It was summertime and it was already pitch black, except for the stars shining overhead. We must have been traveling quite late that night as we turned into the historical site where the old Mono Mills lumber mill once stood. Normally we're not ones to travel the unpaved routes to set up camp that late, but the route was short and very familiar. The roads were soft pumice, and easy going. The surrounding land was barren where Jeffrey Pines had been cut long ago and eventually loaded on to the little train that led to the mining town of Bodie.
As we turned past the site where ruins barely remain buried in the ground, the glare of our headlights shone into a pair of deer eyes, startling us. Except for a few lizards and ground squirrels, we have never seen much evidence of life here. We continued on just a short ways up in to the tree line where we set up camp for the night. Father let Big Dog Jessie and I out for a walk while Mother prepared the back of the Blazer for our bed for the night. When we were through with our business Jessie jumped and I was boosted in to the Blazer where we slept in the front seats so Mother could have the back. Being as it was late, and we were just on an overnight stay, Mother curled up in her sleeping bag on the back bench seat and rested her pillow against the driver side back door. Father, as usual, preferred to sleep outside in the fresh wide open air. He set up his wooden cot, laid his sleeping back upon it, and soon was bedded down himself. We listened to the silent nothingness of a windless night as we prepared to drift off to sleep.
Just as we began to nod off, Big Dog Jessie and I heard the sounds of someone crunching through the soft pumice that we were camped on. Seemed a little unusual, as Father had already visited a tree when we had, but maybe he hadn't completely drained his bladder the first time around. I raised an ear for a moment, then decided it was nothing to be alarmed about, and I noted that Big Dog Jessie did the same. We curled up in to tighter fur balls to fit in our seats, and fell asleep without another thought. Mother seemed to sleep through the whole thing.
When the sunlight hit the windshield of the Blazer the next morning, Big Dog Jessie and I began squirming and whimpering to get Mother's attention, and soon we had both her and Father awake. Father set up the 1940's vintage Coleman stove and began brewing camp coffee, while we ran around and explored. Mother set up chairs and a little table, and set out sweet rolls for breakfast. We were tied up to a nearby Jeffrey Pine tree as they ate their simple breakfast.
"I noticed you got up last night right after we settled down? Thats unusual for you," Mother replied, as she picked at her sweet roll. "I'm the one whos usually up and down ten times a night. Everything ok?"
Big Dog Jessie and I watched Father as he paused with his coffee cup in his hands to warm them from the chilly morning air. His face expressed a little surprise, "Funny, I didn't hear you get out of the truck, but I thought it was you walking around out there." He looked at her a bit quizzically, and Big Dog Jessie and I perked up even more wondering what Mother would say.
"Hmmm.... wasn't me, and the dogs were sound asleep, they didnt bark. I was sure it was you."
Father shook his head, and replied, "Remember those two deer that ran across the road as we came in? Maybe it was them?"
I glanced over at my sister just as she turned to look at me. How could we have missed a deer?
"Nope, couldn't have been deer, the dogs would have barked to let us know. Same if it was a person, and there's nobody around here for miles, so couldn't have been a person, " Mother answered. "Besides, look around, the only footprints are yours and mine, and Jessie and Jake's, there's no sign of anyone else other than us, and no trace of animal prints, not even rodents. The pumice is soft, and there wasn't any wind, there should be other footprints if someone or something was walking around out here last night other than us. "
"That's true," Father said. "But it wasn't me. Don't have a clue what it could have been."
Maybe it was a ghost.. Mother laughed, and Father laughed even harder.
Giving no more thought to it, breakfast was finished, then things were packed and Father took us for a ride down the unpaved roads of sandy pumice in search of the Bodie Railroad grade. The roads were awfully soft, and we were by ourselves, so we didn't explore far that day, but we knew we would be back some day with others and eventually find where the grade was and travel it all around Mono Lake and up to the backside of the ghost town of Bodie where it ended up.
A year or so later, Mother and Father traveled up to the Eastern Sierras without Big Dog Jessie and I. When they came back home after that trip, we heard them talking about a stop at the Mammoth Ranger Station. They had talked to the ranger about Mono Mills and the old Bodie Railway. They didn't say if they had mentioned the sounds of the footprints crunching through the pumice around our campsite, but they did say that the Ranger and had taken them aside and quietly told them about the UFO sitings around Mono Lake. Upon hearing this, Mother and Father had decided, kiddingly, that maybe it had been aliens from a UFO space ship that had walked around that night and aliens would leave only invisible footprints. Even Big Dog Jessie and I thought this was a bit farfetched, but whose to say? We didn't have much experience in the alien and UFO department.
Around another campfire on a brisk summer night high in the Southern Sierras, several months later, Big Dog Jessie and I were practically asleep, tuckered from a day spent running back and forth across the Bonita Meadows. Father had just finished telling the story about the shepherd who had lived in the cabin across the meadows and could still be heard calling out for his lost love Bonita as the winds whistled through the trees. Someone else told their ghost story, and then everyone huddled around the campfire a little closer as the air grew chillier suddenly. "Roger, Cecile," someone started. " You actually ever experience any strange phenomenon out here? You guys camp a lot and go to old ghost towns. You must have something to tell?"
This woke Big Dog Jessie and I up right away. We remembered the invisible footprints of Mono Mills, and sure enough that was the story that Father would tell. When he finished, someone decided, "Wow, it was an alien, that's why you didn't see any footprints and only heard someone walking around. And that's why the dogs didn't bark. You guys must have been abducted!"
"But why don't they remember it?" someone else queried.
That's when Father figured it out for himself, "They erased our memories afterwards, but forgot to erase the part where we heard them walking around to begin with." Everyone laughed of course, and Big Dog Jessie and I just looked at each other. Silly human and their stories!
Coming in April
Part II: Foot Prints Along the Bodie Railway