Bodie Church at the Goldminer's Ghost Town in Bodie, CA
As a journalist, I had been attracted to SoCal, Central Valley, and the Sierra Madre Mountains since I learned about John Steinbeck’s journeys through this area.
I loved The Grapes of Wrath movie before I read the book. Then, I became interested in Steinbeck’s others, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, The Winter of Our Discontent, Cannery Row, and many more. Steinbeck authored 33 books in all.
My research about the area drew me to many fascinating places like the Weedpatch Camp, the Bodie Ghost Town (The Bodie State Historical Park), the Japanese Internment Camp, Death Valley, Mount Whitney many more.
So, I wanted to see and write about all the history available in this area. John Steinbeck became famous for talking to migrant farmworkers. Many were Okies from the Dustbowls of the 1920s who came to the area to pick grapes, peaches, and other crops. Kern County is still one of the largest agricultural centers in California. The Dustbowl, Weedpatch, or Sunset Labor Camp, is now part of the National Register of Historic Buildings.
Sunset Camp Post Card from Sunset Camp Lamont in Kern County, California
Steinbeck, then writing for the San Francisco News, spent a lot of time in Weedpatch Camp near Lamont, CA. He talked to the farm laborers about their problems, such as cheap labor and frequent travel from farm to farm to pick crops. Steinbeck wrote a series of articles for the paper called The Harvest Gypsies, which would become The Grapes of Wrath.
When Steinbeck won the Pulitzer prize in 1940, he said, “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this.” [The Depression and the plight of the worker.]
Steinbeck also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.
The Grapes of Wrath was wildly popular among the ordinary people but not so much the government, local politicians, and landowners. Many called him a communist. In fact, Kern County banned the book for a while.
Other Areas of Interest Around SoCal, Central Valley, & Owens Valley
Mono County Courthouse courtesy of the Author
Bodie is a “ghost town” close to Bridgeport, CA, on I-395. You might want to stop for gas in Bridgeport because there isn’t another service station before you get to Bodie without leaving 395.
What’s more, if you’re into architecture, check out the Bridgeport Courthouse. It is an Italianate-style architectural design built in 1880 for around $30,000 and takes up the better part of a block. By the way, that bell rings every hour, and if you’re not expecting it, it will jar you back to reality.
Entrance to the State Park at Bodie is $8.00 for adults and $5.00 for children, payable by credit card or cash. There are no snack bars or restaurants there, so a light lunch and bottled water.
The Park is located at 8,375 feet, so take it slow if you have trouble breathing at high altitudes.
Bodie was a gold mining town from the 1849–50 timeframe. Interestingly, when the people left, they just took what they could easily carry.
Therefore, most of the town is still the same as it was when people lived there. The schoolhouse has the writing on the chalkboard, books scattered on the desks, and the bar, still has beer bottles on it.
Shepherd herding his sheep on the way to Bodie, CA in the Sierra Mountains by the Author
It is a fantastic step back in time. On the way driving on the dirt road, we saw a herd of sheep with shepherds! And just about any time you go, you will see the whitecapped, snow-covered Sierra Mountains.
You will probably want to get a place close because after spending four or five hours walking around Bodie in the high elevation, you will get tired. We stayed at June Lake, which is about an hour away, but we had a 4-bedroom chalet right on the lake for about $400 a night. We went with two other couples, so it was about $140 each.
Another reason for staying the night was we wanted to visit the Manzanar War Relocation Center, better known as the WWII Japanese Internment Camp.
Manzanar War Relocation Center was “home” to more than 100,000 US citizens and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry during WWII. You can get a US Forest Rangers tour if there is anyone available when you wish to visit.
You can look through hundreds of photos in their photo gallery.
Another thing we wanted to see was Death Valley. Since we had already seen Mount Whitney, the highest elevation in the lower 48 states, we wanted to stop by the lowest altitude at Death Valley.
Another sight you may want to see is the James Dean Memorial Museum. But save that for another day as it is in San Luis Obispo (SLO) County, which is some 80 miles from Bakersfield.
The official Bodie, CA Miner “Ghost Town” webpage.
The official Manzanar War Relocation Center webpage.
The June Lake, CA Vacation Center webpage.
The Sunset Labor Camp at Lamont, CA webpage.
The San Francisco News Harvest Gypsies series by John Steinbeck