CONVICT LAKE, Calif.
- In 1871, 29 desperate prisoners made a break in Carson City,
Nev. - a real shoot-'em-up affair. Before
they left the area, they shot the warden. They killed some of his
family and kidnapped others.
Then they grabbed some horses, and
six headed south into California, stopping at a lake nestled in
the Eastern Sierra just south of Mammoth Lakes. The
lake had a steep, glacial peak on the west. On the east was a lush
meadow with a meandering creek.
A perfect place to relax yet
retreat to safety if need be. But
it wasn't safe enough. A posse was giving chase.
When the posse caught up to the
escapees, it was a real shoot-'em-out affair. Two of the posse
were killed (Mount Morrison, elevation 12,268, on the lake's south
shore was named for one of them: Robert Morrison).
The convicts escaped, but two were
caught later in Round Valley near Bishop. These two were hanged by
a local group, which took them (apparently without too much
trouble) from the officers and posse.
Ironic that this peaceful, scenic
place was the site of such a bloodbath.
Today, it's known as Convict Lake,
with scenery and recreational opportunities second to none. The
contrasting environments of high desert, lush forests and
lake-studded mountains put the area in a class by itself.
Fishing - Both the lake and Convict
Creek coming out of it offer good trout fishing. It is not unusual
for big brown trout (up to 15 pounds) to be caught just below the
Convict Lake outlet. For now, fishing season is open from the last
Saturday in April through Halloween. But the California Department
of Fish and Game is considering extending the season, possibly as
early as next year, through November (snow usually doesn't hit the
area until December).
Ninety-nine percent of the fish in
the lake are rainbow trout. Weekly heavy stockings from two
private hatcheries as well as F&G affords good fishing. Within
the past eight days, 400 large fish (4-5 pounds on average) were
stocked in the lake. Convict Creek, in the campground area, is
stocked once a week with 400-500 fish, three-quarters of a pound
Other activities - Stables are
nearby for horse rentals or guided trips, which are offered four
times a day. Hiking, offering some of the most panoramic views in
Northern California, is an option. A trail routed along the north
side of the lake, then along upper Convict Creek, and eventually
into the John Muir Wilderness, is a must. Fishing boats with
six-horsepower engines and three 18-foot pontoon boats are
available for rent.
Accommodations - There are 88 sites
for tents or RVs. Most sites can accommodate RVs up to 41 feet,
some up to 55 feet. There are no reservations, and the cost is $10
a night with a seven-day limit.
Though the campsites are set in
high desert-like surroundings, along the creek but out of sight of
the lake, and the wind hits a lot of the exposed sites, they are
popular, with an average occupancy rate of 94 percent.
Most cabins date from 1929 and are
rustic though comfortable. Some new cabins have been constructed
(one sleeps 32 people). Reservations are a must - (800) 992-2260 -
and the rates range from $83 to $650 per night.
Specifics and location - Convict
Lake is nestled in a bowl at 7,853 feet and is less than a mile
long and a half-mile wide - 168 acres in all. At its deepest, it
is 140 feet. Much of the lake is more than 100 feet deep. From Lee Vining on U.S. 395, drive south for 31 miles (five miles past
Mammoth Junction) to Convict Lake Road, then about 2 1/2 miles to