Dogs, Convicts and Bears — Oh My

At 2:29 a.m. Monday morning, a roughly four-feet tall black bear strode a dozen feet from where I was sleeping the moment before. My trusty pup — an 18-pound, just turned 2-years-old Jack Russell/Italian Greyhound mix — stirred from under the warmth of his favorite plush blanket, alerted me with a low growl and sat at attention, staring down the intruder. Probably drawn by the scent of a grilled salmon filet in a Dumpster, which had been reluctantly thrown out after a hearty dinner, the beast (the bear, that is, not the doggy) trudged through campsites at Convict Lake in search of a late-night snack.

Augustus, aka, Auggie, aka, bear hunter (Photo by Scott Bridges)
Augustus, aka, Auggie, aka, bear hunter (Photo by Scott Bridges)

Convict Lake, about 15 minutes south of the popular getaway ski resort destination of Mammoth Lakes, is a local fishing hole stocked with Rainbow and German brown trout with an approximately 3-mile circumference. Now, you’re wondering why it’s called Convict Lake but you’re also wondering, “What about the freakin’ bear?!”.

Well, it didn’t eat me, obviously, I’m writing this the next morning, aren’t I? In fact, it set off a car alarm a couple of minutes later and probably ran off in fear. Or more likely, it was pissed off, like me. Honestly, who sets the car alarm at a campsite? If I was the bear, I’d have eaten that jerk just on principle. But needless to say, it was a wooly night in Mammoth (please direct pun complaints to Melissa Curtin at LaLaScoop).

Grilled salmon, aka bear bait, aka last meal (Photo by Scott Bridges)
Grilled salmon, aka bear bait, aka last meal (Photo by Scott Bridges)

The name, to return to the former issue, derives from an 1871 manhunt of, yes, escaped cons. As the story goes (on Wikipedia), a group of escapees from a Carson City prison encountered a sheriff’s posse here and a gunfight ensued in which a deputized member named Robert Morrison was killed. The looming 12,276-feet peak overlooking the serene body of water was named in his honor (Mount Morrison — not Mount Bob, smartass).

About six hours from L.A. (seven if you stop in Bishop for gas and lunch at Holy Smoke Texas BBQ, which I do recommend), Convict Lake is a little piece of heaven that doesn’t even require belief in a higher power. At any given time, a few small boats dot the lake, along with a couple of kayaks, while fisherpeople (gender neutral, as I don’t know what they prefer to be called) ring the lake at intermittent “beaches” (the term has a vastly different meaning here than in, say, Santa Monica or Playa del Rey).

Convict Lake, aka, God's Country, aka, scatter my ashes here (Photo by Scott Bridges)
Convict Lake, aka, God’s Country, aka, scatter my ashes here (Photo by Scott Bridges)

The camping is dog-friendly (I wouldn’t think of breaking any laws in a place legendary for such folk being hunted down like, well, dogs). Fire pits are available at each site, many of which have RV hookups. Additionally, each site has a picnic table and a flat space to pitch a tent (hehe).

Located in Mono County, the campground is literally five minutes off Highway 395. If you think that dubious, here are the coordinates, see for yourself: 37.58861°N 118.85778°W. According to its website, there are 48 sites. Here’s some very good advice: Reserve online and do it now (or if not now, you know, long before you plan to go — if you plan to go, obviously — as it fills up in a rapid fashion).


2 thoughts on “Dogs, Convicts and Bears — Oh My

  1. Love your article! This place looks gorgeous–and appreciated the history of the name. I was wondering about it just as you mentioned it! Glad you weren’t eaten, of course, you wouldn’t have been with your beautiful Auggie by your side! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you, Jo. It’s a lovely spot in which to soak up some nature despite the unfortunate name. And with such a trusty companion, who went right back to sleep in the bottom of my bag, bears are not to be feared (NOTE: accepts no liability for bear-related deaths and or injuries as a result of author’s comments.)

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