Bishop is the kind of town you can drive right by if you’re not paying attention. One car dealership at the beginning of the town welcomes you, and another at the end waves you goodbye.
But Laws, hundreds of miles from anywhere outsiders would think of when they think of California, has the state’s trademark ample sunshine and blue skies, cooling gusts on an otherwise warm day.
So when we commented on the gorgeous weather at the town’s railroad museum, the receptionist manning the guest book smiled.
“Of course it’s gorgeous,” he said. “It’s Inyo County. It’s paradise.”
The museum is a collection of a dozen or so shops from Owens Valley in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, as well as a fleet of preserved trains, cars, and mining equipment from the era. It’s a delightful little stroll after a day of driving. This time though, we got a special little tour of the mining exhibit by one of the museum volunteers.
That entire contraption above him moves, apparently with the goal of breaking down rocks to extract precious minerals. It starts with the chugga chugga sound of a train.
And it looks freaking heavy. I won’t pretend I understood every moment of the process, but it was nonetheless very impressive to watch.
We had just come down from Yosemite, which is astoundingly beautiful, but when you sit for a while and consider it, the famous peaks are several enormous hunks of granite. You really need to get creative if you’re going to get gold out of rocks like that.
Obviously, someone figured it out, and gold mining has been a part of the area since the 1880’s. Jay, the volunteer, took out a vial of mercury and was very amused when I didn’t know what it was. In gold mining, mercury is mixed with materials that might contain gold. The amalgam is then heated to vaporize the mercury and extract the gold.
Honestly, when you think about the ingenuity that went into getting very stubborn gold out of the very stubborn ground, it’s astounding.
We also got to see a number of old generators which made me grateful for the advent of the extension cord.
I also found this sign that I felt not only encompassed the mining demonstration, but the museum at Laws as a whole.