The Sierra Nevada Mountains reclined before us in a south-to-north line of jagged, snow-dipped majestic peaks. This great mountain range, home to several wilderness areas and national forests, provides a spectacular mountain playground for trail riders.
Our exploration would take place between the towns of Bodie, California, to the south and Markleeville, California, to the north. We had our trusty mounts, Buddy and Scout, both Missouri Fox Trotter geldings. In addition, we had time, maps, and great weather. Adventure was in the air!
A Grand Ghost Town
By the 1850s and 1860s, a number of boomtowns had developed in the eastern Sierras. The grandest of them all was Bodie. Today, Bodie is preserved as a state historic park and is probably one of the best ghost towns in America. It's well worth seeing. In addition, you can ride your horse through town! This was something Buddy and Scout were chomping at the bit to do.
Bodie is located seven miles south of Bridgeport, California, and 13 miles east of Highway 395. The town sprung up after a gold strike in 1859. By 1879, Bodie boasted a population of around 10,000 and had roughly 2,000 buildings. More than 60 saloons and dance halls lined the streets, providing entertainment for miners after a hard day's work.
Bodie was known as one of the most lawless, wildest, and toughest mining camps in the West. Killings occurred with monotonous regularity and were almost daily events. In 1881, Reverend F. M. Warrington described Bodie as a "sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion."
As a state historic park, Bodie is preserved in a state of "arrested decay." A good place to start your exploration is at the museum and visitor center. Here, you can get maps of the town, see historic displays, and purchase tickets for the Standard Mining Company Mill tour.
After scouting out the town, we saddled up Buddy and Scout. Riding into town, up dusty streets, and past long silent buildings gave us a feeling for what it was like to be back in the 1870s. Outhouses lean at crazy angles, slanted steps lead to houses with tilted doors hanging by rusty hinges, and weathered wagon bones lie scattered in the sagebrush.
On the way out of town, we paused to study the door of a lonely bank vault. The bank had been robbed in 1916; the thieves escaped with $4,000. In 1932, the bank burned, leaving only the door and portions of the vault.
An Enchanting Canyon
Buckeye Canyon is an enchanting place to ride that captures the essence and feeling of the Sierras. To find the trailhead, take U.S. Forest Service Road 017, located about 3.5 miles west of Bridgeport on Highway 395. Follow this road for approximately six or seven miles to the trailhead.
Although space is limited, we had no trouble finding a parking spot. At the trailhead, there's a private corral available for the public to rent. To rent the corral, call the Hunewill Ranch (760/932-7710).
The trail up Buckeye Canyon is fairly level. It follows a glacially scoured valley with verdant meadows and trees, and is surrounded by snowcapped peaks.
The first couple of miles follow an old logging road that's intermittently squeezed between lodge pole pines and then set free in undulating meadows. Be sure to ride at least to Big Meadow, about five miles up the trail.
Big Meadow is a charming two-mile long grassland surrounded by lofty peaks. This meadow wasn't always so peaceful. Around 1879, the meadow resounded with sounds of axes and the whirring of a sawmill blade. The sawmill provided lumber for the growing town of Bodie, located nearly 30 miles away. Ox carts pulled by 16 oxen laboriously transported lumber to Bodie.