Mono Basin and Bodie Hills History Trip
By: Bob Jacoby
Twelve of us gathered together at the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center on Friday morning, September 20 in anticipation of a great three days of exploring the Mono Basin, the nearby Bodie Hills and the Sweetwater Mountains. The gung ho group included myself, Coop and his fabulous dog, Toby, Bob Rodemeyer (“Sir Bob”), Richard Brazier, Larry Boerio in his new truck, Mal Roode, Glen Shaw, Ron Lapari, Mike Vollmert, Ted and Joan Berger and Bill Powell who came all the way from Oregon.
After taking care of the usual organization issues, we initiated our car caravan north on Highway 395 toward Bridgeport with the eventual goal being exploration of the Sweetwater Mountains. We were a little concerned as there was considerable smoke in the area from nearby forest fires, but as we got closer to Bridgeport this became less and less of a problem. Just outside of Bridgeport we took a right turn on California State Route 182 and soon crossed the Nevada State Line. We then turned off onto the dirt Silverado Canyon Road and enjoyed a beautiful trip bordering a private ranch and into a scenic pinion pine forest. After traveling about four miles on this road we arrived at the site of a huge ore mill that was fed largely by the nearby Kentuck Mine. The ruins of the mill, which operated in the 1880s, were very interesting as we stopped there for a midmorning break.
After perusing the mill and the Kentuck mine we headed back down Silverado Canyon and turned south near the ranch on what started out as a most pleasant road. We were once again in a pinon pine forest as the road began to deteriorate. Before long four wheel drive became mandatory for many. Finally, at an elevation of around 8,500 feet, we came to a beautiful meadow with some tailings on a nearby slope. A review of our trusty maps indicated that this was the site of Star City. Star City was essentially a tent camp that folded in the early 1880s. Other than the tailings, there wasn’t much evidence that the “town” ever existed.
Out of Star City, the fun really began as we started our incredible journey up to Boulder Flat. This required about two miles of spectacular four wheeling to an elevation of 10,200 feet. Boulder Flat dates back to the 1880s and there are still two log cabins at the site. It was not totally clear when these cabins were built. In any event, Boulder Flats was an amazing lunch spot.
After lunch we started to head back down the steep, rock strewn trail toward Star City. Unfortunately, Larry Boerio suffered a flat tire as a rock cut the sidewall of the left rear tire. This ordinarily would not be a huge problem as it simply requires a tire change. Unfortunately, this mishap occurred on the steepest part of the road, making it essentially impossible to jack up the vehicle. Within the group we had just about every type of jack you can think of, but nothing would work given the steep hill we were on. Finally, the decision was made to drive the car on the rim downhill to first semi level spot. Although a little bit dangerous that proved to be the correct solution as Larry was able to get to a spot where the tire could be changed. After this crisis was resolved we all headed down the mountain and eventually back to Lee Vining.
We designated Saturday as Bodie Day. We met at the usual Lee Vining location in the morning and headed north on 395 just a few miles to the northern end of Mono Lake, near the start of the Conway grade. Here we accessed the old Lundy/Bodie Wagon Road. This historical road was a lot of fun as we cruised through the Bodie Hills on our way to the superb ghost town of Bodie. The town is now a California State Historic Park that was established in 1962 to slow, halt and ultimately reverse the decay and neglect that the ghost town had suffered for nearly 100 years. The highlight of our three hours or so in Bodie was a ranger led tour of the stamp mill. We were fortunate to get access to this huge stamp mill as it usually is not available for visitors to tour.
After Bodie we headed back to Highway 395 and made our trek to Dogtown. This trip required a fun water crossing of Virginia Creek. Dogtown has notoriety as the first mining camp in the eastern Sierra and may go back to as early as 1853. There is not much left there today except the ruins of some stone buildings and a grave. Nevertheless, it was a fun and scenic spot to visit as we completed Day 2.
Day 3, which included a trip to the town site of Masonic proved to be perhaps everybody’s favorite part of the trip. To get to this outstanding place, we took a rather unorthodox route. We followed Aurora Canyon east out of Bridgeport for about four miles where we turned north on an incredibly beautiful two track road heading into Rock Springs Canyon. As we ascended the canyon several of us decided this was one of the most beautiful and interesting roads we had ever been on. We finally intersected graded Forest Road 46 which led us down the canyon into Upper and Lower Masonic. Lower Masonic was particularly impressive as it was the site of a large stamp mill as well as a half mile aerial tramway connecting the mill with the mines. This apparently was constructed around 1907.
After taking in the wonders of Masonic and having lunch in this beautiful canyon we headed back toward Bridgeport on Forest Road 46. On the way we stopped at the interesting Chemung Mine site. This mine at 8,300 feet was one of the last operating mines in the area and was apparently functional into the 1940s. We finally arrived back in Bridgeport around 1:30 on Sunday afternoon and, after saying goodbyes, headed for home after spending a very fun, interesting and educational three days.