A Visit to an Inhabited Ghost Town
As Spenser mentioned, we took a much-needed break from climbing for some R&R at a friend’s cabin at Mono Lake. The cabin is on Cottonwood Canyon Drive, the same road that leads to the ghost town of Bodie. Given the opportunity, we could not ignore our curiosity to visit this old town. After a bit of research, we took a break from editing our latest video (finished product below) to look for an adventure. A ghost town always equals adventure, right?
It was a sunny yet crisp winter morning, so we bundled up and started the drive down the windy snow-covered road. Abruptly we hit a roadblock indicating we could drive no further. Sadly, the road to Bodie was closed for the winter. We could walk the 10 miles there and back if we wanted…
Spenser looked at me and said, “I’m down if you are.” I nodded, and we trundled across some rocks to the left of the roadblock. We saw tire marks where we left ours, so we knew we weren’t the only ones to have ignored the roadblock. Thoughts of us getting stuck in the mud a la Massachusetts popped into my head, but I quickly suppressed them. We were looking for an adventure, weren’t we?
As we continued the drive down the road, you could sense we were both pleased with ourselves but nervous nonetheless. The kind of unsure satisfaction that always comes with breaking the rules. Those thoughts were quickly taken over by the breathtaking scenery that surrounded us on this seldom-visited dirt road.
After about 7 miles, we ran into another roadblock, this one we could not go around. It was a locked metal gate with a road of increasingly muddy proportions on the other side. We grabbed the cameras and started the hike. Almost immediately we could see Bodie in the horizon.
We trudged, slipped, and skated our way down the icy road towards the ghost town. Our excitement rose with every uneasy step we took. Suddenly cutting through my thoughts of ghost movies I’ve seen, Spenser says, “Do you see the flickering lights?” Sure enough, there were flickering lights in the barn.
I was immediately nervous. No, I didn’t think there were ghosts (why would they need lights, silly!). Maybe it was a squatter? No matter what, I felt like it was definitely someone who did want us invading his or her home. As we got closer, I realized I was right…but in a completely different sense.
In all my excitement I had forgotten that Bodie, although touted as ghost town, was now a state park. During the summer, parents can take their kids there to give them a bit of a scare. During the winter, there are two rangers that live in Bodie to give trespassers like us a scare. As we walked past the admission stand touting a sign for a $7 fee (a bit steep, in my mind), a ranger truck drove from the barn directly towards us. A young guy, about our age, stepped out and Spenser was the first one of us to reach him. They immediately did not see eye-to-eye.
The ranger asked if we had gone around the initial roadblock, which Spenser truthfully answered yes. Then talk about giving us a ticket for the misdemeanor began. Spenser tried to reason with him that the roadblock was unnecessary at this time of the year since weather had been mild – the road was neither muddy nor dangerous. The ranger would not have it. I saw this conversation heading in a negative direction, so I quickly and gracefully (not) lumbered through calf-height snow to where Spenser and the ranger were in disagreement. Yes, the road was neither muddy nor unsafe, but it was obvious that the argument with the ranger was one that he was not going to let us win. Also, we really can’t afford a ticket a right now.
Plan B: apologize and act innocent. Statements such as, ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘we didn’t mean to inconvenience you,’ and ‘we were told to come here by the friends we are staying with at Mono Lake,’ came from my mouth. Whatever was said worked well enough.
The mood between the three of us lightened as Ryan, the ranger, told us of a man dying while trying to get to Bodie during the winter season a few years ago. This is why our tax money is paying for the rangers to be stationed at Bodie year-round. Ryan decided not to give us a ticket after all (stating he didn’t want to anger the locals that we were staying with), but exercised his authority by not letting us venture further into the not-so-ghost-town since we “broke the rules.” We snapped a few photos and started the walk back.
As our boots crunched in the snow, we chatted about the unexpected encounter we just had. We were happy to not have a ticket, but a bit annoyed that Ryan wouldn’t let us check out a single building in Bodie…mostly just because he could. Authority is a funny thing. And figuring out how to appropriately deal with it is an art that both of us are still trying to learn. What we agreed upon was that, if we had truly wanted to tour Bodie, we should have asked Ryan more questions about his life. What was it like living in Bodie year-round? How many of us hooligans did he have to turn away? He wasn’t a mean guy, he was just following ‘the rules.’
As we arrived back at Bert, we had satisfied our disappointment by convincing ourselves we could have gotten a tour – if we had continued to chat Ryan up. Today was not that day, though.
What stories do y’all have about dealing with authority? Any tricks or pointers to share on reading people you have just met? We think we learned something in Bodie, but we want to learn more!