RV Saga

Geological Tour Around Mammoth Lakes Area

The fiery past of the Eastern Sierra area and orogeny created lots of geological features around Mammoth Lakes area. Devils Postpile, Convict Lake, and Hot Creek are some of the striking geological features in the area.

Devil's Postpile

Devil’s Postpile

We drove to the Adventure Center at Mammoth Lakes to take the shuttle bus. The mammoth statue welcomed tourists to explore this wonderful place. The round ticket is good for a whole day for $7. The last shuttle bus is 7:35p.m. The shuttle bus took us through the narrow winding mountain road. Jagged peaks looked like teeth on top of the mountain range. After a nearly 30-minute ride, we arrived at the Devils Postpile parking lot. San Joaquin River cascaded through the valley. A short hike on the dirt trail took us to the stunning geological wonder. A vertical wall of basaltic columns stood on top of the hill with fallen broken rocks at its feet. The left side of the wall was folded upward. Most columns were straight cut. It was like a gigantic sculpture. Mother nature is such a creative architect and sculptor. Some bright yellow green mosses decorated the columns. Several small Jeffery pines grow on top of the rocks!

Took the steep trail to the top of the Postpile, I saw its polished top with clear hexagon shape of each column. The interpretive sign noted that hexagon design is an efficient shape to save space and energy. The Postpile was grooved by gravel in glacial ice and was polished by silts. The top curved down towards the edge of the Postpile. A boy and girl were brave enough to stand and sit by the edge. Fire and ice created this nature’s wonder. Volcanic activities filled the valley with deep molten lava about 100,000 years ago. When the lava cooled, surface cracked and hexagon shapes started to form about 10 inches below. As the lava continued to cool, these cracks deepened and basaltic columns were formed. Glacier retreated and exposed this nature’s masterpiece. Stephen noticed that several short columns started to separate from the group. The formation continues to change due to earthquakes and weathering.

Panoramic View of Convict Lake

Panoramic View of Convict Lake

Convict Lake is located southeast of Mammoth Lakes. We took Highway 395 south passing the beautiful Sierra mountain range. Convict Lake Road led us towards the hidden lake behind the striking face of imposing Mount Morrison. Deep in the mountains, at the base of Laurel Mountain, there laid the charming Convict Lake. With large body of light colored metamorphic rocks and some streaks of rust color, the face of Laurel Mountain added grandeur to the scene. The parking lot was packed in the morning and we were lucky to find a spot. Lots of anglers came here to fish for rainbow trout. And that was what we were going to do because it was a free fishing day. We hurried to the lake and got a spot to fish. Low growing trees lined up the shore and fishing spots scattered. There were several big rocks at the spot we got. It was absolutely wonderful to fish with the view of the grand Laurel Mountain. I walked to the nearby Convict Lake Resort. It was a popular destination to hold wedding banquets and to take a vacation in cabins. Convict Lake is also an ideal place to tie the knot. There was a campground by Convict Lake too.

Mount Morrison

Mount Morrison

Laurel Mountain at Convict Lake

Laurel Mountain at Convict Lake

Fishing At Convict Lake

Fishing At Convict Lake

When I returned, Stephen said that the spot was too tight and the water was shallow. So we walked on the trail and searched for another spot. Most of the accesses to the shore were occupied. Families brought their kids, dogs, food, along with lounge chairs and spent the day by the lake fishing. We finally found a small beach behind the low Russian olive trees. It was easier to cast the line because of the open space and the water was deeper. But the view of the Laurel Mountain was mostly blocked by the trees. I went back to the truck and brought a folding chair and lunch. The water was crystal clear with waves from the wind and boats. A ground squirrel waited under the tree and kept trying to climb into our lunch bag on the ground. It was cool in the shade. But at an elevation of 7,850 feet, I felt the heat from the sun was burning my skin. Stephen taught me how to use my new fishing pole. I cast the line to the water and re-winded the wheel. But soon the line was caught in between the rocks in the lake. We had to cut the line. I saw some people including a boy caught fish although we didn’t have the luck.

Hot Creek

Hot Creek

Leaving Convict Lake, we headed to Hot Creek Geological Site near Mammoth Yosemite Airport. Vegetation dotted Glass Mountains laid across the eastern horizon and it looked like a dry ink painting because of its flat appearance. Hot Creek Gorge sits between Sierra Mountains in the east and Glass Mountains in the west. Looking down the small gorge, the creamy blue pools laid like jewels. There were people bathing in the lower pool adjacent to the blue pools! A sign by the trail down to the creek warned that 14 people had lost their lives because of the instability of the site and unpredicted temperature change of the spring water. Fences lined around the hydrothermal site. Another sign stated that swimming is not recommended. But people still jumped over the low fence to bath in the creek. There was a swelling vent gurgling up hot water in the pool where people were bathing. The water might be hot at the vent because people appeared to stay away from it. The air smelled like rotten eggs from sulfur in the water. I walked along the trail hoping to find the access to the blue pools but only to find the trailhead of catch-and-release fly fishing. I startled three dear drinking water by the bank. They ran to the distance shortly.

Hot Creek Geological Site

Hot Creek Geological Site

Glass Mountain

Glass Mountain

It didn’t seem to have any access to the blue pools on the other side of the gorge. Another fence was lined on the hill where the blue pools were and I didn’t see any bridges. Looking closely at the blue pools across the gorge, I saw a small cascade falling from the big upper pool into the two lower small pools. The hot water then fed into Hot Creek. Light steam floated above the blue pools. Vents spewed hot water to the pools. It was a mini Yellowstone Park. This is a nature’s cauldron. According to geocaching.com, water from Sierra went deep down to the earth and was heated to 428°F (220°C) by magma. The super hot water didn’t boil because of pressure. This super hot water mixed with cool water when it traveled towards east and came out from faults at Hot Creek Gorge. Temperature of hot water coming out of the hot spring at Hot Creek is about 199°F (93°C). This hydrothermal system is dynamic. So it is wise not to get close to the hot pools. In fact, looking from above from the viewpoint provides the best view of the blue pools.

There are so many wonders created by mother nature around this area waiting for us to explore and learn. We will keep on exploring.

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