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Elaine and Peter’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 03 Oct 2012

Location: June Lake, USA

MapIn Great Mono Basin Desert, we found more of the diversity we have come to expect of this country.
We headed north on the 395 and turned off for Bodies State Historic Park. After 9 miles the tarmac disappeared and for 3 miles we drove on a very rough dirt track through remote valleys. We were at an elevation of 8375 feet.
Bodie is a ghost town and is a fabulous find.
In the guide book, it was described as 'a town so lawless that in 1881, it was a sea of sin, lashed by the tempest of lust and passion.'
So a must see!
In the 1800s, it was the site of one of the richest gold mining strikes in California and was also known as the most lawless, wildest and toughest mining camp in the west.
Originally, it was north Paiute homelands but they were pushed out by the discovery of gold in 1859 by Bodey. Their food supplies dwindled as the gold settlers cleared the forests and this had such an impact on their traditional way of life. Some even went to work in the mines, lime kilns and ranches.
At it's height, there were 10,000 people living in the town..gunfights, robberies and stage hold ups were almost daily. Hence the reputation of the Bad men of Bodie.
Over the years, 35 million dollars worth of gold was mined here, about 1.6 billion in today's currency.
Fires and the depletion of the mines lead to the town's downfall. Everyhing had to be brought in by mule as the area was and is so isolated so it was very expensive to replace stocks. So it was cheaper to dump everything and buy new elsewhere
So people up and left leaving all of their belongings behind. The town has been preserved in 'arrested decay' and looks exactly as it did when the last resident left. It provides today a great snapshot of the past. People here were quite well off, the wall paper still remains on the walls and there are paintings still hung in some of the rooms.
The main owner was a man called Cain. He employed a resident watchman armed with a shotgun to keep looters away until the 1960s when the town was handed over to the state.
It's a remarkable place. Some of the buildings can be entered, some you have to peer in through the windows to see the decaying belongings of former residents.
There are lots of stories..the barber used to keep the shaven hair of clients..when he washed it he could salvage the gold dust!
One of the red light ladies was called Lotte but she later married the butcher and became renowned for her paintings. Indeed there must have been a sense of humour here as the red light ladies lived and sold their ware on a street called Virgin Alley!! There was also the story of the stableman who cut ice from the lake and by packing it round with sawdust was able to sell it frozen all year round. ( the temperature in winter dropped to - 30)
We seemed to have timed our visit just right as we were able to do one of only 2 tours per day to the Stamp Mill Gold Processing Plant.This area is only accessible by guided tour. Time flew by on this hour long tour as the excellent and knowledgeable ranger fascinated us with stories of how the gold was extracted and separated from the other metals. It was remarkable how the
entrepreneurs brought resources to this remote spot. The methods used to extract the gold were ingenious, making use first of mercury and then cyanide. It wasn 't surprising that the life expectancy of some of the workers was only 3 years. A little worrying.... we were told that the mercury was still in the air and the building and that the rangers have to be tested for contamination every 3 years! We were assured that the risk to visitors was minimal..but only at the end of the tour!
If it's not that it'll be the 'sin' virus prevalent in this area from contact with rodents!
Nevertheless, a great place to visit.
Next stop was at the Mono Lake itself. This has to be amongst the most beautiful places in the world. A huge volcanic crater lake of the oldest in North America at 76000 hrs old.
We headed for the South Tufa State Reserve. There is a half mile trail which takes you through the Tufa which are strange spires and knobs of rock made by calcifying water ..set these against the azure blue of the water and you have a great scene. The lake was like a mill pond today although the area is prone to high winds. It is saltier than the sea here and you can smell it in the air. There are no fish in the lake but lots of flies,
hence it is a bird habit, including the osprey. Even the gulls have trouble swimming here as the high concentration of salt makes the water very buoyant.
We took the mile round trail along the beach to Navy Beach. The tufa here are different, being made by sand and so vary in shape from the others.
To get back to the lodge, we took the 14 mile June Lake Loop road which takes you through sub alpine scenery.The lodge itself is just outside June village where there is a good cafe ..Tiger cafe,- a good place to eat. The area is not particularly commercialised.
There's an expectation that the weather is to change here within a couple weeks, then the ski season will start.
So time to move on!!