Convict Lake

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Convict Lake
Laurel Mountain Convict Lake.jpg
Convict Lake, with Laurel Mountain in the background
Location Mono County, California
Coordinates 37°35′19″N 118°51′28″W / 37.58861°N 118.85778°W / 37.58861; -118.85778Coordinates: 37°35′19″N 118°51′28″W / 37.58861°N 118.85778°W / 37.58861; -118.85778
Basin countries United States
Max. length 0.9 mi (1.4 km)
Max. width 0.4 mi (0.6 km)
Surface elevation 7,850 ft (2,393 m)

Convict Lake is a lake in the Sherwin Range of the Sierra Nevada in California, United States. It is known for its fishing and the dramatic mountains (including Mount Morrison) that surround the lake. Its surface lies at an elevation of 7,850 ft (2,393 m).

The lake, known to the Paiute as Wit-sa-nap[1], was renamed by white settlers after an incident on September 23, 1871, where a group of convicts escaped from prison in Carson City. A posse, from Benton, led by Deputy Sheriff George Hightower, encountered the convicts near the head of what is now Convict Creek. Posse member Robert Morrison, a Benton merchant and Wells Fargo Agent, was killed in the encounter, and Mount Morrison was named after him.[2] It has frequently been noted on lists of unusual place names.[3]


Convict Lake is known for its fishing, including Rainbow trout, German brown trout, and a species of sucker fish. Due to the high demand of fishing in the lake and stream, the lake is stocked once a week during the summer with rainbow trout, supplied by nearby hatcheries. There is a three-mile trail for hiking around the lake and a trail that connects the lake to the Sierra Crest.[4]

1990 drownings[edit]

Convict Lake lies in front of Mount Morrison

In February 1990, Convict Lake was the site of a major drowning. Twelve teenagers and two counselors from a nearby camp were on a holiday outing at Convict Lake. At least four teenagers and both adults fell through the thin ice and into the water. By the time the first rescuer arrived on the scene, only one teenager had been able to pull himself out of the water, but the other teenagers were no longer in sight, having apparently already drowned.[5] In all, three teenagers from Camp O'Neal, an institution for juvenile delinquents located near Whitmore Hot Springs,[6] and four would-be rescuers drowned in the freezing water. Another youth and a volunteer fire chief were rescued. Shortly before their deaths, the youths were warned that the ice was too thin to support their weight but failed to heed the warning.[7]

As a result of the drownings, Camp O'Neal was investigated and subsequently shut down due to findings of abuse and neglect.[6]

In film[edit]

Convict Lake, wide view looking west from the east end of the lake
  • The 1951 film The Secret of Convict Lake was largely based on the events that occurred at the lake in 1871.
  • According to the narrative included with the movie How the West Was Won, Convict Lake was in the opening scenes.
  • The lake was the filming location for several scenes in the 1998 film Star Trek: Insurrection.
  • It was used in an advertisement for Nature Valley granola bars in 2007.
  • An image of Convict lake was used in a CG background for a cartoon demonstration on MythBusters.
  • The westerners The Border Legion (1924) and Nevada Smith (1966) were filmed here.[8]

See also[edit]

Sevehah Cliff, composed of folded metamorphic rock, provides a colorful backdrop to Convict Lake


  1. ^ "How Convict Lake Got its Name". 
  2. ^ Chalfant, WA (1922). The Story of Inyo. p. 215. 
  3. ^ Parker, Quentin (2010). Welcome to Horneytown, North Carolina, Population: 15: An insider's guide to 201 of the world's weirdest and wildest places. Adams Media. pp. ix. 
  4. ^ Malloy, Betsy. "Convict Lake: Visiting Convict Lake". California Travel. Retrieved 2012-04-25. 
  5. ^ Wilkinson, Tracy; Sappell, Joel (1990-02-21). "Rescuers Worked Frantically as Victims Slipped Under Ice". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-04-25. 
  6. ^ a b Grasseschi, Wendilyn (2012-02-17). "Book on Convict Lake drowning accident both heals, hurts". Mammoth Times. 
  7. ^ Decker, Cathleen; Pate, Kendal (1990-02-20). "7 Apparently Drown in Freezing Sierra Lake : Tragedy: Witnesses describe futile efforts to save three teen-agers on a holiday skating party. Four other victims were trying to save them". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-03-09. 
  8. ^ Schneider, Jerry L. (2016). Western Filming Locations California Book 6. CP Entertainment Books. Page 161. ISBN 9780692722947.

External links[edit]