Planning a Trip to Bodie Ghost Town, Spirit Of The Frontier Or Frontier Spirit?

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This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their mid-60’s, are (mostly) retired, DSCN4512and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a budget airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. Today he shares how they put together a last minute trip to one of their favorite destinations on a budget…without even using miles and points this time!

My wife and I have been yearnin’ to go back to the famous, interesting and historic ghost town of Bodie, California since we first stumbled on it about five years ago.


Time and circumstance intervened in most of the ensuing years delaying our eventual return, but we had decided that this spring was going to be the time of our revisit. However, due to an earthquake last fall and a very prodigious snowfall over the winter, the California State Park of Bodie was closed for months with an indefinite reopening date.


The stability and safeness of many of the abandoned structures had to be evaluated following the earthquake and there was further delay due to the record snowpack that interfered with this process and restricted automobile access to the area. Our plans to go were necessarily held captive by the situation.


We checked the various Bodie related websites daily for updates so that we could act and react to any announcement concerning its opening. This week we were able to confirm that the park is open but with some restrictions and with reduced amenities. The water system is not back up and running, so outhouses will be in use instead of the nice public restrooms that are there. No drinking water will be available and the museum/store has not yet opened, But, we were/are eager to go and these shortcomings are not deal breakers for us.

Our default access to most of the American West goes through Las Vegas, and is usually on Spirit Airlines.


Spirit has a daily morning nonstop flight from Houston and a return from Vegas in the late afternoon. This allows maximum use of time on the ground that is important on trips of the five day/four night variety that we seem to utilize a few times a year.

With our Spirit Mastercard, these flights only cost us 5,000 Spirit Miles for each round trip when the lowest level award availability is there. There is usually about $25 to $30 applied in extra charges for each round trip ticket, which means the two of us can fly roundtrip from Houston to Vegas for a total of 10,000 Spirit Miles plus an extra $50 to $60. The price is great, the flight times are perfect, and we have flown Spirit enough to know what to expect and how to prepare.

Grandma and Grandpa packed to avoid Spirit fees!

Grandma and Grandpa packed to avoid Spirit fees!

So, we go to to book a flight and find our flights of choice, but instead of the expected $50-$60 in total additional fees, there was an unexpected $220.00 in extra fees because of the close-in booking dates. We are familiar enough with Spirit’s pricing to immediately know that tickets can often be purchased outright without using Spirit miles for less than that. We did our due diligence and did find tickets in that price range, but not on flights that we could use. For those curious, here are the Spirit “close-in” booking fees…

  • $0 (No Fee) – Award ticket requested at least 180 days prior to departure
  • $15 – Award ticket requested between 21 and 179 days prior to departure
  • $75 – Award ticket requested between 7 and 20 days prior to departure
  • $100 – Award ticket requested 6 days or less prior to departure

We are used to booking in the 21 – 179 range and paying the $15 fee, but want nothing to do with the $75 – $100 fees! We then checked United. Their best deal at this point was 50,000 United miles and $320.00 cash. Uh, no thanks, we muttered to ourselves.

Our next stop was with Frontier, as we knew they often had low fares on their Houston to Vegas runs. Sure enough, we found an option on the dates we preferred for $82.32 per round trip nonstop ticket. We said, “WE’LL TAKE TWO!”, and Frontier obliged.DSCN9830

It did seem strange using all cash to purchase our air when we have relatively large amounts of points and miles through multiple cards and carriers, but this seemed to be one of those times that the cash option was by far the best and most economical choice. However, it is a little disappointing and counter-intuitive and seems to miss the point (if you know what I mean) of this whole credit card game. Mommy Points Tip: If they wanted to they could have booked via their Chase Sapphire Reserve and via the Ultimate Rewards site for about 5,467 Ultimate Rewards points per $82 ticket.

Anyway, we moved on, and our next order of business was the car rental. Las Vegas usually has very fair pricing on rentals, and this time was no exception. We reserved a full size from one of the low cost agencies for a base rate of $13.32 a day. This is a good deal as long as we are careful at the rental desk and double check everything and avoid the roadside assistance option and other add-ons that some companies like to sneak in on you.

So, in just a couple weeks we will be exploring one of our favorite haunts where time has stood still and ghosts?! are said to move about.






Our airline considerations seem most appropriate as the question now becomes, as we walk the dusty and abandoned streets and we feel a gentle cool rush of an unexpected breeze, will what we feel be just a refreshing part of the spirit of the frontier, or will it be a chilly shiver from a close encounter with a passing frontier spirit?

Stay tuned!


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  1. Note that Alaska Air will fly you from Houston to Mammoth Lakes (MMH). Way less driving.

    Bodie is also one of my favorite places to photograph and to just futz around. I drive there from the San Francisco Bay Area through Yosemite – another option for you with far more interesting driving.

    • It is a bit of a drive but there is a stretch of highway near Tonopah that was really fun a few years back. A quick series of road undulations really got my attention. We are also going to make a run through Death Valley on the way back entering from the west side. the first time we went to Bodie was from Yosemite. Thanks for the advice and for taking the time to read this blog entry.

    • We did check out Reno as a possibility. It was just too expensive on such short notice. We really enjoyed Carson City, Silver City, Virginia City and Lake Tahoe on a visit a few years back. We plan on a return there in a year or two. Lake Tahoe took our breath away. Thanks again.

  2. Gary Steiger is absolutely spot on with his comment on the drive from Carson City to Bodie. In addition to my ultimate favorite spot, Yosemite, the Mammoth Lakes area is spectacular. There is still so much snow that they expect to be skiing until July 4th.

    • We are driving back through Mammoth Lakes on the way back to Vegas. We look forward to exploring a little while in the area and having snow still be in the picture will just add to the fun. Thanks for adding your experiences to the mix.

  3. For those driving to and from the San Francisco Bay Area, HWY 108 – Sonora Pass is a wonderful drive. I suggest doing it in one direction and HWY 120 Yosemite high country the other.

    Mono Lake is a really interesting place. It’s at Lee Vining at the junction of 395 and 120. I like the Tufa at the county park at the North end of the lake. Others prefer the more delicate ones at the South end. Info on how to find both at the Forest Service information office just North of Lee Vining.

    • Fortunately for us, we did stop at Mono Lake to view the tufas. Very interesting place. I believe we visited the south end. If time allows, we will give the north end a shot. Thanks so much for all the good info.

  4. Maybe on another trip when the snow pack is less you would thoroughly enjoy a ride on the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mt. The view is spectacular! The Minaret Mountains (Yosemite) in the background, Mono Valley in the other direction and many Sierra lakes everywhere. There is a hike from the top called Dragon’s Back which is all downhill and amazing. It ends in Twin Lakes campground. The only problem is that unless you leave your car there and bum a ride to the gondola at the main lodge, you are probably 4-5 miles away! I would suggest though that you at least take the drive up to the lakes. Being the great photographer that you are I expect you to post some awesome pictures when you return. My favorite lake is Lake George…..hint hint!!! Have a great trip.

    • We considered going to Mammoth to ski this February but opted for Arizona Snowbowl instead. Laurie S., do you live in the Mammoth area? Your knowledge of the area is tremendous. I am good at taking hints so we will try to include Lake George in our quick visit. So much to do, so little time. Thanks again for sharing your experiences and your expertise. And thanks for compliment on the photos.

  5. No I live in San Diego but have spent a great deal of time in Mammoth. My skiing days are behind me but I can say I think as great of a ski resort that Mammoth is I almost prefer it in the summertime. It’s only 400 miles from here and my best friend owns a condo there so I have a place to stay. There is a Westin Monache Resort there (category 5) if you have a surplus of SPG points. There are also many cheaper places to stay in town and in the town of Bishop which is 40 miles south. What makes Mammoth so awesome in the summertime is that the area has so much to offer the outdoorsy types likes yourself and Grandma Points. Besides the amazing hikes the area is known as paradise for fishermen due to all the lakes and streams. Also when the snow melts they turn the mountain and surrounding area into a world famous mountain bike park which is super fun too. Yosemite is a three hour drive and as Gary S. mentioned Mono Lake is not to be missed. I could go on and on and No I don’t work for the Chamber of Commerce!!
    Enjoy your trip and feel free to ask me any more questions if your have any.

  6. Hi! Unfortunately due to the record snow pack at Mammoth this winter the road up to the lakes won’t be open this early in the season. I still recommend you come into town and look around. Hopefully you still have a wonderful trip and I still look forward to your guest post and pictures when your return.

  7. Too much snow or not enough….here in California it is never the right amount! Well at least they say our 5 year drought is over. We still have to live with the fear that the “big one” is coming. I hope Bodie is up and running and that you check out Mammoth and find that a return trip is on your list. Enjoy and thanks for the kind words.

  8. While driving up or back down US 395, be sure to drive on roads toward the mountains whenever you can. They tend to follow streams in canyons. The vegetation along those streams is often quite spectacular any time, but, especially in the fall around late October. Quaking Aspen, beautiful meadows, and rushing water. Ansel Adams took some famous photos of the Quaking Aspen.

    My favorites are Convict Lake (a short drive), Lee Vining Creek (turn left at the sign to the Forest Service campground, the right onto the good quality dirt/grave road all the way to its end), the drive to Virginia Lakes (look down from the road to see another below, then take that road back).

    Be sure to take the Mammoth Lakes turnoff from 395, but go East away from the town. Find the very interesting geothermal power supply system.

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