Photo: Greg MacDonald

When we last left Mark Twain he was slaughtering passers-by in the pages of the Territorial Enterprise. He wrote a similar story in the fall of 1863 meant to shame financiers for artificially inflating stock prices—yes, it happened back then too—and to embarrass San Francisco newspapers for their complicity.

Entitled “The Massacre at Empire City,” it told the story of a man who, in seeing no way out of a huge financial scandal (think 19th-century Enron), committed suicide after gruesomely murdering his wife and most of their nine children.

Twain intended it as satire but big-city papers reprinted the piece as fact, too caught up in the grisly details to catch the finer, cautionary tale. When he recanted the whole thing, cries for Mark Twain’s head could be heard up and down the west coast. Shocked, Twain offered to resign from the paper. “Nonsense,” his editor replied, “We can furnish the people with news, but we can’t supply them with sense.”

In making his first real mark on the West, Twain had, to his amazement, discovered the power of the media.

At our camp in the Bodie Hills, Greg had discovered the power of a wonky stomach. Marinated chicken and my lack of ice-chest due diligence had been the culprits. Back at Desert Creek I had grilled chicken. Natalie warned that it might not have survived the thaw. It had tasted fine but I spit it out anyway. Greg passed too, after swallowing a bite. That simple italics made all the difference. Now in the Bodie Hills he made excursions into the sagebrush with shovel in hand.

Our plan was to head into the ghost town of Bodie and then on to all-but-vanished Aurora, NV to camp for the night. It was there that Twain, then Sam Clemens, gave up silver mining in 1862 before heading to Virginia City. Though Bodie didn’t take off until after Twain left the West, the town, which is still remarkably intact, offered us one of the closest glimpses to what life was like in his time.

Heading out on the road to Bodie. We tried to be good neighbors and close all of the gates.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

While I checked the tire pressure on Forest Road 169…

Photo: Natalie Menacho

…Natalie tried to flag down a stage coach.

Photo: Nik Schulz

High desert road signs along the Geiger Grade

Photo: Greg MacDonald

Bodie developed a well-deserved reputation as the most lawless city in the West. It was said that the baddest men from everywhere came to try being the baddest men in Bodie. And there the undertakers got the job of burying them.

Many of the buildings offered glimpses into the past.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

On a pool table without pockets 19th-century billiards must have taken forever.

Snake oil? Tonic? Elixir? The shelves were stocked. And, by gum, the lights were still on!

Photos: Nik Schulz

Pint-sized coffin anyone?

Photo: Greg MacDonald

In one building we spied what looked like a bunch of children’s coffins in an undertaker’s establishment. One of the park rangers clarified. Timber was so scarce at Bodie’s high altitude that the coffins were made as small as possible. They just broke the legs of the deceased to fit them in.

Natalie and the town…

Photo: Nik Schulz

…and the stamp mill where ore was processed.

Photo: Natalie Menacho

Heading down Bodie Rd. into Del Monte Canyon on the way to Aurora.

Steep drop-offs hide behind sagebrush on the road to Aurora itself.

We stop for sandwiches…

…and to check the map.

Photos: Nik Schulz

Aurora, NV in about 1884.

Photo: unknown

There’s hardly anything left of Aurora today. Most of the brick buildings were dismantled after World War II.

To see what this view looks like today download this .kmz file and open it in Google earth. (The download button will be in the upper-right corner of the page.)

This plaque marks what was once Aurora’s downtown.

Photo: Natalie Menacho

All that’s left in Aurora is a cemetery…

Photo: Nik Schulz

…and a foundation or two.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

After not finding a trace of Mark Twain anywhere, we decided that Aurora, only inhabited by the souls of its former residents, was a little too creepy to serve as our camp for the night. After Greg came back from the bush with his shovel, we called a car-hood meeting in order to establish the best route out of town.

Figuring out how to exit Aurora

Photo: Natalie Menacho

The surrounding hills were a web of interconnecting trails. Teasing our way out proved to be a challenge. I knew though that we had to head east and then southeast to reach Hwy 167 towards Trumbull Lake, our new stop for the night.

The trail we chose started as two well defined tire tracks through the scrub and brush, then grew fainter and fainter. It wasn’t long until we were driving across open country.

The trail faded out…

…to nothing.

Photos: Nik Schulz

Our GPS fixes, however, showed us making progress due east. After a while we came across a faint trail that I thought would lead us to the road out of there. That was the road, it turned out. Greg celebrated by grabbing his shovel and heading into the sagebrush.

After navigating a few more forks by following a previous set of tire tracks we made it down into Mono Valley and, following a power line, reached the highway just as the sun set. We set up camp at Trumbull not long after.

A sandy road followed the power line to Hwy 167.

We made it to the road by dusk.

Photos: Greg MacDonald

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Other posts in this series:

Part 1, Arriving in Carson City 150 Years Late
Part 2, Virgina City to Desert Creek!
Part 3, Down Jackass Creek Without a Paddle
Part 4, The Ghost Towns of Bodie and Aurora
Part 5, Twain Lost and Found