EASTERN SIERRAS IN THE FALL #3 – June Lake Loop & Laws Railroad Museum
EASTERN SIERRAS IN THE FALL #3 – June Lake Loop & Laws Railroad Museum
On the next day of our September trip to the Eastern side of the Sierra Mountain Range we headed down US-395 to the town of Bishop where we’d spend the next two nights before heading back to the Bay Area. Along the way down to Bishop we headed into a couple of side canyons to see if there was any fall color – there wasn’t, still too early in the year at the lower elevations where the roads ended.
June Lake Loop
Map – Bridgeport to Bishop and Laws Museum
As we had some time on our hands before check-in time in Bishop, we decided to take the 16 mile June Lake Loop road. This detour leaves US-395 near the US-20 East cutoff and meanders through some nice valleys in the Sierra foothills meeting back up with US-395 6 miles farther south. Along the way it passes by Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, the town of June Lake and then of course, June Lake itself.
This is a gorgeous drive through alpine scenery with glittering lakes of pristine water, gurgling streams tumbling down from the mountains or meandering along the valley floor and tall granite mountains sporting exposed granite interspersed with lush forests on every side. Being mid-September we were on the lookout for some fall color. And, indeed there was some up way on the hillsides that seemed like yellow rivers flowing down the slopes and winding its way down the side canyons to the valley below. Just a bit too early in the season for the color to have made its way down into the valley where we were – but as I had a long lens and tripod – not a problem.
The June Lake loop is quite popular with the fishing crowd with the number of lakes and streams to choose from. To make it easy for them there are several lodges which cater to the them as well as other adventure sports and several RV parks and campgrounds.
So, we drove along admiring the lakes and mountains, stopping every now and again to photograph some fall color up on the hills with an azure blue sky above. We eventually made it down to June Lake itself where we had a nice picnic lunch and took a bit of a hike along the shore.
Yellow fall color flowing down the hillside below azure blue skies
Fisherman on June Lake
Laws Historic Railroad Museum near Bishop
The town of Laws, 4.5 miles northeast of Bishop California, sits at about 4,000 feet in the flat Owens valley. It started out as the settlement of “Station” in 1883 when the Carson and Colorado Railroad (formed in 1880) made it that far. This was a narrow gauge line. That means the rails were closer together than normal. It also means that rolling stock could not go from the main railroads of the time onto the tracks of these narrow gauge lines due to the rail spacing. As it turns out there were many such narrow gauge railroads scattered around the western half of the country as it made it easier to lay track in mountainous terrain. This railroad was originally intended to go from Mound House, Nevada, and the Carson River to the Colorado River. However it only made it to Keeler, California, never reaching its ultimate destination.
By 1883 the line had been completed from Mound House to what is now called Laws which is when the depot and accompanying buildings and infrastructure went into service. The establishment of the depot spurred the development of a town around it which eventually grew to have two general stores, restaurant, hotel, boarding house, pool hall, dance hall, blacksmith shop, post office, barber shop, powder magazine and warehouses along with the private homes of all the folks needed to operate those businesses. Several industrial buildings followed later. The railroad line supported the many farms and ranches in the valley as well as providing convenient shipping options for nearby mines and the industrial concerns that called the town home.
At some point the name of the town name was changed from “Station” to “Laws” in honor of Mr. Laws who was some sort of railroad official (I wonder how much he paid the city council for that “honor”?). . The town had its own post office from 1887 to 1963 but once the railroad closed down in 1959 the population began to dwindle and the post office went out of business a few years later.
As was the case with many such towns in the west, the decline and eventual disappearance of such towns can many times be traced back changes in commercial activities in the area as well shipping options. In this case most of the local mines closed and what shipping remained supporting other businesses, farms and ranches moved to trucks leaving the railroad with little purpose. However, another factor in this area’s decline was the never ending need for more and more water in Los Angeles. Around this same time the Los Angeles Water District set its sights on the Owens Valley. In a somewhat shady operation LA came in and one by one started buying farms and ranches in the area using fictitious and hired “buyers’ who posed as farmers or ranchers coming to the area from other parts of the country. Once they had acquired most of the valley in this manner, they just shut down the farms and ranches and drilled more and more wells to tap the ground water and piped all the water to LA. Of course with all these farms and ranches now just unused land there was little need for transportation services to ship goods and the railroad shut down.
When the railroad closed down in 1959 the only things that hadn’t been torn down for salvage at the railroad depot were the station building, agent's house, oil and water tanks and the turntable. However, the town itself still had a several buildings still standing and many of these were acquired and moved to the location of the train depot which has not become the present day museum.
Today the museum is about 15 acres and consists of the original 1883 depot building, furnished agent house, Steam Engine #9 with several freight cars attached, loads of old farm machinery, a railroad turn table, water and oil tanks, an old gas station, and several other buildings and artifacts of the era.
This museum is a great way to spend a half day. You can go into many of the buildings, climb aboard the steam engine, peruse the old buildings wander through the old school house, see all sorts of wagons and carriages and just get a sense of life in that era
Round Table and Water Tank (Oil tank behind water tank)
Laws Museum Row of 1800’s shops
Gas Station Oil pump
Gauges on Engine #9
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I hope you are enjoying reading the Fall in the Eastern Sierra’s travel log Series. The next segment will be Fall Color in the Eastern Sierras.
- Images of this trip can be found on my website at.
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Thanks for reading – Comments Appreciated -- Dan
Keywords: Bishop Railroad Museum, Blog, CA, California, Dan Hartford Photo, DanTravelBlog, DanTravelBlogEastSierra, Esatern Sierra's, Historic Railroad Museum, June Lake, June Lake Loop, Laws California, Laws Historic Railroad Museum, Laws Railroad Museum, Old car, Railroad Turn Table, Sierra Fall Color, Western US History
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