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Convict Lake Moraines, Geology on California Highway 395

Updated on May 21, 2018
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Sherry is retired and resides in California. She shares photos and travel experiences on the Internet. Find them on HubPages and elsewhere!

Convict Lake and Laurel Mountain in California
Convict Lake and Laurel Mountain in California

Geology of Convict Lake

While sitting in camp at Convict Lake one wonders about the vistas rising before you. The panarama has two magnificent pikes, a deep cold lake, and gravel on all sides.

The biggest thing that happened here is a very large volcano blew. The volcano was active because a hot zone developed due to forces crunching and building the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the U.S. west coast. Cailifornia Hwy. 395 cuts through the Long Valley Caldera, the main feature of that long ago event. That moment in time is also evident as you drive up Hwy. 395 from Los Angeles, because basalt and cinder cones litter the scenery.

Later, about 20,000 years ago, cold set in and huge glaciers crawled down the mountains and left piles of rock called moraines. Convict Lake formed because a moraine is acting as a natural dam holding the water back.

Photo above illustrates the classic U-shape a glacier leaves behind. On each side are lateral moraines. In the foreground is a close up of what the moraines are made of. The lake is 140 feet deep. Ice and water moved the material down the slope in radiating deposits and aerial photos give clear evidence of the glacier's work.

Convict Lake is located just to the right of the South Moat. Features, such as, obsidian flow, cones, and craters are for the geology enthusiast.
Convict Lake is located just to the right of the South Moat. Features, such as, obsidian flow, cones, and craters are for the geology enthusiast. | Source

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East End Natural Dam

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Moraine in background forming the north side of the lake.The same north side as it turns and forms a natural dam at the east end.The south side of the east end of the lake.First ridge is the south lateral moraine. Tall pine trees are scattered along the length of the creek.
Moraine in background forming the north side of the lake.
Moraine in background forming the north side of the lake.
The same north side as it turns and forms a natural dam at the east end.
The same north side as it turns and forms a natural dam at the east end.
The south side of the east end of the lake.
The south side of the east end of the lake.
First ridge is the south lateral moraine. Tall pine trees are scattered along the length of the creek.
First ridge is the south lateral moraine. Tall pine trees are scattered along the length of the creek.

Aerial View of Sierra Nevada Moraines

 See more glaciated aerials by clicking link. These pictures are fascinating.
See more glaciated aerials by clicking link. These pictures are fascinating. | Source

Photo Above by Marli Miller

This aerial view of a spot visited so often by West Coast campers is an eye popping new perspective. Many questions are now answered about this quiet place in the mountains of California. All the material the glacier moved to form the distinctive ripples is called till. It is clear the ice flow made a sharp left turn and advanced to make the large moraine near the bottom of the photo. Imagine a series of warm and cold years over hundreds of years creating the ripples going uphill toward the lake. The lake would have been larger at the peak of glacier melting.

View of the Down Slope End of Moraine Field

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A series of photos from Hwy 395. Highest peak is Mt. Morrison. The rocky front ridge is the end moraine.Road to Convict Lake Resort.Moraines in foreground.Mt. Morrison on the left and Laurel Mountain on the right.
A series of photos from Hwy 395. Highest peak is Mt. Morrison. The rocky front ridge is the end moraine.
A series of photos from Hwy 395. Highest peak is Mt. Morrison. The rocky front ridge is the end moraine.
Road to Convict Lake Resort.
Road to Convict Lake Resort.
Moraines in foreground.
Moraines in foreground.
Mt. Morrison on the left and Laurel Mountain on the right.
Mt. Morrison on the left and Laurel Mountain on the right.

Laurel Mountain Is a Photography Workshop Stop

In modern times, only the last 100 years, Convict Lake began as a camping and fishing resort spot. In the last couple of decades it has expanded into a wedding destination with a Four Star Restaurant rating. Multi-room, well appointed, rustic cabins have been built for wedding guests and families. Music from the white hosting tent is evident every Saturday night and can be heard at the campground.

Many visitors of the area take photography workshops and the east end of Convict Lake is a very popular photo stop at dawn.

Here are some awesome photos. James Neeley's Flickr post Moonset at Convict Lake is at dawn with moon glow. Technically, I do not know how an image like this is captured, but it is spectacular. The second link is a collection of photos of Convict Lake on Flickr. There are dozens of photos of California scenery and the American vacation lifestyle.

Photography at Convict Lake

 Last Bloom in the Meadow, Convict Lake
Last Bloom in the Meadow, Convict Lake

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Red is Route 395

Geology Highlights along 395
Geology Highlights along 395

Highway 395 in California Is for Camping

It is easy to meet RV travelers from all over the world along this highway. The rental minivans converted with complete housekeeping amenities, except the bathroom, are for rent at major airports in California. A new traveler can spend many days seeing the geology of the area. Campgrounds with dry camping or no hookups are available, and places to stop for the night are plentiful. Be sure to have a campground guide, because not all campgrounds are posted along the highway.

Side trips to see volcanic features in California are Lassen National Park. Mt Lassen is over 10,000 feet and blew in 1915 sending ash nearly 300 miles to the east. Visit mud pots and stinking fumaroles. Lava Beds National Monument is lava tube cave heaven for slunkers. The area has the largest lava field in California.

1972 Convict Lake
1972 Convict Lake

Mono County, CA

When visiting Convict Lake you are in Mono County, CA. California counties are not as famous as the Irish counties, but they are by far larger. Enjoy geology and the wilderness in the eastern side California!

A Rainy Day Look of Convict Lake Basin

Notice the U-shape of the surrounding slopes.
Notice the U-shape of the surrounding slopes.

© 2013 Sherry Venegas

Be Sure to Stop at Convict Lake When Traveling Hwy. 395

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    • paperfacets profile image
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      Sherry Venegas 3 years ago from La Verne, CA

      @SamuraiMarine: My husband took 395 to Reno for work several times. There is no better route for variety of scenery.

    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Sounds like a great place to visit, I live near a beautiful lake as well and have so many memories there. Your pictures were beautiful, would love to visit someday!

    • SamuraiMarine profile image

      Samuel Wright 4 years ago from Bakersfield, Ca.

      I used to travel the 395 on a pretty regular schedule until my position with my company changed. Traveling from Bakersfield, Ca. to Reno was always a hassle and boring on the I5 through to the 80, so I took this one year and was hooked.

      Love all the scenery and geology along the way. You are seeing into the past of this planet and seeing how beautiful "Desolation" can be. I would not mind retiring to someplace like Olancha.

      Have not been to Convict Lake, yet... but seeing this gives me an idea about where to take my son has he gets older.

    • MrAusAdventure profile image

      Bill 4 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      I wish that I had come across this Lens at the start of 2012! We traveled down Hwy 395 in March 2012 from Lake Tahoe through to the turnoff to Death Valley. It was an awesome drive that day, I loved it but I would have liked to have had the time to stop off and see more of the great sights along the road like this lake, it looks amazing!

    • archetekt lm profile image

      archetekt lm 4 years ago

      I love the 395 drive rather than i-5 or 99 but never stopped at Convict Lake, next time I'll look for it.

    • profile image

      jfjones1 4 years ago

      This is such a great read! I have a huge interest in lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. The aerial view is awesome.

    • girlfriendfactory profile image

      girlfriendfactory 4 years ago

      I'm in Northern California, but this seems like it'd be a great trip! I lived in Southern California just over 20 years ago and never made it to Convict Lake then either. Not sure how I missed it. Love your photos and telling of the formation!

    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 4 years ago

      They tell me that I am old (62), so I am preparing my bucket list of everywhere I want to visit before my journey here ends. I was born very high in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. That is why my mother named me Sierra Dawn. My Dad took me on a 5 year road trip through all of the places in California and Nevada that he most loved during his life, and that he wanted me to learn my connection to. But his battle with cancer ended this education much too soon. I did not get to go to Convict Lake. Thank you so much for introducing this beautiful and important California site to me. I have added it to my Dream Journal Bucket List. They tell me that I have serious health conditions but I plan to live until I am 105 and I plan to experience all of the amazing sites that I am finding on Squidoo. Thank you for for publishing your personal experience, passion, and knowledge of Convict Lake. If I die before I make it there, I am happy, because you let me experience it fully here in your lens. Thank You!

    • floppypoppygift1 profile image

      floppypoppygift1 4 years ago

      We went there when I was a kid but just fished at the campground. We used Zeke's Floating Bait but we only caught one little trout! Still, the scenery & fresh air is unparalleled. Cheers~cb

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I haven't heard of Convict Lake but I have heard of Mono Lake. Are they close to each other. It looks like a lovely place to go.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      Looks a beautiful place, especially at times when the surrounding area is suffering drought conditions. Very interesting to see how the lake was formed from ice age glaciers.

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      I want to go there, and know people who have. Geology is a favorite subject of mine. As a Southern Californian, I need to go this direction sometime.

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