Tundra in the Bodie Hills
Tundra in the Bodie Hills

Hi guys! I’m still here!

While gearing up for the summer backpacking season I realized I’d never posted about an early season visit to the Bodie Hills. I’ve visited Bodie State Park many times in the past, but I’ve never really explored beyond the park boundaries. Given the snow conditions this year, on a mid-June weekend that would typically be spent backpacking in the Sierra mid-country we instead decided to play around the Bodie Hills between Bridgeport and Lee Vining.

Starting out from Bridgeport on Saturday morning, we headed out through the Northern part of the Bodie Hills  to the ruins of the old mining towns of Chemung and Masonic. The roads through here are pretty good at the start but to get anywhere you’ll need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle and the ability to use it. There is a maze of old mining roads through the hills and it’s easy to get in trouble if you turn down one without the proper equipment or map.

Chemung Mine
Chemung Mine

Heading in along the main Masonic-Bodie road will soon get to you the ruins of the Chemung Mine. There are some photogenic ruins here and some great views across Bridgeport Reservoir towards the Sierra and Sweetwater Range. Continuing along the road and taking the proper turnoff will get you to the ruins of Masonic, a lesser-known cousin to the nearby town of Bodie. Today there is very little left of Masonic (especially when compared to Bodie) but it is a nice stop with some interesting tram and mill ruins.

Masonic
Masonic

After a visit to the ruins we continued along the Masonic-Bodie road and circled around Masonic Peak. Parking our truck at the base of a steep 2-track up the side of the mountain, we did a quick (and steep) hike to the summit where we enjoyed some incredible views of the snow-capped Sierra to the West. I found the summit register about 100 feet below the peak and returned it to the rock pile on the summit.

Sierra view from Masonic Peak
Sierra view from Masonic Peak

Our next goal was to hike Potato and  Bodie Peaks, both marginally above 10k. Although the Bodie Hills are in the rainshadow of the Sierra there was still some snow scattered throughout the area and we hoped the road was clear (even with our Tundra Rock Warrior we knew deep and soft snow meant turning around). We drove through the scenic Bodie Hills and encountered one impassible snow field blocking the road, but fortunately there was an old 2-track that allowed us to bypass it. Whew! Soon we found ourselves at the closest parking for the cross-country approach to the peaks, near 9k at the bottom of the valley between the two peaks.

Mono Lake from Bodie Peak
Mono Lake from Bodie Peak

The two peaks make an excellent dayhike. First we climbed Potato and then scooted over to Bodie. What would be an incredible easy class 1 cross country hike in dry conditions ended up being a fun challenge due to the snow on the descent. From the top we couldn’t see where some of the steeper sections ran out so we had to poke around the top of the snow field to find something passable. Eventually we did, and then the gentler snow fields below made for a quick and fun descent back to the car, helping us avoid the endless brush-dodging of the dry terrain.

Path through the snow
Path through the snow

Unfortunately, just beyond where we parked we could see plenty of large snow fields crossing the road. This was so painful because we knew Bodie was just on the other side of the ridge. So we returned to Bridgeport via Aurora Canyon and did the long drive around to Bodie so that we could continue on to the site of Aurora for the night.

The road that goes along Bodie Creek towards Aurora is not one for the inexperienced 4×4 driver. It’s not really that difficult, it just never seems to end. Constant navigation around bumpy rocks, washed out ruts, and sketchy looking 2-plank bridges are enough to keep the knuckles white and stress levels elevated. It’s so narrow in places that you wonder what on earth you’d do if someone came from the other direction.

If you go all the way through to Fletcher and take the north road into Aurora it’s cake for any stock SUV or truck. But we took the early turnoff that switchbacked us up an overgrown, steep, shelf-y, gnarly hillside before spitting us out into a canyon that led to Aurora. The new Tundra performed like a champ but I won’t deny that I was gritting my teeth pretty hard on that stretch.

We were grateful to finally reach Aurora and eventually found ourselves a decent campsite among the pinyons near the old cemetery. An incredible sunset that seemed to last for hours entertained us as we cooked a late dinner and sat around the campfire.

Sunset from Aurora
Sunset from Aurora

On Sunday morning we took the more comfortable road out and followed many miles of graded dirt road down to the town of Hawthorne, Nv where we filled up the gas tank and turned back towards California. Driving past Mono Lake from this direction was a new experience for me and I enjoyed the view towards Tioga Pass and the  Sierra. We stopped for the traditional Whoa Nellie lunch of fish tacos and then started up over the Pass, a mere day after it opened.

Ellery Lake, Tioga Pass
Ellery Lake, Tioga Pass

The snow and water was incredible up there. I’ve never seen so much! It’s an amazing sight to see, but I wish it would hurry up and melt away so I can get into the high country.

The rest of the photos from this weekend can be found here: Masonic, Bodie, Potato Peak


 

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  1. Cheryl Ann

    We were just up there mid-June (to Bodie) and then we returned over the July 4 weekend. Tioga Lake was still partially frozen. I got some great photos there. Mid-June, we surprised two bald eagles and they took off in flight right in front of us. They were feeding on a rabbit down below the road. We always enjoy going to Bodie. Question…we have a Nissan X-Terra (NOT 4 wheel drive), but it is a high clearance…would we be able to take those roads with it? Thanks!

  2. Calipidder Listing Owner

    You could definitely do most of the roads in the area. The road from Bodie to Aurora I wouldn’t recommend however. Have fun!

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