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Bodie (www.visitbodie.com), one of the most authentic ghost towns in the West, is about an hour's drive north of Mammoth, past the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite. In 1870, more than 10,000 people lived in Bodie, mining $32 million in gold; today it's an eerie shell full of ghost stories. En route to Bodie, you'll pass Mono Lake (pronounced Mow-no), near Lee Vining, which has startling tufa towers arising from its surface -- limestone deposits formed by underground springs. About 300 bird species nest or stop here during their migrations. Right off Hwy. 395 is the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitors Center (tel. 760/647-3044; www.monolake.org; daily in summer, Thurs-Mon in winter), with scheduled guided tours and a terrific environmental and historical display of this hauntingly beautiful 60-square-mile desert salt lake. After touring the visitor center, head for the South Tufa Area, at the lake's southern end, for a closer look at the tufa formations and briny water. Tip: Mono means "flies" in the language of the Yokuts, the Native Americans who live south of this region; get to the lake's edge, and you'll see why the nickname is suitable.

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