Since winter was so reluctant to get started, Mihai and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and planned to hike Mt Rixford out of Onion Valley. Some last minute work delayed my departure, though and Mihai graciously offered to instead hike some points closer to home. He suggested Bodie Mountain and Potato Peak, two fairly unimpressive peaks despite the latter having nearly 3,000 feet of prominence and I was instantly interested as I had yet to explore the nearby ghost town of Bodie.
We met on US 395 at the turn for Bodie and carpooled up CA 270. The gravel road was very worn and badly washboarded in places but high clearance wasn’t necessary and a two wheel drive vehicle should easily be able to make the trip. We arrived shortly before 9 and waited for a few minutes at the gate for the park ranger to open up shop. I was a bit surprised how expensive entrance was, though I didn’t mind as I wanted to see the park anyway. If you were only interested in hiking the peaks, it should be possible to park outside the park for free.
We parked, availed ourselves of the restrooms, and promptly began hiking up the dirt road. The first two miles could easily be cut short by some driving (all wheel drive probably necessary) but the weather was beautiful and the hiking pleasant enough!
We turned left along another dirt road at an intersection and passed through a small aspen grove. I was amazed that they would grow on that high desert plateau and once again dismayed that I missed their turning! There was an astounding amount of trash along the road which we stashed in a pile to collect on the return.
The smoke hung very thick over Mono Lake below us and I was glad to be high above it! The trail hit an old barbed wire fence and made a sharp right uphill along the fence. It would be very difficult to get a car up this section of the road, even with four wheel drive and good clearance. There was evidence that someone had recently tried, although it’s possible they were on an ATV.
The road continued along the fence towards the west of Bodie Mountain so we set off the road through the sage and mixed talus towards the summit. From the top of Bodie Mountain we could see all the way back to the ghost town. Mihai and I struggled to identify Sierra peaks through the haze, but some were very familiar including Dunderberg Peak which I’d climbed earlier that week. Dana Couloir and Y Couloir which I’d skied on Memorial Day weekend were still visible on the faces of Mts Dana and Conness, respectively.
We made our way back down to the dirt road and followed it gently north towards Potato Peak. There was a small old structure built into the hillside near the summit which seemed long abandoned.
The view from Potato Peak was very similar to Mt Bodie except that we could now see north to Bridgeport and the Sweetwaters. 60 miles to the south past Bodie Mountain the White Mountains rose high above the haze.
After some lunch, we headed back down the peak and towards Bodie. The ghost town cast a striking image, surrounded by tailing piles and framed by the Whites.
Many Red Tailed Hawks circled high above us as we descended the final mile toward Bodie. I spent a few minutes trying to snap a decent photo of them, but anyone who’s ever shot with a 300mm lens knows how difficult it can be to simply find the subject without a tripod. Given that they were circling the task was even more difficult. Mihai’s occasional shout “Oh, look! Over there!” didn’t much help either!
We arrived back at the car and stashed our bags, surprised that the lot appeared to be full to capacity so late in the season. We headed into town, I hoping to learn a bit about the town and take some fun photographs and Mihai hoping to get a stamp for his Parks Stamp Passport.
The town provides some fascinating insight into the boomtowns of the California gold rush. It’s mind boggling to see how quickly the town sprung up in this unforgiving environment high in the desert and so distantly removed from anywhere else.
I happened to look up the hill in time to see the gibbous moon rising over the town in the east and spent a while frantically running around the town trying to find a good spot to capture it with my telephoto lens.
In the meantime I kept an eye on Mihai who didn’t seem to have much effort finding an official building which would give out stamps.
I met up with him and found that he’d talked with a ranger who pointed him to the Forest Service office at Mono Lake. Unfortunately the office was closed for the season so he’d have to return next year to get his stamp.
We wandered the streets a while longer, admiring the ruins. This place is a photographer’s dream!
Near the parking lot we stumbled upon the wreckage of some massive steam engines whose flywheels were made of a single piece of cast iron more than 10 feet in diameter and must have weighed several tons! It speaks to the power of money that such incredible effort could be made to get these machines out here into the middle of nowhere!
After gawking at the machinery for a while, we decided we’d explored enough of the town and headed into the sunset toward US 395.
Elevation Gain: 2,400 ft