Wednesday, June 15
Last Friday when I was driving out to my latest camp near June Lake, CA, I passed the sign for Convict Lake and belatedly remembered that several blog readers had recommended the place. “Oh!” I exclaim as Bertha and Cas wiz on past. I’ll have to go back and check it out.
Well, today’s the day. Rayn and JJ meet me out there at 8 am. Okay, more like 8:10 am, as there’s a little confusion over where to park. While we’re chatting and preparing for the 3 mile hike around the perimeter of the lake, a flash of movement catches my eye. There’s a deer on the trail, disguised by shadows. The large ears flick back and forth, alert to danger. As soon as we start to move, it melts away into the trees.
I’d swear that Convict Lake changes colors. In truth, it looks different depending on your relation to it and the angle of the sun. At the start of the walk with the sun behind us and lower in the sky, the color is a fathomless gray, subtly reflecting the brown and white of the mountains behind.
Wild rose bushes bloom along the more open sections of the trail. The three of us take turns leaning in to smell them, mindful of the breeze that could bring the hazards of thorny stems to bear.
Looking back toward the parking lot, the lake turns a deep blue, reflecting the open sky away from the hills. Fisherman paddle out on the lake; there is dock here, as well as boat rentals. We never see anyone catch anything, I wonder if the wind isn’t good for fishing.
The woods at the back end of the lake have turned into a peculiar delta, water from melting snow in the mountains flattens the grass and spreads into channels of varying widths between the trees. Clearly most of the year it isn’t this wet.
Where the rivulets meet the lake, the water is almost tropical in appearance. Clear near shore and aqua farther out. My guess is the lake is more shallow here.
Rayn and JJ clue me to to a secret regarding the Jefferson pine, its sap smells like butterscotch! Stick your nose in a deep crack in the rough bark and take a deep whiff. Or maybe don’t, because then you’ll be hungry for sweets.
There’s a canyon behind Convict Lake that leads up into the mountains and at least two more lakes that can be hiked out to. We think about going up to Dorothy Lake, but it’s a lot farther off than the map makes it look, and I didn’t come prepared to hike all day. That doesn’t mean we can’t hike part-way though.
To the left is the stream that feeds Convict Lake (Convict Creek), flowing swift and strong. Most of the time it’s hidden among trees and its presence is verified only by the sound of rushing water. Sage and other scrub dominate the landscape, with patches of juniper interspersed.
Higher up, the rose bushes and small purple flowers disappear, and small yellow flowers and the bright red of paintbrush take their place. There’s also cactus up here, which surprises me. It looks to be some variation on the Prickly Pear.
The trail disappears. A vast expanse of tumbled rock that looks like it should be a stream bed but is completely dry stands in our way. The trail was washed out here, but two hikers coming the other direction show us where we can traverse the obstacle.
Convict Lake looks nothing more than a blue jelly bean below, the hazy specter of the snow-capped White Mountains looming behind.
A couple more twists and turns and the lake disappears altogether. The cliff faces press closer to the trail here, allowing one to see a surprising variation in color. They’re gray, white, brown, tan… in places almost purple. The wind has really picked up, there’s a wind advisory due to start this afternoon and our stomachs are telling us noon can’t be far off. We stop in a rock field and have our snack before turning around.
The wind blows us back towards the lake.
The water has turned teal, small whitecaps break the surface. A confrontation on September 17, 1871 between three escaped convicts from Carson City Penitentiary, and Robert Morrison, member of a citizen posse are how the creek and lake got their names. Morrison was killed and the convicts escaped, but were later captured by the posse in Round Valley. Two of the fugitives were hanged in Bishop, the youngest (19) was returned to prison.
Hiking is hungry work! Mammoths Lakes is the closest place for food, but Rayn and JJ are fond of a food truck in June Lake called Ohanas, off the main drag and a favorite with the locals. I get the Kahuna Chips, that’s kettle chips topped with pork or chicken, melted jack cheese, local BBQ sauce, sweet sesame slaw, and peppercinis. It’s delicious.
Not quite ready to be done with the day, we continue on to Lee Vining for ice-cream at Mono Cone. It’s soft-serve, and very tasty. I get a photo of Mono Lake in the distance. If all goes well, I’ll be getting more pictures of it in the near future. Also coming in the near future: my second e-guide, which is not about RVing particularly but more along the lines of my ‘Deliberate Living’ category of blog posts. More about that later this week!
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