Railroad to Bodie
September 16 - 18, 2005
Led and reported by Gary "Cranky" Thomas
I pre-ran this trip a day before I met up with the group and while that has some advantages I don't think I will do that again. Met John and Nancy Hoopes at the Von's parking lot in Bishop at 9:00, bought some things we needed for the trip then headed out to Laws Railroad Museum. That is quite a place with a lot to see. They have rebuilt the old Death Valley rail car and have plans to start putting the rail bed in shape so they can run it in to Bishop. Take the time go by see it and all the other things they have. Left the museum and headed up the hill to obsidian dome where you can see a mountain of glass mixed in with pumice, ash and lava. Some of these blocks are the size of a car and the dome covers about a mile. We then went back to 395, turned north and went to Pumice Road where we turned right to the punch bowl. This area had four big blowouts in the past and looks like volcanos but is level with the ground. They are 300 to 1,000 yards across and took place over a long time. We stopped at the corner of 395 and 120 to look at the grave of the unknown prospector and some of the things people have left.
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There were some empty beer cans there that we thought were out of place, but they could have been full when they were left, and the ghost of the old prospector gets up when no one is around and has one.
The next stop was at Mono Mills where we made camp for the night. There's not much left at the mills, but there is a plaque that gives some of the history. We made camp and had happy hour, then Nancy cooked up spaghetti while I got out the portable campfire to ward off the wind and cold. Because of the wind and cold we hit the sack early. John & Nancy felt because I was the leader I would stand the bear watch. I did a fine job and allowed no bears to bother their sleep or food.
When we rolled out of the bags the next morning it was34 degrees so the coffee was the 2nd. thing I put on. Nance made hot oatmeal that hit the spot, and as we were cleaning up, George Gilster drove up and joined the group. We talked about the route we would follow, and I talked about the railroad bed I found the day before that we would see. We left about 8:30 a.m. half and hour later than Neal would, but he wasn't on this trip so I was able to get away with it.
Our first stop is about 250 yards from the old mills where the turntable was. There is a pivot pin, and if you dig down a few inches. you will find the rollers. If you don't know were to look, you will drive by it. Just past the turntable the railroad turns east, but we went straight on the road to the mystery railroad bed. Roger Mitchell in his book said this was not a railroad bed, and I don't think I convinced anybody in our group that it was. John said it was a wagon road built by old friend Taylor Jackson in 1869, and George said I have spent too much time in the desert with Neal. We crossed Dry wash and went up to were the first of three trestles were. There is no sign of the old bridge, but the roadbed can still be seen. Nancy took pictures as we walked across the wash looking for any sign of the old bridge, but there nothing to see.
I'm sure if you had a metal detector, old spikes and bolts could be found.
We backtracked 2 miles to the road along the lake and headed north to Warm Springs where the three engines were unloaded from the steamboat in 1882 and put on the rails. There is no sign of the station at Warm Springs, but you can see where the spur that was to go to Benton crosses the road. It helps if you know that the lake is 40 feet lower today than in 1882, and it is easer to see that a dock not too far from the railroad was possible.
John & Nancy stopped in Lee Vining for me and found the information on the old lake levels. Here is a great place to look to the northeast and see the old lake levels and see how big the old lake was. From here on you are close to the rail bed till you get to 167.
We stopped a few miles up the road and had lunch. I was eating a sandwich when Nancy came up with one of hers for me, but as I was full, John, who never saw a sandwich he didn't like, helped me out and the varmints missed a mighty fine meal. We drove on to the highway and turned east for about 5 miles to the first road back to the railroad. We found the road we were looking for and turned north to find the old roadbed.
George had spent a lot of time and had some great maps of the area showing the old railroad and roads. He found a road that lead to the railroad and had campsites on it so we decided to camp here for the night. George and I walked up to the railbed and found old ties and iron parts from the cars.
Back in camp Nancy made chicken and rice and I cooked up some hamburgers we followed up with Nancy's brownies. I got out the portable campfire, and we sat around the fire a little longer tonight before we turned in.
The next morning was not as cold a day before so it was easier to get up and start the coffee. It seemed that every evening the wind would come up, but in the morning it would quit, and the days were perfect. I made buckwheat pancakes, sausage and eggs for breakfast, and were they good. After a few more cups of coffee we loaded up and followed George on a road he found.
John had a new truck, and after a few hundred yards the road was so over grown with brush that and I turned around, and told George to go ahead and watch him from the lower road. We stayed in contact with the CB and watched him follow the old railbed to the second bridge where he had to turn around and come back to where we were waiting at the third bridge. From the way he described the canyon it would sure be worth the time to go to it. From here the road gets rocky, rough and it is nice to have a high clearance 4-wheel drive. We drove past the first switchback and stopped at the second one where you can see the only big cut in the length of the railroad From here we left the old railroad for a short cut to the main road to Bodie.
We stopped at the old mill outside of Bodie took a few pictures, said good bye and headed for the truck for home. For me this was a great trip as I think one of the best ways to explore the old west is to follow the old railroads and see the work that it took to build them.