Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery

Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery
Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery

Located just outside of Independence, Inyo County, California the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery has played an important role in the preservation of the Golden Trout.  Beyond the hatchery’s primary purpose, the site makes an excellent location to pull off the highway, relax in the shade and enjoy a picnic lunch.  This is how I was introduced to the hatchery 30 years ago, and it is still much anticipated stop each time I travel the 395 highway.

The fish hatchery began life in 1915, when the town of Independence raised money for and subsequently purchased a 40 acre parcel of ideal land in Oak Creek.  Using foresight not seen in our time, Fish and Game Commissioner M. J. Connell directed he direct the design team “to design a building that would match the mountains, would last forever, and would be a showplace for all time.”  Charles Dean of the State Department of Engineering and the design time team decided upon a “Tudor Revival” architectural style.

Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery Display Pond
Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery Display Pond

Utilizing a budget of $60,000 the hatchery project was started in March 1916 and complete one year later.  The building was built using 3200 tones of  local granite quarried nearby, boasts walls up to three feet thick and features a Spanish Tile roof.  When the facility was brought online in 1917, the hatchery could produce two million fry per year.  The fish hatchery operated until 2008, when on July 12th a flood and mudslide tore down the Oak Creek watershed which in 2007 was burnt in a wild fire.  The resulting mudslide buried the fish rearing ponds, destroyed four buildings and killed the entire population of Rainbow Trout.

The pond offers some beautiful flowers in the spring.

Currently a restoration project is in process, however the fate of the hatchery operation remains unknown.

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Hot Creek Geologic Site

Hot Creek Geologic Site is located near Mammoth, Lake just off the 395 Highway in Mono County, California. The stream originates from Twin Lakes in Mammoth and continues on to Lake Crowley. The site is located near and a beautiful cold water stream which is located over a geothermal vent. Warm water is heated from a magma chamber located about three miles below the earths surface and bubbles up into the steam warming the water.

Hot Creek located off the 395 highway near Mammoth in Mono County, California
Hot Creek located off the 395 highway near Mammoth in Mono County, California

The Hot Creek does offer excellent fishing opportunities and popular among fly fisherman. Fishing used to be limited to barbless hooks.

No Swimming

The stream is now closed to swimming becuase “Earthquakes can cause sudden geyser eruptions and overnight appearances of new hot springs at Hot Creek.  Water temperatures can change rapidly, and so entering the water is prohibited. ” Reports of hot water geysers up to 6 feet tall in 2006 and rapidly fluctuating temperatures apparently caused the closure of the stream to swimming.

My grandfather used to point out that some hot water vents where not in the same locations as when he was a child. Perhaps, within my life the hot springs area has become too dangerous to swim.

J Rathbun

As a child and young adult, the stream was open to swimming and my family did this routinely on almost every trip. I recall active conversations about the possibility of an geyser eruption which would kill us and we understood the risk of swimming. However, we also understood the possibility of an such an event was very remote when one considers the geologic time tables. My grandfather used to point out that some hot water vents where not in the same locations as when he was a child. Perhaps, within my life, the area has become too dangerous to swim.

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Convict Lake

Convict Lake is located on the east side High Sierra Mountains in Mono County, California below Mount Morrison (12,241 ft). The serene lake is nestled in a serene canyon and offers great opportunities for boating, hiking, fishing and camping. Overall, the lake if an oblong shape, and carved from the hard rock from glaciers and at 140 feet deep, it is one of the deepest in the area. Paiute Indians called the lake Wit-sa-nap

Another beautiful day at Convict Lake, in the High Sierra Mountains
Another beautiful day at Convict Lake, in the High Sierra Mountains

Some History

Originally known to Europeans as Monte Diablo and named Convict Lake after an prison escape on September 17, 1871 in near by Carson City, Nevada. About half of the twenty nine convicts followed Charlie Jones, who use to life in the area, into the area on Monte Diablo (Convict) Creek a few miles away from the lake. While camping near the creek, the party killed a local man.

The killing prompted the local community to form a posse on September 22, 1871 which encountered the convicts at the creek where a gun battle ensued. By November 1, the convicts were either captured, or dead and many of them executed on the way back. Convict Lake is certainly a well deserved if not macabre name.

Today

Today, the lake has all anyone could ask of a lake in the High Sierra. The lake and stream offers great fishing of Rainbow Trout and Brownie Trout.

It was like a scene from “Grumpy Old Men”, when a man walked into the store in a tuxedo while I am purchasing a fishing license.

J. Rathbun

There is a small boat rental shop near the north end of the lake. A trail circumnavigates the lake and offers a great hike and many places to picnic. In some areas around the lake the trail is inundated with California Wild Rose which offers a blast of pink in a green hedge.

California Wild Rose (Rosa californica) found around Convict Lake, California
California Wild Rose (Rosa californica) found around Convict Lake, California

Visitors to the lake may enjoy camping, fishing, hiking and boating. A small general store can help stock up your supplies or buy a fishing license.

For those not into camping, there is a nice small resort at the lake were you can rent a cabin, and on my last visit, a wedding was hosted there. It was like a scene from “Grumpy Old Men”, when a man walked into the store in a tuxedo while I am purchasing a fishing license. The resort is a decent size, meaning that it is not too large and does not detract from the scenery.

Overall, Convict Lake is a great place to camp and visit, and I just can’t wait to get back.

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Convict Lake Campground

Convict Lake Campground is a wonderful location to camp in the amazing High Sierra Mountain near Convict Lake in Mono County, California. The campground is located about 100 yards from Convict Lake and some of the sites will have views of the lake. Those sites which do not have a view of the lake must simply take in the wonderful rugged High Sierra Mountains as their back drop.

A deer walking the road into Convict Lake Campground
A deer walking the road into Convict Lake Campground

The campground is situated so that Convict Creek runs down its length on one side. The small creek offers a wonderful sound track to some of the campsites. It’s easy access allows you to walk from the campsite to the creek in about 10 seconds. This is a nice place to fish, or just take a nap in the afternoon. I can speak from first hand experience that bear will also use paths near to creek to enter and egress the campground.

I can speak from first hand experience that bear will also use paths near Convict Creek to enter and egress the campground.

J. Rathbun
Convict Creek offers fishing and a few spots to take a nap.
Convict Creek offers fishing and a few spots to take a nap.

Overall, I have enjoyed every stay at this campsite, and each visit is memorable. The campground offers great access to all of the activities at Convist Lake and a good place to jump off when exploring the Eastern Sierra.

Depending upon the time of year, you may need to make reservations. My past few trips were hunting for Fall Colors and in October the camp ground typically has some good first come first serve camp sites. The campground is typically serene, quiet and a wonderful place to be.

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Alabama Hills

Located near Lone Pine, CA the Alabama Hills are an awesome spot to visit and explore in Inyo County.  Large boulder formations erupt from the ground and create a maze of canyons, trails and roads. This feature in itself, is more than enough fun to justify a trip to this area, however add to the equation that the Alabama Hills has appeared in more Hollywood movies than one person can name and you have the perfect combination of terrain and nostalgic history.

Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, California
Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, California

The location are featured in many “Western” movies and is the birth place of the Lone Ranger, Star Trek and Iron Man. A final punctuation mark is the area is located in the foothills of Mount Whitney (14,505 ft), the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.

Access to the locations is extremely easy, just follow Whitney Portal Road west out of Lone Pine, and take a right turn on  Movie Road. From here the possibilities are almost endless. The BLM publishes the “Movie Road Touring Brochure” which gives directions on how to find the film locations of some of your favorite movies.

Looking down on the Alabama Hills and Owens Valley from Whitney Portal
Looking down on the Alabama Hills and Owens Valley from Whitney Portal

There is an over-abundance of camping locations within this location.  I would love to camp in this site, with the only draw back being the number of tourists driving the trails. This is actually a big draw back for me.  Most of the trails are easily accessible by almost any vehicle on the market. My last trip, we saw a brand new Porsche driving movie road.  

Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California
Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California

The routes are short and easy traisl, however, there are a labyrinth of roads and canyons to explore and get lost. The fun can be search for and finding the filming locations of some of your favorite movies or televisions shows..

The area is managed by BLM. Camping is allowed by the BLM, however camping should follow all rules, regulations and the leave no trace principles in order to protect this resource and camping destination. Personally, my preference is to camp at the nearby Tuttle Creek, Lone Pine, or Mt. Whitney campgrounds.

Take your time and enjoy.

Alabama Hills Trail Map

Resources