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bineba Lee Vining - A travel report by Sabine
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Lee Vining,  United States - flag United States -  California
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bineba's travel reports

Bodie & Mono Lake - Ghostly and Bizarre

  14 votes
Page: 1 2
Two of my favourite places in California are Bodie, a genuine ghost town and Mono Lake with its bizarre tufa formations. Both are well worth a detour, but I would really recommend to spend a few days in the area.

Mono Lake with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background
Mono Lake with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background
Lee Vining is a small town on Highway 395 in California's Sierra Nevada quite close to the border with Nevada. You can reach Lee Vining by several different routes from both North and South California, but by far the most spectacular is driving through Yosemite National Park and over the Tioga Pass (about 3200 m above sea level) and then down towards the wonderful Mono Lake. Tioga Pass is usually closed from around October to May due to snow. (The first time we took the trip in October 1993 it was touch and go and the pass was closed in the morning but reopened around lunchtime.) Lee Vining itself has not that much to offer, but there are motels, restaurants and petrol stations for travellers from or on their way to Lake Tahoe or Reno.

Favourite spots:
Bizarre tufa formations in Mono Lake
Bizarre tufa formations in Mono Lake
I had seen photos of Mono Lake in the German magazine GEO and I knew straightaway that it was one place I just had to see for myself. And it was as stunningly beautiful and bizarre as I imagined it to be, maybe more, as you are more aware of the scale of everything when you are actually standing at its shore. The best place to see the tufa formation is from the South Tufa Grove, which is off hwy 120. The entrance fee, which goes towards the protection of the lake, is $3.

What's really great:
Mono Lake
Mono Lake
The history of the lake is particularily fascinating. The strange tufa (limestone) formations you see in the lake and at its shores were formed underwater when underwater springs rich in calcium mixed with lake water rich in carbonates. In 1941 the LA Dept. of Water & Power began redirecting the rivers that fed the lake to have more water for Los Angeles and Mono Lake now has no fresh water feed. Water levels sank drastically that is the reason you can now see the tufa, but it also had another effect: the lake is now 2-3 times more salty than the ocean and so alkaline (pH 10) that the water also tastes bitter and feels slippery like soapy water. There are no fish in the lake but an estimated 4-6 trillion brine shrimp and together with millions of Alkali flies they make a tasty snack for over 100 species of migrating birds.
To learn more about this unique lake visit

Bodie these days is a State Historic Park, a genuine ghost town kept in 'arrested decay', but onc upon a timee it used to be one of the biggest towns during the gold rush. After W.S. Bodey found gold in 1859 it soon had more than 10,000 inhabitants and became famous for being a lawless and decadent place with more than 65 saloons and a man being killed every day. It all came to an end when the gold ran out and two fires devastated the town. The harsh winters with several meters of snow and avalanches didn't help either.
You reach Bodie from hwy 395 by turning into hwy 270 which is paved for about 16 km and then a further 5 km on a dirt road. The park opens daily at 8.00h, which is for me the best time to go, as it is really empty. There is a small entrance fee. Please note: there are no shops, motels, cafes or restaurants in Bodie. Just a few ghosts and the park ranger.

Truck and houses in Bodie
Truck and houses in Bodie
The first time we visited the area we stayed in Lee Vining, but I don't think the motel is still there. There are however several places, your best bet is to visit
Last time we drove a little bit further to Bridgeport as this was a bit closer to Bodie. There we stayed in the Silver Maple Inn, a pleasant motel, on Main Street right next to the historic Mono Count Courthouse (the second oldest in California). Rates were reasonable, rooms small but comfortable.
More accommodation can be found on

Other recommendations:
One of the saloons and the school house
One of the saloons and the school house
The great thing about Bodie is that there are still over 200 buildings of the thousands that used to be here, standing and some of them you can even walk into and look at the furniture and other things that have been left behind. These are not musums pieces but torn, broken, covered in dust, but fascinating nevertheless. There is the Methodist church and the school house, saloons and shops, ordinary houses and hotels. The Standard mine mill, which once processed over $14 million of gold and silver in 25 years, is considered to be to dangerous to inspect on your own, but you can take a guided tour. There is also a cemetery with over 80 grave stones.
There is a great web site:

Published on Sunday August 22th, 2004

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Wed, Sep 29 2004 - 08:01 PM rating by picasso

Wonderful report about Mono Lake;-I went there myself about 3 years ago, and I know what you mean-the lake and its Tufa formations with surrounding mountains are awesome, fantastic, and this flies trillions of them by the shoreline….Have you tried to get in to the lake itself,I’m not and regret about it.!(Should not listen to my wife!)

Very well done:*****
Best Regards

Mon, Aug 30 2004 - 11:19 AM rating by nedkelly

Man , I wish Id gone inland a bit more when I lived in San Diego I think I missed out on a whole boat load of cool stuff. Again another well written and detailed report.

Mon, Aug 23 2004 - 06:40 AM rating by bear495

Very nicdely written. Keep up the excellent writing!


Sun, Aug 22 2004 - 08:40 PM rating by ravinderkumarsi

hii sabine,
i read ur report and it is excellent to read.

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