Bodie State Park, California

Bodie is perhaps the best preserved ghost town in the United States. It is located northeast of Yosemite off Highway 270 which is the best way to access it. Bodie has no services such as gasoline, food, or camping so be sure to gas up before you visit it. Bodie receives about 200,000 visitors per year, almost all between April and the end of October. Admission to Bodie as of 2018 is $8 per person for ages 17 and up. Bodies is open from 9 AM to 6 PM in the summer and 9 AM to 4 PM in the winter months (November 1 to March 17). A good source for current conditions is the Bodie Foundation, which also manages the "Bodie Photographer Days" (see below).

Photographing Bodie

As is usually the case to get the best light you need to be at your site before sunrise and after sunset. Bodie's limited hours of operation make this normally impossible. Fortunately on the third Saturday of each month from April to October there is a "Bodie Photographers' Day" when you can enter Bodie 30 minutes before Sunrise and leave 30 minutes after Sunset. The cost is $50 per person, well worth it if only to enjoy the smaller number of people present in the early morning or later in the day. At 8,300 feet Bodie is in the high desert and only receives about 13 inches of rain during the year, so you can usually count on good weather. If you go in April it is likely there will still be some snow on the ground, and a lot of mud. By mid October it is also likely Bodie will have seen some snow and some of it may remain. In 2004 I was there in early November and there was enough snow on the ground to make foot access to all of the buildings difficult.

I find that close ups of objects like machinery, wagon wheels, and interiors make for the best photos at Bodie. The grand landscape shots do not work well for me due to the clutter present throughout the town. Most of the buildings at Bodie are closed off to the public so you'll need to shoot interiors either through a wide mesh screen or through glass. The Methodist church is the first building on the right that you see when you enter town from the parking lot. It is easy to photograph though a tripod will be needed as will a fish eye, ultra wide, or pano head to get the whole interior.

After visiting the church the next house you come to has the best preserved interior of the open buildings - the Tom Miller House. Both the kitchen on the left and the bedroom on the right make very good subjects - again a tripod and a wide angle are needed. An off-center tripod like the Gitzo explorer series makes it possible to position your camera very precisely. With this tripod you can easily position your camera right up against a glass window or through the mesh screen that blocks off the Miller house kitchen. The Miller house is very good late in the afternoon in October when just the kitchen table is lit. This image shot late in the day by JC Ritchie is magnificent. I took pictures of the Miller kitchen in both 2004 and 2009. During the intervening five years it appears no one has entered this room, the door is open the same amount, and about an inch of "new" dust covers everything. Note that the Miller house is not always open, if not you should find a ranger and ask them to open it.

Some tips for photographing Bodie - first, if you are shooting objects like old cars or wagon wheels you will need a lot of depth of field. I recommend taking multiple shots and using Focus stacking software like Helicon Focus, Photoshop, or, my favorite, Photoacute. Second - think Black and White. Finally - if you are shooting through a window

1. Get the camera as close to the window as possible to limit reflections.

2. Manually focus (otherwise the camera may focus on the glass).

3. If you are using a flash get if off center so that the flash does not appear in the window.

Directions from Lee Vining

The best route is to take Highway 395 North about 18.5 miles to CA 270 E/Bodie Road. Turn right and take CA 270 12.5 miles to the bypass road. Turn left and go .4 miles to the parking area.

You can also enter from the South via CA-167 E / Pole Line Road. To do this take Highway 395 N from Lee Vining 6.9 miles to CA-167. Turn right and travel 7 miles to Cottonwood Canyon Road. Turn left onto Cottonwood Canyon Road. At 1.7 miles turn right to stay on Cottonwood Canyon Road. Continue 9.2 miles to CA-270 and turn right, Bodie is there.

Map of Bodie

Bodie Map

The map can be downloaded by right clicking on the image above and choosing Save Image As.


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