a few ghost towns but there is almost nothing left. I’m also amazed at how recent these places were inhabited. The wild west wasn’t that long ago.

  9. Loved the tin ceiling. I think it would be great to experience the wild west for a visit but the thought of outhouses and chopping wood to cook might get old right quick. I would love to spend most of my time on horseback however.

  10. We have plenty of ghost towns here in Colorado, many way off the beaten track in the mountains where there was mining. You come across them during hikes in the backcountry. Undoubtedly, the level of lawlessness and violence were much higher than portrayed in the movies.

    Liked that Bizarro comic you posted above. It seems we share a sense of humor pointed in the same direction. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I don’t know why but westerns just crack me up. Thinkiing of Mel Brooks right now! ๐Ÿ˜‰ And yes, it is amazing to be hikiing and come upon some remnant of a ghost town you didn’t know about. This just happened to us~

  11. How interesting to see the real thing, compared to the western movies that we saw when we were kids. It was a rough life of daily adventures. Great post Cindy! HJ ๐Ÿ™‚

    • This place would be intense in winter with the winds funneling down the mountain slopes and the absence of trees for windbreaks. They have decaying sleighs in one of the buildings.

  12. Interesting that the “collectors” haven’t made away with everything but the soil. I don’t believe there’s much original left out in the deserts of Arizona, unless it’s found on a Native American Reservation. It is impressive to be able to walk into and around real history…your photos do justice to the subject ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. What a fascinating post, Cindy! The images are haunting yet beautiful. It’s like in the western movies :-). Sounds like you had a splendid hike, and thank you for sharing this great find.

  14. Gee, I didn’t know all this, Cindy — thanks for educating me! What a fascinating lifestyle, though I can’t imagine living like that now, ha!

  15. Gosh – grgeous impressions like taken right out of a western movie, Cindy. I drove through the Death Valley in the eighties and visited several canyons and valleys, I might even have been pretty close to this photogenic beauty. This thought brings a smile on my face. I spent 12 weeks in California and the surroundings counties and loved every minute of it. Such a fantastic land with a surprise awaiting behind every bend.

    • So wonderful that you spent time in Death Valley! It is an incredible experience isn’t it! It has this very unique, incredibly harsh beauty. California does have an amazing variety of unusual eco-systems. It’s probably why I have never managed to move out of the state despite the fires and quake risk. Thanks for stopping by Dina and be well my friend~

  16. I like Bodie. As ghost towns go, it’s a delight, Cindy. I think your blog should entice several people there. ๐Ÿ™‚ Last time I was there I took a wrong turn out of town and followed dirt roads for at least an hour before I got back to the main road. Fortunately, I was driving my 4×4 pickup. โ€“Curt

    • That would be an adventure. There are definitely dirt roads you could get lost on and that would be fun. You might even happen upon another ghost town, or something else equally interesting, like a bear. I saw an amazing bear cub!

      • Fun it was, Cindy. mainly it was a lot of wide open beautiful country. There may have been a ghost cabin or two. ๐Ÿ™‚ Have you been to Rhyolite? That’s another fun ghost town, and cemetery. It also has that glorious outdoor sculpture garden next door. โ€“Curt

  17. This reminded me of when we lived in Tucson and went on a ghost town hunt. They weren’t anywhere near as interesting as Bodie. We did see a house with cows in the living room. On that tour we did have an adventure off the beaten path on a winding road up a mountain driving right on the edge of cliffs without rails. The scenery was breathtaking.

  18. Fascinating history, information and great pics. I bet it was so much fun to step back into time and find those ghost towns undiscovered and those that were with things left behind like in the kitchen photo to see what they used and how they lived. Such funny cartoons to add to it all. I remember a really cool ghost town we went to in Calif. when we lived out there that we went to visit. It was in the desert area east of L A. Seemed it had a name like Calico or something like that. It was fun to visit and opened to tourists then. Can’t remember its been too long ago. About 50 yrs. or so. as it was about 1966 – 1968. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I wish I had some of that place when we went, but unfortunately I don’t. We used a little Kodak film camera back then as the digital were not of thought of at that time. Ha! But, it’s nice they have that link to look up some of their things that way. The gold rush in Calif., Colorado, Alaska and other Midwestern states all had their ghost towns. Some here in Colo. included Cripple Creek, Blackhawk, and Silverton. Those were turned into gambling operations with casinos when gabling was legalized here, which I hated to see happen as I loved the uniqueness and history those towns had.

  19. Cindy I could reread this and enjoy the pictures over again, you’ve given me incentive to try and get down there to visit these places myself. thanks

  20. It sounds like home. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I thought you might like a reminder of:-

    An old cowboy went ridin out one dark and windy day
    Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
    When all at once a mighty herd of red-eyed cows he saw
    Plowin through the ragged skies and up a cloudy draw

    Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel
    Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
    A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
    For he saw the riders comin hard and he heard their mournful cries

    Yippie I ohhh ohh ohh
    Yippie I aye ye ye
    Ghost riders in the sky ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. There is nothing quite like ghost towns of the wild west, I love them. My hometown has a great history of a frontier town, and fortunately it never lost its population but very few old structures exists in the hills nearby. This view of Bodie you shared is beyond cool ~ the old town as was so many, many decades ago… I’d love to visit, as it would feel like stepping inside a dream for me, for as a kid there was not a better place to pretend to live ๐Ÿ™‚ Great shots Cindy!

    • A fellow blogger was talking about how WP put a bunch of comments from fellow bloggers in spam, so I went and checked my spam and found your comment and about ten others there! I would have been so sad to miss this comment Randall. So now you have to come back to California. I can tell you about a couple of other ghost towns we found that are completely off the beaten track. I told you I am selfish. I want to see your photos! (And read your comments!)

  22. Your photos and this post have brought them back to life Cindy! It must have been an interesting experience to be a witness to something now gone, but still alive in our childhood tv memories!

  23. Wow that is awesome! I love your photos and would love to see that someday! Thank you for sharing! I love ghost towns and it’s on my bucket list to visit some! Hugz Lisa and Bear

  24. Hi Cindy, I love old ghost towns, they are so full of stories that swirl around me when I visit. I have heard of this one, but never visited. Thanks so much for sharing your awesome pictures! Kinda got me in the mood to draw a western fairy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. I’ve been to a lot of ghost towns that are similar. I went to one this weekend from an anti rely different era. It’s called Atomic City, based upon the work they did there.

  26. Those buildings still seem to be in livable conditions. Just amazing. If I’d driven by, I don’t think I would’ve known it was a ghost town! Love the view of old kitchenware there. Thanks for this time-travel opportunity Cindy! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • There are some young park rangers that live in one of the buildings to protect the town. I imagine this is an incredibly awesome experience, if you’re not afraid of ghosts! ๐Ÿ‘ป ๐Ÿ‘ป

    • Thank you for your kindness Sally. You are so appreciated my friend. How interesting that you had that sense! Maybe someone was! ๐Ÿ‘ป ๐Ÿ‘ป ๐Ÿ‘ป

  27. Pingback: Ghost Towns of the Wild West~ | GrannyMoon's Morning Feast

  28. This is amazing and I first thought how they are still intact. You can just go dust them and start using them, but at last I came to know that they are protected property and are maintained.
    Shiva

  29. Used to visit Calico ghost town when I was young, and went back again a dozen years ago while passing through. Hard to believe people eked a living out of those kinds of environs!

    • I didn’t photograph the whole town and there used to be many more buildings. Chinatown and the red light district as just one example are completely gone. Most of the town is gone. What you are seeing in just a portion of what remains.

  30. How exciting these photos are. I’m obsessed with all things Wild West. It almost reminded me of the tiny old mining town I visited up on a cliff in the mountains in Jerome, Arizona, this past winter. ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh, and P.S. I found that photo I was telling you about an artist in Arizona who works in bronze sculptures, the Wolf. I’ll try and FB it to you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. When we visited Bodie I remember reading a quote from a little girl when her parents said they were moving to that den of iniquity: “Goodbye God. We’re mobile to Bodie!”

  32. Cindy, this was very interesting, especially on a personal level. I had a relative in the Canadian Goldrush James “Cariboo” Cameron, who was friends with Billy Barker. Barker was responsible for starting the first town in the area, Barkerville. It is probably our most famous ghost town, while my Great Great Great Uncle felt bad for all the men, women, and children who died in the rough conditions. He built Cameronton Cemetary close to Barkerville. There are some ironic stories about him and burying his wife. I think I promised someone I would write that up one day. Anyway, I just love looking at or visiting old towns and your pictures are awesome!

    • Wow. I looked up Barkerville. It is extensive and looks fascinating. What an incredible family history and wonderful you know so much about it! I had to look at a map to see where Barkerville is as we are heading to BC in under three weeks and I would visit if I could but it looks to be too far away from where we are going. We are going to Vancouver Island via Seattle to stay up the Knight Inlet and all over the island for about a month. We go back and back to BC and just keep finding more and more things we want to see. I just found out my family, the Barton’s settled all over Canada and Nova Scotia. No wonder I love Canada so much. I wanted to retire on The Sunshine Coast but my husband didn’t want to emigrate. I do hope you write the Barkerville story. I would love to read it!

  33. A photo is the work of Nicolas Tritz, established in Iowa in 1850 as a blacksmith , he was specialized in famous pioneers sheeted wagons hitched , as manufacturer , repairer of the spoked wheels. In this family , thousands of American families in more than 20 states … Thank you for this. Your daily visits . Bravo for your bottom artitisque work … My compliments .

    • Very interesting. America has such a rich immigration history. My husband’s family emigrated from Germany to Iowa and many generations of Knokes lived in Iowa. The Bartons from the UK on my paternal side, settled all over Canada, and my maternal relatives from Bulgaria, Germany, and Poland settled in America. My mixed cultural identity mirrors that of most Americans, something to be proud of, something that makes American interesting.

  34. When we planned our trip to the Eastern Sierra’s in June, Bodie was on my list. I remember going there as a child, when we camped at Toulomme Meadows. Fortunately, my sister-in-law is a big history buff, especially about ghost towns. We had a great day there. I just finished reading on of the books that I picked up in the museum/gift shop. Future visits will take us to Aurora, etc. I would also like to revisit the gold camps in the western foothills outside of Sacramentoโ€ฆ so many future trips.
    Oscar

    • Yes we happened upon Bennetville, another abandoned old mining town on a hike by surprise. This is such incredibly beautiful country. I wish we could have been there when you were, but I’m glad you spent time here & cheers to you Oscar~

  35. What a crazy thing to come upon old ghost towns while hiking! I enjoyed this visit to Bodie, Cindy. I am always intrigued by the history of northern California, centered around the gold rush; and your photos here were a fun adventure for me, thank you.

    • Of course the towns we stumbled on weren’t as big or as maintained as Bodie, but what was especially surprising was how remote and hidden away they were, way up in the ๐Ÿ—ป ๐Ÿ—ป!

  36. I really liked peeking in the windows at the small town and its remains. The little sunny kitchen was pretty and I liked the idea of the doctor’s office and the town’s General Store! Those 10,000 people probably felt the “fever” of gold but then, lost their compass for life. Hope they found a small farm to take care of and raise a family. . . I can imagine a few different “happy endings for those folks.” Thanks, Cindy for your sweet visits and special comments! <3

    • You have a wonderful ability to put yourself in other places and people Robin. This is a creative and empathetic gift which makes you such a pleasure to have as a friend. Be well and I love your sensitivity~

  37. Hi Cuz,
    Back from my NJ trip and found this waiting for me. I love carousing around ghost towns. Used to go visit them when I’d go fishing in Wyoming and Montana. These were little unprotected hidden spots way back in the mountains and there was still a lot of “memorabilia” still laying about in the buildings. They were always fun to explore. Looks like you had a good time. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • They are still there and sometimes walking into the houses is so eerie because it feels like the people left a long time ago but might still be coming back! Hope you had a wonderful trip cuz and glad you stopped by~

  38. I’m guessing the poor, indentured (and/or enslaved) Chinese workers found what respite they could in their temple, ’cause I can’t imagine there was any elsewhere in the West, at least until some small reforms began to combat the abusive conditions under which they lived, well into the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I’m rather amazed to learn that there *was* such a refuge. Nifty! And I’d love to see some of these ghost towns. Really beautiful, and I never tire of being in places haunted by their past and sensing myself immersed in the streams of history and its people. It was interesting on our Santa Fe trip this summer to go through a number of neo-ghost towns, places that thrived and faded along the old Route 66, in various mining towns, and over the rise and fall of various reservation communities, for example. Lots of towns in both TX and NM that were all but deserted in the middle of a work day, silent and artificial-looking and ineffably melancholy. Which desolation and ruination, as you’d know from my blog, I rather admire and fondly embrace, despite knowing the hardships it may represent. Ah, beautiful rust and rusticity! You took such eloquent shots of it all here!!
    xoxo,
    Kathryn

    • What a lovely and thoughtful comment. The discrimination against Chinese laborers in frontier towns, railroad enterprises, mining operations, etc., was hellacious. I was very surprised about the temple and the opium den. It spoke of a level of tolerance I did not know existed. We still need to learn about tolerance don’t we. Sometimes I wonder if we’re capable of learning (yes Donald I am talking to you). I too find abandoned properties, ranches and ghost towns quite moving, both in terms of the sense of the fleeting nature of human life and in terms of the lives these towns and structures left behind.

  39. I spent a lot of years wandering and wondering in the deserts of Nevada and California when I was a whippersnapper. My family enjoyed Indian Trading Posts, Ghost Towns, Old Mines, and such. They were free or at least cheap and my parents would do anything to keep their herd quite. (four kids in five years)..my mother went nutz.

    I truly enjoyed this article, a little flash from my past, I don’t succumb to these type of pleasures anymore having learned from my mother and never had kids….so no grand kids but there are still pleasurable memories. I found an old bookstore in one “operating” ghost and bough a simply bound short story by Mark Twain published in his time, called “A Dog’s Tale” one of my multiple purchases on these frequent childhood gad abouts. THANX for posting this Cindy. ~~dru~~

    • These sound like layered and fascinating memories and experiences, bringing up a mix of feelings in you. Just reading it sounds like a memoir I would want to read. The Mark Twain book sounds like an amazing find. He is one of my favorites and a book published in his lifetime would be a treasure.

  40. I would have never imagined they still exist. I would love to visit one day. I think the government should renovate these places but keep it in the way it is. Do they arrange for tourists to visit? Very interesting. I love history!

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