Friday, October 20, 2006

Bodie State Historic Park, California

On the Eastern side of California's Sierra Nevada range, about a dozen miles north of Mono Lake lies Bodie State Historic Park. A ghost town from the 1880s that is kept in a state of “arrested decay,” it is one of the most complete and best preserved ghost towns in the West. The best access to Bodie is a turnoff from Highway 395 a few miles north of Conway Summit and a few miles south of Bridgeport. This route is paved for the first 10 miles or so, gravel for the last few miles.

The biggest challenge faced by photographers at Bodie may be the limited hours when people are allowed to be in the park. Ranger supervision is critical to preserve artifacts, so the park is normally only open from 8am to 7pm in the summer, and from 9am to 4pm in the winter. Obviously the park’s normal open hours won’t enable you to take any photos during the “golden hours” of light within one hour of sunrise and sunset. However, there’s a large hill directly east of the town, so you won’t get direct light from the sun striking the town until at least 90 minutes after scheduled sunrise anyway. There’s also a set of slightly smaller hills to the west, so any soft golden light you experience in town is more likely to come from the sun peeking through afternoon thunderclouds than it is to be coming from the glow of sunrise or sunset.

Two opportunities to visit Bodie outside of normal operating hours include a walking tour that runs from 5 to 7pm on summer weekends (currently $15), and “Photographers Days” allowing extended access hours from 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset. Photographers Days are currently offered by the Bodie Historic Society on the 3rd Saturday of the month from May to October, in exchange for a donation to the society (currently $30). Since Bodie is at an elevation of over 8000 feet, it is likely to be very cold in the morning (temperatures and/or wind chill below freezing) in October, possibly May and September as well.