The Little family make a living pioneer-style at the Virginia Creek Settlement
There’s a blue building near the turnoff to Bodie State Park, it looks like the door opens right onto Highway 395. It’s hard to tell though because most people fly by the Virginia Creek Settlement on their way to Bridgeport or Mammoth. It’s just another blur along the side of the road.
People have been flying by the place for 90 years, whether it was a store, restaurant, bar or brothel—but many have stopped. Those smart folks can enjoy homemade apple dumplings or fish Virginia Creek for trout raised on site.
In 1927, Virginia Creek Settlement was a boardinghouse and stagecoach stop on the way to or from Bodie, says Jimmy Little, who, along with her husband Brinn, has owned and operated the settlement for 15 years. Highway 395 was still under construction in ’27 and the pavement stopped near Bodie because the narrow corridor between the mining town and the outskirts of Bridgeport were too marshy for stages to pass. Days before a stage full of guests came through, a stage full of workers would show up and cut down reeds on the side of the road that were used to fill in and mat down the swamps enough for a horse-drawn vehicle to pass without sinking.
A surveying error helped turn the upstairs of the building into a brothel, Brinn said. Mono County was formed in 1861, and Aurora becames the County seat. Then, in 1863, it was discovered that Aurora was actually three miles behind the Nevada border. It took some time for the rest of Mono County to be surveyed and when it was determined that Virginia Creek Settlement was in California, the brothel closed.
Today, the settlement is a restaurant and motel with cabins, tent cabins or the option to sleep in a covered wagon.
The settlement doesn’t close …anymore. Brinn Little said the previous owners, Don and Jenny Newsome, were open from the beginning of fishing season to Halloween. He said he kept the place open a little more each year until he decided he’d just remain open year round for the past 4 years. The move was necessary to keep employees on, Brinn explained. It became harder to find reliable seasonal help, or employees that wouldn’t leave in August to go back to school.
Year-round employees keep the food and service consistent.
Fall colors, photography and fishing keeps the place hopping from May through October, with the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas break the slowest. “This time of year,” Brinn said grinding his jaw, “is painful.”
“We’re trying to find the winter survivable,” he added. A new business, High Sierra Snowcat and Yurts, shuttles skiers up to Virginia Lakes and has been a boost for business. Travertine Hot Springs is a year-round attraction and brings in guests. Room rates are nearly half what is being asked for in Bridgeport and Lee Vining, he added.
With its close proximity to Bodie, Mono Lake and Walker River photographers visit the settlement year-round.
The Sheet: “How do you guys make it in the winter?
Jimmy Little: “There’s still people on the road.”