When it comes to ratings, Bishop, California, gets 5 Compasses. It’s a sensational destination with lots to see and do both in the town and nearby. There is one attraction that is strong enough to get its own blog, the Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site. Normally I don’t especially like re-created villages, but Laws is different in several respects. I never have understood how lots of junk left behind qualifies a destination for itinerary inclusion. Even moving so-called historic buildings to a single property requires special care to make them worth seeing. I recall visiting Tonopah, NV and being less than overwhelmed by the mining equipment left behind. An example of a place where this theme works well is Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Laws works fairly well as a notable attraction worth seeing for at least 4 reasons.
Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site is 4.5 miles outside of Bishop in a one-time village on Highway 6. It offers 11 acres of stuff and 30 buildings that present a portrait of actual frontier life. Some of the buildings like an original 1883 depot and loading dock are crammed with historical artifacts worth seeing. The manager of the place took the time to check the most important buildings on our map, which really helped Ruth and me focus. The town of Laws is a true California Historical Landmark on the National Registry.
Laws has been a movie site. Its Reception Center across from the depot was used in the film Nevada Smith. This 1966 Western starring Steve McQueen was a prequel to the pot-boiling The Carpetbaggers. Nevada Smith was shot at 46 different locations in the area and elsewhere. It featured The Owens Valley a lot. One critic said it was a film that is impossible to take seriously, which is true and probably one of the reasons why it only got 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. Steve McQueen made about 35 movies before dying relatively young. He was dubbed “The KIng of Cool”, which fit his personality. He received only one nomination for Best Actor for his performance in The Sand Pebbles. Probably this, The Great Escape, and Bullitt are his best films.
At Laws I really liked the Medical and Textile Buildings that were marked for us, but the Bottle House is what I most vividly recall. I enjoyed seeing the 20 Mule Team Wagons that amounted to a virtual museum devoted to this early California industry. The mining area was authentic but messy. I also enjoyed seeing Engine NO. 9. called the Slim Princess and the restored ranch house.
The old depot really makes this place authentic, however. It recalled the 300-mile railroad line that serviced Bishop area mines, including a gold producer. This one-time railroad expanded its operations to transport freight and people all over Nevada and southern California. It was in operation until 1960, and Laws is the only settlement in this valley that has been preserved as a frontier village worth seeing.