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CA 270, The Road To Bodie Part 1: To Bodie

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CA 270 is one of California's most unusual highways, a one-way road from the eastern Sierra Nevadas to what is today essentially nowhere. Although the route is technically a through route to the far flung reaches of western Nevada, only the first 10 paved miles of it actually belong to the highway, and the highway doesn't actually reach its intended destination (proof of that in a moment). The rest is state park road, and beyond that (mostly in theory) locally maintained, a rough journey even in favourable weather and a veritable deathtrap in the jaws of winter rain and snow. Despite that, during the spring and summer CA 270 is frequently traveled by tourists to what has surprisingly become one of the California park service's most popular living museums. Unlike other highly isolated routes such as CA 266, there is no shortage of traffic in tourist season.

As you have already guessed, the intended terminus for CA 270 is Bodie State Historic Park and the Bodie Historic District (discussed in Part 2), California's most famous ghost town. While Bodie has an extensive history which we will discuss in some detail, the highway itself does not. Although the actual alignment obviously existed in some form for decades and was always connected to what was the Camino Sierra, then CA 7 and now US Highway 395, the modern road did not become part of the California highway system until 1970, almost a decade after the state park was designated. The paved road was supposed to extend up to the park boundary, but never made it, and the asphalt still to this day ends "in space" several miles short.

Photographs taken July 2009.

Approaching the turnoff to CA 270 from SB US 395, a few miles south of Bridgeport. The OPEN sign is tacked on by Caltrans, who sends a poor schlub out from Bishop every so often when snows occur to change the sign. During the winter, the road is regularly closed. This view is greatly impaired by the cliffs dug down in antiquity by the East Walker River, which is just next to us, in the shadow of which US 395 runs until it crosses the river in Bridgeport (see US Highway 395 Part 8).

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However, descending the grade from NB US 395, north of the Conway Summit, affords us a much better view. Here the river runs to our left. There are some "piles" which we'll look at in Part 2.

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The corresponding closure sign from the NB side. Notice that OPEN is its default state.

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The CLOSED sign sits behind the sign and is bolted on.

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California historical landmark sign. Remember the 13 miles figure.

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EB CA 270

Making the turn. Semis are definitely, definitely not advised. Theoretically this is a through route (it's not state highway the whole way though), but it's awfully tough going, and your only payoff are those happenin' burgs of western Nevada.

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Moveable closure barrier for the winter.

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If the pavement ends in 10 miles, and Bodie is 13 miles ...

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Many of the local roads and even state highways are not cleared of snow in winter. US 395 is the only reliably cleared highway, and even that mighty road has winter snow closures from time to time.

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The sign lies not.

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... or else what?

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This sign isn't totally true, as there are restrooms and you can purchase water, but if you didn't get gas in Bridgeport or Lee Vining and you're going straight through to Nevada, do reconsider. The use fees keep climbing because California can't keep taxing us to death forever. Oops, that slipped out. Sorry.

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CA 270 in its "easternmost reaches" hunkers down in this small canyon which at times of the year carries an inconsistent tributary of the Walker.

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PM 1.0.

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Elevation 7000'.

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Curving around the rugged hills of the creek valley.

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The valley starts to flatten out. Fishermen sometimes investigate in this less steep segment.

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PM 3.0 as we enter the eastern Bodie valley.

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Here the rugged terrain becomes softer as older rock is exposed. Notice the bright oxides in the soil.

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Into the valley.

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A beautiful forest green meadow sits here, occasionally used by sheep herders for grazing during the spring and summer months.

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Occasionally some trailers can be seen on the hillside, but today there was nothing.

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The only distance signage along CA 270. We'll see the back of this sign on our return. This was erected during Caltrans' brief flirtation with dual miles/kilometres signs.

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Leaving the lush meadow behind as we start to climb higher.

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Bye, creek.

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PM 6.0.

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Cresting the "summit." Actually, the road gains more elevation past here, but this is the most significant of the small grade ascents.

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Yes, that's snow. In July.

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Some small amount of high-altitude grazing also takes place up here, and there is access for hiking trails.

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Wilderness study marker off the highway.

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Continuing up, at a much less acute angle.

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Along this lesser incline, the highway takes an S curve across the high scrub vegetation ...

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... for what appears to be no good reason.

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PM 8.0.

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Nothing. Just wanted to point out where nothing was. (Not sure if Mono county or Caltrans posted this.)

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More snow is apparent, along with what looks like the companion for the marker in the last image and is similarly devoid of obvious meaning.

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A slight dip takes us below 8,000', after which we briefly reclimb, the last such gorge we cross on the paved portion.

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PM 9.0, the final postmile heading east.

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The last paved ascent.

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Pavement Ends.

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End CA 270

The only CA 270 shield along the eastern alignment is this one, stuck to the back of a sign on the other side of the road. Caltrans, though not state, maintenance stops here. Three miles of "very rough road" continues on from this point.

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Actually, it's not that bad. The road is gravel but not deplorably graded, and most passenger vehicles will do okay on it.

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Strange that the rest of the road would not be paved; the grade is not that difficult.

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However, one thing I really don't understand is why ...

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... the park gate is here. There is another gate way back at the mouth of CA 270, but you'd think the secondary gate would be at the end of the paved portion.

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Nevertheless, we now reach the state park boundary, and ...

Continue to Part 2

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