Convict Lake Moraines, Geology on California Highway 395

by paperfacets

Here is research on moraines because we camp on top of one of these formations every year. Stunning photos to bring the area into full perspective.

If you should stop at the Convict fishing resort you may wonder 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 around 760,000 years ago. 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.

Convict Lake Resort
Convict Lake Resort

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. Ice and water moved the material down the slope in radiating deposits and aerial photos give clear evidence of the glacier's work. The water is 140 feet deep at its lowest point. It's a big hole!

Convict Lake is located just to the right of the South Moat.
Convict Lake is located just to the right of the South Moat.
Wikimedia

Features, such as, obsidian flow, cones, sulfur pots, and craters for the geology enthusiast are concentrated within the area of this map. Geothermal power is produced at Casa Diablo.

Are you interested in geology?

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

Photo 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 mountains. The body of water would have been larger at the peak of glacier melting.

Terminal and lateral moraine at Convict Lake
Terminal and lateral moraine at Convict Lake

A Series of Photos from Hwy 395

Road Convict Lake Resort
Road Convict Lake Resort
 
Highest peak is Mt. Morrison. The rocky front ridge is the end moraine.
Highest peak is Mt. Morrison. The roc...
Small peak to the left is Mono Jim Peak
Mt. Morrison on the left and Laurel Mountain on the right
Mt. Morrison on the left and Laurel M...
 

Laurel Mountain Is a Photography Workshop Stop

In modern times, only the last 100 years, the location 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 online 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. There are dozens of photos of lake scenery and the American vacation lifestyle in the Sierra Nevada's.

Last Bloom for the Season
Last Bloom for the Season

Have you been to Convict Lake?

Red is Route 395

Hwy 395 in California
Hwy 395 in California

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. Read More about Convict Lake.

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 a lava tube cave haven 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 the Basin

Rainy Day During the Summer
Rainy Day During the Summer
Updated: 08/03/2018, paperfacets
 
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paperfacets on 08/08/2018

Henry, There was gold mining a few miles north in Mammoth, but not much was found. North in the town of Bodie millions of dollars of gold was mined till the nineteen twenties. It is now a National ghost town.

blackspanielgallery on 08/08/2018

My understanding of moraines is that they contain rocks from a vast area that were moved and deposited by a glacier. Are there valuable minerals among then? Also, volcanoes also tend to have minerals separate, like gold, when the rocks cool. Is this a place for finding interesting deposits?

paperfacets on 07/30/2018

Derdriu, The initiative to split the state was funded by a multi-rich businessman. A few weeks ago State Courts ruled against it, so it is not going on the next election ballot. Cities are a good example of splitting. Several divided in CA in the early 20th century and it almost always involved the upper classes cutting the lower classed part of the city off. Upland/Ontario and Covina/West Covina are two examples. Such divisions could merely be trying to make big problems go away. But all questions and troubles can be addressed if you work at it hard enough.

DerdriuMarriner on 07/30/2018

paperfacets, Thank you for the annotated visual tour! What in particular of all the obvious motivators (activities, geology, history, scenery) causes you to visit Convict Lake every year? It's interesting that the six convicts' escape and Wells Fargo agent Morrison's death in the round-up warrant, more than any geological or human event or religious inspiration, the naming of a lake and of a peak. In reading your enigmatic statement "California counties are not as famous as the Irish counties, but they are by far larger," would county sizes change or stay the same if California becomes three states and what would the impact be on the Convict-Lassen-Lava tour?

frankbeswick on 07/29/2018

This was a really interesting article.

The rich variety of volcanic features that you describe makes the place very special. Do you think that such variety indicates that a complex geological history has occurred in the region? I ask this because you mention basalt rocks and sulfur pots, but basalt is low on sulfur, so this indicates that different kinds of vulcanism have occurred through geological time in the region.

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