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A dark past haunts this picturesque California lake | A Bartell's Backroads Pit Stop

Convict Lake has a history of great views, great fishing, and a murderous shootout.

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — Before it received the name Convict Lake, the Northern Paiute tribe called the area “The Land of Flowing Water." It is here the stark mountains funnel snowmelt from the Eastern Sierra down into Convict Lake and into the Inyo National Forest. The clear cool water is accessible to anyone driving along Highway 395 and Mammoth Lakes.

As picturesque as it is, Convict Lake has a dark past, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Keith Dawley. 

“There was a group of convicts that escaped Carson City and ran down here,” said Dawley.

The convicts Dawley is talking about were 29 murderers and thieves who escaped a Nevada prison in 1871. Hot on their trail was a posse led by Sheriff Robert Morrison, who cornered the escapees at the base of the mountain and the lake.

“Most were captured but in the ensuing shoot-out, Sheriff Morrison was killed,” said Dawley.

From then on, the water was known as Convict Lake and the tallest peak was named after Sheriff Morrison.

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Today, Convict Lake is known for its swimming, boating and its fishing. It’s said some of the state’s largest trout lurk below these waters.

Convict Lake has a number of outlandish “fish tales,” one popular story is that of Horgan, a massive brown trout many claim to have seen, but no one has caught.

You can find many fishing spots along the three-mile lake loop trail. The boardwalk on the west side of the lake leads you to an entry point of the John Muir Trail and a beautiful grove of quaking aspen, which puts on a spectacular color show in the fall.

“All the trees will turn a brilliant yellow at peak season,” said Dawley.

Convict Lake is open year-round. Camping and lodging are available. Hiking and sightseeing are free.

HIT THE BACKROADS: California's state parks make for great road trips all year long. Don't miss John's list of the top five that you need to visit!

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