I've been to a few ghost towns around the country. I even lived in one for a few years. Years I spent running around old buildings searching for the old Chinese tunnels that were rumored to run beneath the town. I never found them. I did find a couple of new worlds though. I'm speaking of Bannack State Park in the extreme southwest corner of Montana.
I took my first photography class there at 12 years old. That one-evening course gave me an amazing foundation to click the shutter button thousands of times since and see what happens to come out.
|one of the 50+ saloons that used to be in Bodie|
I also wandered the deserted streets and sagebrush covered trails of Bannack and imagined what it looked like 150 years ago. What life was like...anything the like movies portrayed it? My 12 year old mind came up with many different ideas.
In the modern time at Bannack I took thousand of photos and explored every inch of every building. I found where the frogs and snakes lived. I watched the deer and coyotes. There was a family of foxes up by the mill one season. I rode my bike up there almost every day and sat along side the road and watched them watch me. I saw a fox in a field near June Lake, CA today and that memory flooded back.
All except for a few buildings in Bannack were completely open to the public. I had resources to get into the ones that were closed off so I had everything for myself.
None of these photos are from Bannack. Every image you see here is from Bodie State Park in the arid foothills of the Sierra Nevada. I had never heard of Bodie until a few weeks ago. Apparently every tourist in the area knows about it because the place is packed with people.
Bodie is very different from Bannack. In Bodie all the buildings are closed to the public. The town was pretty much deserted in the early 1940s. Everyone literally dropped everything and left--as you can see in some of these photos. All the doors are nailed or welded shut. Bannack wasn't as closed off when everyone left. Most of the items in the town have since disappeared.
This leads to a very different visitor experience. During my visit to Bodie I felt very disconnected to the town. It started with having to wait at a national park-style entrance station and then there was a law enforcement officer in the parking lot just waiting for someone to "do something wrong."
While walking through the town I had a great feeling of disconnect with everything. The closest I could get to the past was staring through a wavy windowpane.
While walking through Bannack you can feel like you're a part of the history because you're making it. You're a part of it because you can be inside the buildings; imagining the people and the furnishings and the day to day life. The town is yours because you only have the framework--the rest of it is all in your mind. What you imagine is as real as anything that ever really happened there.
Bodie is like looking at a 3D TV screen. Everything is there--nothing to imagine except for the people that once lived in that space. I felt so closed off from everything. Only observing and not experiencing.
The photos of the insides of the buildings were all taken through the windows. I drove up to Bodie after an early morning visit to Mono Lake. I decided to post this first because I had a little more writing on this and have yet to go through the hundreds of photos from that sunrise at Mono Lake. It'll be coming soon!