Evening Stage

Evening Stage | Beebower Productions

The 1939 movie “Stagecoach” gave Dad the idea for this Old West photo.  He envisioned a silhouetted stagecoach with the mountains in the background.  It sounds simple, but it required an enormous amount of planning.

Dad relied on his friend Red Wolverton for the stagecoach and horses.  Red is well known in the photo and movie industry.  He, his family, his horses and stagecoach all appeared in the 1993 movie “Tombstone”, among many other Westerns.  With the utmost confidence Dad chose Red to supply and drive the stagecoach for this shot.

Red brought the coach and team to Mendoza Canyon, Arizona early in the morning the day of the photo shoot.  Not too long after arriving, the sky opened up and a gully washer let loose above the canyon.  Water filled he sandy wash, normally bone dry, and it rose so high Red couldn’t navigate the stagecoach across it to the photo shoot location.  Everyone cooled their heels for an hour or two waiting for things to settle down.  Red even did a little cowboy cooking while he waited.

Once conditions improved, the whole crew crossed the wash and got ready for the photo. Dad chose the location for the mountains in the background, not because it was a well-used road.  So Red set up practice runs with the horses to get them used to the newly created path they were going to travel.

Right before the shoot started, Dad and his assistant tied cheesecloth bags loaded with Fuller’s Earth to the wheels of the stagecoach.  Prop masters and special effects folks frequently use Fuller’s Earth in the movies because of its nice tan color.   It sure looks like natural dirt. 

For our shoot, each time the wheel made a turn, it would hit the bags of dirt and release dust.  In addition to the wheel bags, Dad spread Fuller’s over the path the horses would travel.  The flying dust reflected the sunlight, helping to make light beams visible for the naked eye.

After a long, sometimes frustrating day, everything finally came together for the shoot. The sun moved lower in the sky.  Dad got his cameras ready for stagecoach action.  He used two Nikon FTN camera rigs for this session.  One camera sported a 50mm lens and the other used a 85mm lens.  Dad ensconced both cameras in plastic bags to protect them from the dust.

In the end, Dad only had three passes of the stagecoach to get the action and the light just right. The final image pleased him, though.  He successfully took the photo he envisioned and turned it into a real Old West photo.

He was so happy with the shoot, he didn’t mind when back at Red’s ranch his assistant hosed a thick brown layer of grime off his clothes with a garden hose.  Even then, the clothes didn’t look so great, but he didn’t really care.  He had more Old West photos to create.

If you enjoyed reading about the Evening Stage, check out these images from our Old West gallery.

Horses and Chuckwagon | Beebower Productions

Heading Home | Beebower Productions

Buckboard Cowboy | Beebower Productions

The E-Kit To The Rescue

E-Kit | Beebower Productions

For as long as I can remember it held a place of honor in the van.  It overflowed with tools, gadgets and a lot of zip ties.  That sucker easily weighed a ton.  However, we gave much honor and respect to the monstrous, gigantic, blue E-Kit.

My Dad’s emergency kit often saved the day when photographic disasters reared their ugly heads.  The calamities ranged from an unruly tree branch encroaching on a photo to an urgent need for a homemade flag. 

On our photo shoot at Madera Canyon in Arizona the sun shifted dramatically throughout the day.  We combated the pesky rays of light hitting our hummingbird set by placing multiple flags on light stands to block the light.  Eventually we ran out of flags. 

Broad-Billed Hummingbord at Mexican Cigar Bloom | Beebower Productions

The E-Kit rode to the rescue.  Within a few minutes I’d whipped up a solution to the problem by duct taping a cereal box to a light stand’s arm.  Dad got some great photos thanks to that little flag.

Dad’s photo shoots often took place in remote locations like ranches in the Rocky Mountains or the deserts of Arizona.  Stores and help were far, far away.  So Dad took everything he could imagine needing in the E-Kit.

“Sometimes a ‘fix’ from the E-Kit didn’t play a major part in a photo but we couldn’t have found the stuff on location,” Dad said.

Cherry Cobbler | Beebower Productions

The kit saved “Cherry Cobbler”.  Dad created this mouthwatering picture for his book “Legends of a Range Cook”.   To get an authentic feel to the photo he went on location and set up the campfire with the Dutch ovens and tools.  However, the wind kept blowing the tools around so Dad dug into the E-Kit and used some wire to lash them in place.

When Dad and his brother Gordon ran their commercial advertising studio, they had to deliver fantastic photos no matter what went wrong.   Both their reputation with art directors and their income rode on delivering despite what obstacles lurked around the corner.  After a short time in the business they became highly motivated to anticipate problems.  It required, however, becoming a jack-of-all-trades with a working knowledge of all sorts of tools.

Dad said, “You don’t know what’s going to go wrong and what you’ll need to fix it.  Basically you’re trying to make something be what it’s not to get the photo. But if you’ve done it right no one will be able to tell what you did either to fix the problem or put it back like you found it once you’ve got the photo.”

Stealing a Great Idea

My Uncle Gordon got the idea for the E-Kit at his first post-college job working for another professional photographer.  He observed this photographer not only used an E-Kit, he also bought bags for light stands, arms and other things in the commercial photo studio.  This made going on location a breeze because gear didn’t get tangled up in transport. 

Uncle Gordon talked to Dad and they decided to swipe both of these ideas.  As former Boy Scouts both guys loved the motto “Always Be Prepared”. 

Their first E-Kit was significantly smaller than the monstrosity I grew up knowing (and secretly hating when I had to try to pick it up). It proved to be inadequate for the amount of stuff they routinely needed on location shoots.

Meanwhile Dad observed one of the worker bees at another studio creating bags of all sorts using an industrial sewing machine and heavy-duty tarpaulin.  The material came in several thicknesses, all with bonded coating to make them waterproof.  Even better, the material wouldn’t rip.  You literally had to cut it to create a break in the fabric.

So Dad purchased an industrial sewing machine, tracked down the fabric and got started on a long career of bag making.  He designed the E-Kit bag with inner and outer pockets to make finding smaller items easier.  He left a large center well open well for items like staple guns and saber saws.  He also added heavy-duty straps for carrying the whole shebang. 

Heavy Duty Rottweiler

Problem solved.  Well, mostly.  As I mentioned the bag weighed about as much as a hearty, full grown Rottweiler.  Perhaps I exaggerated a bit.  Nope.  Now that I think of it, I’m certain it was in Rottweiler range. 

Back in the day it took two people to pick up the thing.  Dad, however, could heft it around by himself. Now Dad’s paired down the bag a bit since his commercial photography days are over, but it still weighs in at a chunky 40 pounds. 

Because the bag weighed so much, it mostly stayed in the van on location shoots.  If he needed something, Dad would send an assistant back to the vehicle to rummage through the E-Kit. 

When he was shooting “Evening Stage” he did send an assistant back to the van to get wire.  Dad needed to fasten flour sacks filled with Fuller’s earth to the backside of the stagecoach.   Each time a wheel made a rotation, it hit the bags releasing some of the stuffing and creating dust that made the sun’s rays really stand out. 

Evening Stage | Beebower Productions

Dad came up with this special effect on the fly.  Thanks to the E-Kit and a friend who had the flour sacks, everything came together to make one very believable piece of Old West art.

In making Western pictures like the stagecoach, Dad often sketched out his ideas before heading out to shoot.  One time he envisioned a winter photo in the corral at his friends’ ranch, but he knew he’d need extra lighting.  While still at the studio, he built a light with a strobe head inside to illuminate the model.  Then he headed to Colorado for the frigid photo session. 

Winter Pack Trip | Beebower Productions

Once on site, Dad secured the light to the fence with a drill.   Since this was a regular item in the E-Kit, Dad didn’t give the drill a second thought.  The photo turned out great and the ranch returned to normal by the end of the day.  Everyone was happy.

So a well-designed E-Kit can make or break a photo shoot.  It even helped Dad be a more creative artist as well as a problem solver.  He crafted “Buckboard Cowboy” by combining multiple photographs to make one Old West photo.  After shooting the cowboy driving the buckboard, Dad realized he’d need to add more dust coming up from the horses’ hooves to make it believable. 

Buckboard Cowboy B&W | Beebower Productions

While on location, Dad took a 2×4 from the E-Kit, wrapped it in blue screen fabric and stapled the fabric to the wood.  Then my mother hit the sand repeatedly while he shot the resulting “dust”.  The blue screen fabric allowed him to seamlessly cut out the dust in Photoshop and add it to the big picture composite.  It may have been a small part of the overall photo but that attention to detail combined with the other elements made a realistic photo for the viewers.

Blue Bag O’ Tricks

So you might be wondering what Dad keeps in that magic blue bag of tricks.  We’re going to tell you.  In fact, we’ve provided a complete list for you.  Just enter your email address and then download the list.

But first, one additional note.  Each time Dad goes on a shoot, he evaluates what he thinks he might need.  Anything not on the original list gets added to the bag.  For example, he’ll throw in a few garbage bags if the forecast looks especially wet.  He’ll add a shovel for super snowy locations.  You get the idea.  This is a list of basic supplies.  Tweak it to fit your individual situation.

 

Enter Your Name & Email To Download Your FREE E-Kit Check List

Horse Stampede

Horse Stampede | Beebower Productions

Dad found himself buried underground in a steel water tank waiting for a herd of about 50 horses to stampede over the top of him.  Dad hoped to capture a unique angle from below the horses.  He knew this would be challenging to pull off safely.  He turned to his friend Red Wolverton, who knew lots about movie magic and even more about horses. 

The plan revolved around a steel tank with slits cut in the sides for cameras.  The tank would be buried inside Red’s corral with Dad and his crew inside.  The slits would allow Dad to be at eye-level with the horses’ hooves and still have a degree of safety.  Red selected an ordinary live stock water tank to accommodate a photographer, motion picture photographer plus their assistants and their cameras.

Steel Tank Photo Lair | Beebower Productions

On the day of the shoot, Dad and the three guys got situated in the 7-foot diameter pillbox, as Red and crew called the modified tank.  Red then used the backhoe to fill in the door area with dirt.  About one foot of the tank was visible above ground.  That placed the camera openings in the perfect position for some amazing pictures.   

Pretty soon fifty horses supplied by Red barreled down the road right toward the corral and Dad.  Wranglers on either side of the herd ensured the horses hit the mark.  Nobody really knew what the horses would do when they reached the buried tank. 

The photo crew could feel the ground vibrating before they saw the horses.  Then things happened fast and furiously.  The horses kept coming toward the pillbox and veered to the left and right of the tank at the last minute.  Dust.  Stones.  Dust.  Hooves.  Shoot.  Shoot.  Shoot.

Dad only had two chances to capture the perfect shot both in movie and still form.  It took about 40 minutes between the two stampedes just to get the horses back in place and the cameras somewhat clean.

The whole shoot from start to finish took most of the day.  Dad got his winning shot on the first run.  The horses’ hooves came within six inches of the camera lenses and about 10 inches from Dad’s face.

“When you do something like that you don’t realize how much nervous energy goes in to it.  At the end of the day you’re just beat and covered in dust.  I think that dust stuck with us for about three days even though we washed off with the garden hose a couple of times,” Dad said.

Despite the dust, Dad and his team managed to create a unique photo that captures the essence of the Old West.

If you enjoyed this story, check out these other cool horse photos!

Mendosa Canyon Packhorses | Beebower Productions

Wild Big Bend | Beebower Productions

Storm Horses | Beebower Productions

Old Mescal Bronc | Beebower Productions

Cowboy and Horse in the Snow | Beebower Productions

Horses Cowboy Dust | Beebower Productions

Tracking True Grit Part 2

Fall Meets Winter | Beebower Productions

As soon as we turned off the highway, our jaws hit the floor.  Last Dollar Road outside of Ridgway, Colorado brought the Old West to life with a dramatic flourish.  The San Juan Mountains loomed over top of ranches that dotted the valley. Elk, badgers, black-billed magpies, deer and coyotes moseyed through the meadow as we meandered down the winding dirt road.  Groves of aspens framed the entire scene. 

Our mission: track down some of the most famous locations from the original 1969 John Wayne movie “True Grit”.  Our first stop on this pre-sunrise trip was Mattie Ross’ family ranch. 

The ranch sat on private land, but it was easily accessible without trespassing.  We wanted warm morning light hitting the decaying buildings, thus we left our hotel in the wee hours of the morning to reach the ranch in time.

Why go to so much trouble to photograph an old crumbling building?  We love Westerns and the Old West.  Henry Hathaway, the director of “True Grit”, not only opened the movie with the ranch; he also closed the movie with the ranch.  That sealed the deal for us, as did the building’s weathered, abandoned look.

We reached the ranch in time for the sunrise, but the mountains behind us blocked the light for about 15 minutes.  We didn’t mind.  We just feasted our eyes upon the marvelous landscape.

True Grit Ranch | Beebower Productions

“I thought it was fantastic,” Dad said.  “When we went up Last Dollar Road and then continued on up and explored the rest of the area, I thought, ‘Geez this is a really super place!’  The movie was well done.  They put together something that was very believable.  They took a little artistic license but you could definitely recognize the area from the movie.”

Dad loved the scene so much that he returned in October of last year to photograph the aspens changing colors.  He got a bit of surprise, though.  The aspens, indeed, burst forth with orange and yellow hues, but a storm dropped snow on the mountains.  So Dad shot “Fall Meets Winter”, the image at the top of this blog.

Apparently, the film crew from “True Grit” also got a wintery surprise during filming. 

According to the Ridgway Chamber of Commerce’s website, “The film crew was concerned about the lack of snow for the final scene, and had made arrangements for a snowmaking machine, but an early snowfall the night before the scene was scheduled to be shot solved the problem.”

So those high mountain meadows swing from one season to another at the drop of a hat.  Last Dollar Road sits at about 9,000 to 10,000 feet (depending on the spot you pick), and it turns out that worked well for Dad and the producers of “True Grit”.

“They tell me you’re a man with true grit”

After we wrapped our shoot at the ranch, we headed back to town for a little more movie history.   Surprisingly in the summer of 1968 Ridgway, Colorado became Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  Director Henry Hathaway loved this little patch of Colorado.  He preferred Ridgway to other locations the team found in Arkansas.

In 2000 Charles Portis, author of the book “True Grit” corresponded with Ft. Smith National Historic Site park rangers about the choice of towns. 

He said, “Hal Wallis, the producer, had considered making the movie in Arkansas, and sent an advance man here. I drove this man around northwest Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. He did like the town of Van Buren, saying it would do nicely for 1870s Fort Smith. Later, Hal Wallis called to tell me that there were logistical problems with shooting the picture in Arkansas. I have the idea that Hathaway (the director) persuaded Wallis to make it in Colorado.”

While Portis may not have loved the idea, the town of Ridgway immediately got to work remaking itself.  Set construction crews remodeled or moved buildings and created false fronts as needed.  Boardwalks popped up around town and then gallows sprung up at Hartwell Park.

The studio employed over 300 locals as movie extras and for jobs like shoveling manure off the streets.  In September of 1968 thousands flocked to the open set to watch John Wayne work his magic.

Today Ridgway remains proud of its Western movie heritage.  The Chamber of Commerce offers walking tours of the town.  Some of the modified buildings like the firehouse, originally a town hall and school before Hollywood came to town, can still be seen today.  The movie’s livery stable became today’s post office.   And the jail wagon used by Rooster Cogburn at the beginning of the movie waits for miscreants at Heritage Park.  Even the dirt roads around town lend an authentic feel to Ridgway.

True Grit Cafe | Beebower Productions

One building in town pays tribute to the whole experience, though.  The True Grit café, built in 1985, contains loads of movie memorabilia.  Movie aficionados will definitely recognize the original “Chambers Groceries” painted on the wall by the bar.  It appeared behind John Wayne as he unloaded the prison wagon at the beginning of the movie.

The builders carefully included the wall in the restaurant.  While the café was built 16 years after the movie, John Wayne fans will definitely enjoy the atmosphere while chowing down on some good grub.

Glowing Aspens | Beebower Productions

If You Go

The aspens along the road put on a magnificent display in October.  To reach Last Dollar Road, leave Ridgway going west on Highway 62 for 11 miles.  Drive over the Dallas Divide.  Then take a left on Last Dollar Road.  Travel 2.5 miles and look for the ranch on the right hand side of the road.

  • Take pictures but respect private property.
  • Passenger cars are fine on Last Dollar until you encounter rain or snow.  Locals recommend a high clearance vehicle.
  • To catch a walking tour of Ridgway, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 970-626-5181.  Tours leave the Visitors Center on Fridays at 11 a.m May through October.  They cost $10 for adults.  Children under 12 are free.
  • To learn more about Ridgway’s movie history Click Here.

Tracking True Grit Part 1

True Grit Meadow | Beebower Productions

Like U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, we raced up the mountain with anticipation and determination burning in our gut.  But our prize wasn’t a low-down dirty outlaw, rather the most famous scenery from the beloved 1969 Western “True Grit”.

When I discovered that most of the legendary John Wayne movie had been filmed around Ridgway, Colorado, I knew tracking down the movie locations was a no-brainer.  Dad grew up watching a steady diet of Westerns.  From TV shows like Gunsmoke and Rawhide to movies like “High Plains Drifter” and “The Magnificent Seven”, he eagerly soaked up stories of the vast, untamed American frontier and the folks who lived there.

An art festival brought us to Ridgway, but I quickly informed Dad of our post-festival activities.  The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce printed a brochure called “Ridgway’s Western Movie Heritage” that revealed all we needed to know.  Hollywood loved filming in and around the tiny town.  The marquee included “True Grit”, “Tribute to a Bad Man”, “How the West was Won”, “The Sons of Katie Elder”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid” and most recently “The Hateful Eight”. 

While Hollywood directors loved the scenery around Ridgway, not everyone lauded the decision to film there.   Charles Portis, author of the book “True Grit” (upon which the movie was based) said he thought Colorado looked more like a “big sky” Western than Ft. Smith, Arkansas, the real setting of the book.

“True Grit” movie director Henry Hathaway later said, “Yes, I know, but it didn’t matter because all Western movies were fairy tales, more or less, and a specular landscape was expected.”

Dad agreed. 

“If I go to a movie, and I’m thinking “Holy mackerel!  I’ve gotta go see this place!’ then the director’s done his job well.  I’m always curious what the real place looks like,” Dad said.  “Obviously directors go to a lot of time and trouble to find the best places to film their movie.  If you pay attention to scenery in movies and can find out where it was shot, you save yourself some trouble.  It’s basically location scouting done for you.  Plus it’s just cool to see the place for yourself.”

Visual story telling drove Hathaway.  According to movie historian Fredrik Gustafson’s blog, “He (Hathaway) was very particular about what he wanted.  He would sometimes wait, and hold up the production for days, until the light was exactly right for a particular shot, dismissing angry calls from producers.”

In fact, Hathaway commented, “I’d say my greatest directional strength is my stubbornness:  I know what I want and I go after it.”

Hmmm…sounded like another guy I knew.  That led me to conclude if the San Juan Mountains possessed jaw-dropping scenery good enough for Hathaway’s “True Grit”, they’d be perfect for Dad.

“Fill your hand you son-of-a-bitch!”

We tackled the movie trail backwards, finding the end-of-the-movie scenes first.  Locating the stunning meadow where the final show-stopping firefight takes place between Wayne’s character Rooster Cogburn and Ned Pepper’s gang of misfits topped our list.  Locals called it Katie’s Meadow. 

We headed out north on Highway 550 from Ridgway and turned off at County Road 10 going towards Owl Creek Pass.  Cattle once plodded along this dirt road on the way to market.  We followed the long, winding path 14.7 miles up through the Cimmaron Mountains, enjoying the picturesque ranches, dramatic bluffs, the sparkling creek and hundreds of towering trees as we crept toward the meadow. 

We completed switchback after switchback.  Then, just as the directions stated, the meadow unfurled to our left.  And what a glorious meadow it was!  The sun backlit hundreds of golden corn lilies in the meadow as a lazy, crystal-clear stream meandered toward the road. Chimney Peak and Courthouse Mountain soared high above the field adding drama and the “wow” factor to the scene.

We spent the morning exploring the meadow.  We easily found the creek where Rooster, Mattie and Laboeuf camped as well as the rock on the far side of the meadow where Pepper shot Cogburn’s horse right out from under him. 

True Grit Aspens | Beebower Productions

Groves of aspens testify to the visitors at Katie’s Meadow over the years.

Apparently plenty of people visited the meadow over the years, leaving their own mark on the aspens that follow the creek.  I found tree after tree carved with dates, initials and art.  If you watch the movie, those aspens had just started to turn beautiful shades of yellow, something Henry Hathaway purposely waited on before filming the grand fight scene.

Next to the creek, Dad and I discovered a wooden fence line that lent an air of the Old West to the meadow.  By then, we’d noticed storm clouds building around the peaks and the light shifting to a favorable position.  Like Hathaway, Dad knew what he wanted and he went after it.

He wasted no time venturing through the corn lilies to capture his piece of Colorado beauty and movie history.  I hung back to capture Dad working his magic in the grand landscape.   

At the end of the day, we’d joined hundreds of other Wayne aficionados in taking a piece of movie history home with us in the form of pictures.   We couldn’t wait for the next day’s “True Grit” adventures.

Join us next Wednesday when Dad and I track down the Mattie’s ranch and learn how Ridgway, Colorado became Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

True Grit Fence | Beebower Productions

If You Go

Head north from Ridgway on Highway 550.  Turn right about 1.7 miles out of town on County Road 10.   Follow the signs on this unpaved road toward Owl Creek Pass.  County Road 10 will eventually become County Road 8.  Travel 14.7 miles from your turn off.  Just after a series of switchbacks you’ll see Katie’s Meadow on the left.  There are no signs marking the meadow, but there is a place to pull off and explore.

  • Continue up the switchbacks a little less than a mile until you come to Owl Creek Pass.  The rock that Mattie slept on is on the right near the creek. 
  • The road leads to Silver Jack Reservoir and eventually comes out at Cimmaron.
  • Take a high clearance vehicle.  It’s not required but a good idea.
  • Take food, water and gas.   There are no services along the way and cell service is spotty.

Arrested Decay

Bodie From a Distance | Beebower Productions

Welcome to Bodie

It put the “wild” in the Wild West.  It rivaled infamous towns like Tombstone, Deadwood and Dodge City.  It even inspired the phrase “Badman from Bodie” thanks to its lawless reputation.

Bodie’s Arrested Decay | Beebower Productions

During its heyday from the 1870s to the 1880s Bodie, California had 31 murders, no less than 60 saloons, many houses of ill repute and lots of gold to fuel the insanity.

One three-year-old little girl supposedly prayed “Good-bye, God; we are going to Bodie in the morning” when she found out her family was moving from San Jose to the infamous gold rush town.

The town’s newspaper editor didn’t miss a beat revising the girl’s prayer.  He replied, “We would like to make a slight correction to the punctuation of the above.  It should read, ‘GOOD.  By God we are going to Bodie in the morning.’ 

Bodie’s Leaning Pisa | Beebower Productions

Arrested Decay

I went to Bodie just like that little girl.  The difference?  I couldn’t wait to get there.  Bodie, near the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, is one of the best-preserved, non-commercial ghost towns in the West.  It’s chock full of fantastic photo opportunities.

Unlike many Old West towns, Bodie doesn’t sport a single tourist trap or modern convenience (except for the bathrooms near the parking lot).  Instead the weathered wooden buildings are in a state of arrested decay. 

When California State Parks bought the town from the Cain family in 1962 officials decided to preserve the buildings’ roofs, windows and foundations.  They did not, however, restore or reconstruct the buildings.  What remains now is about five percent of the original town.  But believe me, you won’t run out of things to photograph.

Bodie’s rich gold mining history can be seen as soon as you hop out of the car.  This giant wheel from one of the 30 mining companies found in the Bodie Mining District was left to bake in the sun.  In the far right of the frame you can see some of the Standard Consolidated Mining Company’s Stamp Mill.  The town is peppered with pieces of its mining history. 

While only five percent of Bodie still stands, it’s spread over a good distance.  The only way to see it is by walking.  So I decided to keep the gear light.  I took my 16-35mm zoom and a 24-70mm zoom along with my Singh-Ray LB Warming polarizer.    The day was warm, so my lighter load paid off in more energy to shoot.

Wheel of Misfortune | Beebower Productions

Bodie’s Rust Bucket | Beebower Productions

Hitching a Ride to Bodie | Beebower Productions

I meandered around town and my mind went into overdrive with photo ideas.  Bodie truly is an Old West photographer’s Disney World.  It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon a car graveyard.  What, you may wonder, was a 1940s era car doing rusting in a 1880s ghost town?

A Little More History

Bodie had a long and colorful saga before it faded into oblivion.  W.S. Bodey, a New Yorker, discovered gold in 1859 near what would be the town.  Unfortunately for Bodey, he died in a blizzard a couple of months later and never saw the town that would be named for him (although with a slightly different spelling). 

Despite its shaky beginning the city did grow as more riches were discovered in the nearby Bodie Hills.  In 1875 a big vein of gold ore was exposed and a new gold rush infused life into Bodie.  Homes and businesses sprang up at a rapid pace.  The rougher element also arrived to give Bodie its infamous reputation.  At it’s peak about 8,000 people called the town home.

By the 1900s, Bodie began to decline.  In 1932 a terrible fire destroyed a large portion of the town.  Many folks packed what they could into their cars and left everything else behind. 

Today things are exactly as those folks left it.  It’s bizarre to look through the windows and see homes and businesses precisely as they were the day they were abandoned (with a thick layer of dust, of course).

After the fire Bodie slowly became a ghost town.  When the last mine shut down in 1942 the town faded away until the California State Parks officials purchased it with the intent to share this gold mine of history with the public. 

Remnants of the Past | Beebower Productions

A Bodie Kitchen| Beebower Productions

Bodie California| Beebower Productions

So that 1940s era car really does fit into Bodie’s history.  You’ll see houses and artifacts from the 1870s through the 1940s.

Shooting Strategies

You could spend all day at Bodie.  But I opted to spend one afternoon and the next morning shooting.  The park’s hours preclude shooting during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.  But shooting late in the afternoon and early the next morning allowed me to capture images of both west and east facing buildings.

Because I visited in the fall, the crowds were smaller.  I had no problem getting the shots I wanted.  The park rangers were visible and helpful.  At the same time I was free to wander and photograph.

The overall building shots are intriguing but don’t overlook the detail photos.  I found old truck bumpers, bullet-ridden signs, a giant blade from the sawmill and even a mine car sitting next to the main street.   Be sure to peek in the windows of the buildings too for those “just abandoned” inside shots I mentioned earlier.

Door to the Past | Beebower Productions

If You Go

If you decide to visit Bodie you’ll need to know a few things:

  • Admission is $10 per car, cash only.  You can check the park’s website here for updates on admission and hours.  Several times a year you can participate in an evening Ghost Walk.  The park stays open until 10 p.m.  Get the details here.
  • Summer hours run March 18th through October 1st.  The park is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Winter hours are November 1st to March 17th.  The park is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  You won’t be able to catch the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, but you can still make nice photos if you’re creative.
  • Take food and water.  If you plan to spend much time at Bodie, you should bring your own provisions.  Nothing, other than a water fountain, is available in the park.
  • Summers are hot.  There are no trees in the park and the sun quickly broils tourists.  Dress accordingly.  Winters are cold.  It’s a wind-swept landscape.  Bundle up.
  • If you visit during the winter, call 760-647-6445 to find out road conditions first.  Roads often close due to snow.
  • You must drive 13 miles off U.S. 395 to reach the park.  The last three miles are a rough dirt road.  Trailers are not recommended.
  • During the peak summer tourist season, the streets of Bodie are crowded.  You may have to wait for an opening to capture your photo.  Bring lots of patience and creativity with you.
  • The town of Bridgeport, about seven miles north of the park turn off at State Route 270, is a good place to spend the night and get a meal.
  • Dogs are welcome as long as they are leashed and under your control.

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