Also known as Great California Road Trips: U.S. 395, Part 2
Listening to my roadtrip playlist on Spotify while driving up U.S. 395, I have to imagine that at least one verse in John Cragie’s I Am California, specifically where the song goes,
‘Yeah dig all my gold, soak in my springs, conquer my mountains if that’s what you need
I am California can’t you see, wherever you roam, you’ll always want me.’
was written with Bridgeport in mind. After all, this is a place where there is a history of all three.
Located in the heart of the Eastern Sierras along U.S. 395 in Mono County, Bridgeport is an adventurer’s paradise. The town itself is tiny, with a population of about 500 and most of the town being along 395, however Bridgeport is a gateway to many Sierra adventures. In addition, there are many points of interest in and around the city. There is truly something for everyone in Bridgeport, California.
Gold Rush History: Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Historic Park preserves what was the gold mining town of Bodie. William Bodey discovered gold east of the Sierras in the Bodie Hills back in 1857. In 1877, the mine was purchased by Standard Company, which resulted in the development of a boom town. At one point, there was an estimated population of nearly 10000 people in a town that was known for its lawlessness. While visiting the museum, I found license plate frames for purchase embossed with the quote, “Goodbye God. We are going to Bodie.” It is reported that a little girl whose family was moving to Bodie had prayed that prayer in anticipation of the ‘sea of sin’ that she and her family might encounter in the bustling boom town. There were legitimate businesses in addition to the saloons and gambling halls that operated in Bodie. There was a school and several churches in the town.
That boom was not to last however. In the early 1880s, other discoveries of gold drew prospective miners away from Bodie in search of bigger fortunes. That said, even with the downward trend, successful mining still drew profits for Standard Company for the next 20 years or so. Nevertheless, the population saw a steep decline; the last newspaper was printed in 1912, and mines slowly closed over the next three decades. While Bodie was reportedly called a ghost town as early as 1915, the final death knell for the town was the closure of the final mine at the start of World War II. At that point, the population was in the single digits. The post office stopped operation in 1942, and Bodie was then left to legends and the ravages of time- and harsh Sierra winters.
In 1961, Bodie became a National Historic Landmark and in the following year, the creation of the Bodie State Historic Park protected the remaining 200 or so structures. Today the buildings are in a state of ‘arrested decay’ which means that buildings are maintained only to the extent needed so that they don’t collapse. Interiors have been left as they had been and are subject to the slow deterioration of time. It is strange looking into the buildings. Some, such as the old schoolhouse look to be in pretty good condition. Other buildings have been pretty well decimated. Though the California State Parks say that Bodie is visited by the ‘howling winds and the occasional ghost,’ it is still a really cool place to visit and learn about California Gold Rush history.
To get to Bodie, head east on CA-270 from U.S. 395. California 270 ends about 3 miles from the entrance of the state park. The remainder of the drive into the park is unpaved road. While it is hard pack and gravelly, the road is rough and does require reduced speeds. It may also close on account of bad weather. When in doubt, be sure to check the state parks website or call ahead. The taking of items from the park is strictly prohibited as Bodie is a protected place. It is also rumored that the ghosts of Bodie past will haunt those who take items from the park until the item is returned. While I’m not all that superstitious, I prefer not to risk a haunting- or a hefty fine.
Travertine Hot Springs:
Thanks to the geothermal activity of the Eastern Sierras, there are many hot springs in Mono County. While some of these springs have restricted access due to their location on private property or because they are unsafe, there are plenty of natural pools that are free to soak in with expansive views of the Sierras rising above. One such place is Travertine Hot Springs just east of U.S. 395.
Travertine Hot Springs is named for the travertine limestone that makes up the tufas in the hot springs area. Travertine is a type of sedimentary rock that develops around mineral springs, particularly hot springs, as calcium carbonate and other minerals are deposited. As water evaporates, the mineral deposits are left forming the travertine structures. Some of these structures form pools into which the spring water flows.
These hot springs are on Bureau of Land Management land. To get to the springs, head east on Jack Sawyer Road from U.S. 395. The paved road quickly ends; follow the sign to Travertine and head up the unpaved dirt road. While the road was bumpy, it was hard pack and for the most part wide enough to allow for the passage of two vehicles. There is a small parking area which has a vault toilet and picnic tables. There is also the first hot spring, pictured above, which is ADA accessible from the parking area.
Currently the area is drier than in years past, likely thanks to California’s ongoing drought. That said, there is another set of pools surrounding a travertine tufa a short walk from the parking area. The pools are small, but there are four, so you do have a choice as to which one you’d like to soak in, and each has a slight variance in temperature. The scenery is beautiful regardless of the pool you pick. I soaked in the pool nearest the parking area, and that pool had a temperature of about 115 degrees Fahrenheit on the day that I went.
There are a few things to note. Despite what some websites say, camping is not allowed in the area near the hot springs. That said, there are plenty of Forest Service campgrounds in the vicinity as well as hotel and RV lodging in nearby Bridgeport. On this visit, the area looked pretty clean, and the area was not particularly busy though there were several other folks enjoying the pools. Everyone was pretty respectful of the space, however this is not always the case. In years past, the area had been closed at points to allow for habitat restoration. Be sure to follow leave no trace principles so that the springs may be enjoyed by others.
The other thing to note, especially when traveling with kids, is that clothing is optional for many. I checked out the setting before letting Sami out of the car. The pool nearest the lot was empty, and even the pools further down the trail were pretty open. There was a group of four soaking, bathing suits on. They were hanging out with their dogs (who stayed outside the pools, as is good practice) and their beers and were very nice. However, as they were getting ready to leave, an older couple arrived for a soak, and after picking their pool, clothing quickly came off. No shame, I admire their confidence; however that was my cue to leave. I ended up sticking with the pool nearest the lot, which is the safest bet if nudity is an issue.
There are many other hot springs in the general area. Buckeye in Toiyabe National Forest is less traversed as it involves a steep hike, however there is a walkup campground near to it.
I enjoyed my short dip in the springs. The hot mineral water felt good on my back, especially after a long day of driving from the Los Angeles area. It was a great start to a week-long trip in the Sierras.
Strange Trails: The Many Hikes Around Bridgeport
There are many opportunities for hiking and backpacking around Bridgeport. Being in the heart of the Sierra Nevada range, naturally there are many opportunities for recreation across many activity levels.
We started the trip at Honeymoon Flat in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near Twin Lakes and Robinson Creek. Arriving late, we camped with just our sleeping bags and a tarp, under a dark sky full of stars. To make the scene even more amazing, we were able to view the Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower. Sami was amazed at the number of ‘shooting stars’ and being from LA, questioned whether the bright streaks across the night sky were really meteors or aircraft. It wasn’t until the Scoutmaster mentioned viewing the meteor shower that Sami believed that what she saw was indeed part of a natural phenomenon.
We dropped the boys off about six miles south, at Virginia Lakes. We stuck around for a bit and explored the area around the lake. There is a hiking trail, from where the boys started their backpacking trip. The lakes are popular with anglers; we saw several groups of people fishing across from where we were on the lake. Swimming is not allowed, nor are motor powered boats to maintain the quality of the water. Kayaking and fishing are permitted. I talked to one fisherman who was out with his grandson; he said that the trout was great.
I took advantage of a few easy hikes on the backside of the Bodie Wilderness. There were some easy trails that offered up a chance to be outside and take short walks while Sami slept in. There are too many trails for me to mention in one blog post. I recommend searching AllTrails or Hiking Project for some ideas, and narrow down by level of difficulty and the amount of time you have for a hike. There are many happy trails in the Bridgeport area, with opportunities to ‘conquer mountains if that’s what you need.’ Just pick a happy trail and go.
I really enjoyed our three days in Bridgeport. Though the town itself is quiet, there are many opportunities for fun and adventure, education and relaxation. And for a special treat, I recommend checking out Growlers Eatery in town. The menu is small, but they have a great selection of loaded tater tots, and if you get there early enough, some killer BBQ according to many. Their local beer on tap is pretty great too.
California State Parks, S. of C. (2022). Bodie SHP. CA State Parks. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509
Bodie: Gold mine and ghost town: Museum and Tours. Mono County. (n.d.). Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/bodie/
Legends of America. (2022). Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-bodie/
Cragie, J. I Am California. 2017