Experience a bit of the Old West with a scenic jaunt that includes a section of the original highway 395 (resplendent with golden aspens in the Fall), and a visit to the town of Bishop and nearby Laws Railroad Museum -- both steeped in the 19th century and brimming with history.
While the significant geologic history of the area began hundreds of thousands of years ago, the fateful series of events that ultimately gave Convict Lake its name occurred on a quiet yet fateful September Sunday in 1871. On that day, 29 especially fearsome convicts escaped the Nevada State Penitentiary in Carson City. A group of them headed south on a desperate murder and thieving spree that was centered in the area of what was then Monte Diablo Creek and Lake; now Convict Creek and Lake. That brief, yet dark chapter in its history belies the area’s spectacular natural beauty and thriving wildlife population.
Within the Granite Chief Wilderness area of the Tahoe National Forest, Lakes Mark, George and Mamie, as well as Horseshoe and Twin Lakes, comprise the basin’s family of water features. It is the most popular section of the wilderness due to its close proximity to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski areas. The setting is tranquil and scenic, with plentiful fishing, hiking and horseback trail riding.
A less than 10 mile ride through Jeffrey Pines and aspen groves (which turn brilliant gold in Fall), the loop leads past the hiking and mountain bike trail to Inyo Craters, formed only 550-600 years ago by the area’s most recent volcanic eruption.
Resting at the transition between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin Desert, and formed by volcanic activity between 750,000 and 3 million years ago, Mono Lake is nearly three times as salty as the ocean. Its salinity doubled while its volume halved when, in 1941, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began diverting its water to Los Angeles. The Mono Lake watershed remains one of California’s richest natural areas, however, with its14 ecological zones hosting over 80 species of water birds, 1000 species of plants and 400 vertebrate species. The lake and its surrounding landscape were featured in Clint Eastwood’s 1973 film “High Plains Drifter.”
Famous for its spectacular views, and open only during summer months due to significant snowfall, 9,265 foot Minaret Summit offers vistas west to the Ritter Mountain Range -- which includes The Minarets, Mount Ritter and Banner Peak -- and east to the Long Valley Caldera and Glass Mountains. The middle fork of the San Joaquin River runs through the valley between the Summit and The Minarets. In 2008, a hiker found items belonging to missing adventurer Steve Fossett near Minaret Lake.
Motoring over dramatic Tioga Pass is a perfect introduction to the spectacular sites of Yosemite Valley, including beautiful Tuolumne Meadows and the world-famous Ahwahnee Hotel. History is experienced first-hand at the Yosemite Museum and its neighboring “Indian Village of the Ahwahnee.”