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Home » Blogs » Adventures with Candace » Adventure to Convict Lake with Mom and a Horseback Ride up McGee Canyon

Adventure to Convict Lake with Mom and a Horseback Ride up McGee Canyon

Where: Inyo National Forest, John Muir Wilderness

Distance: About 16 Miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Range: 7,800’ – 11,160’

Date: July 16, 2015

Highlights: I put my cowboy boots on for this adventure on a horse, riding the trail through a variety of colorful wildflowers and watching the white puffy clouds float by.

Map of McGee Canyon and Convict Lake Area

Mom and I headed east over Tioga Rd., heading for Convict Lake, where we had rented a cabin for 2 nights. I had plans to ride up McGee Canyon and the location was close enough that we could “camp out” in style. Maybe I could also get some fishing in?

How about a little history on Convict Lake from their website?

Convict Lake Resort

Convict Lake Resort

“In 1929 the resort was officially established as Convict Lake Camp and owned by Bill Garner. Prior to that, the resort area was referred to as Raymer’s Camp.

Convict Lake and Creek are so named as the result of an AMBUSH encounter here September 17, 1871, where a group of inmates escaped from prison in Carson City. Sheriff George Hightower eventually caught up with the convicts and a shootout took place. Robert Morrison a Benton Merchant, Mono Jim and other posse members encountered the convicts on the present Convict Creek, then known as Monte Diablo Creek. In the encounter, Morrison and Mono Jim were killed and the convicts escaped to be captured later in Round Valley. The towering peak above the lake was re-named Mt. Morrison and the smaller one below it Mono Jim.

The Indians are said to have called Convict Lake Wit-sa-nap bearing this legend. “The streams which flowed from the mountains were supposed to be filled with Pot-sa-wa-gees, water babies, who lived in spirit, but were visible to the eye, having the face of an Indian child and the body of a fish. Hi-na-nu was a wise and good man, whose spirit the Indians reverenced, and to whom they looked for guidance in earthly matters. However, he was endeavoring to capture the Pot-sa-wa-gees as they traveled up stream.  When the sources of the streams were reached the water became so shallow that the water babies were in great danger of being taken by their pursuer. They prayed to the Great Spirit for aid, and in answer he caused the waters to flow up hill and to join the waters flowing down from the mountains, uniting in one large, deep lake, wherein the little spirits found safety —Wit-sa-nap, the Convict Lake of to-day.” Sierra Club Bulletin Vol. IX, San Francisco, CA, 1915, Mrs. A.A. Forbes.”

Convict Lake

 

Convict Lake was also featured in the following films and commercials:

The 1951 film The Secret of Convict Lake was largely based on the events that occurred at the lake in 1871.

 

 

Convict Lake

 

 

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.

 

Convict Lake

 

 

The 1966 movie Nevada Smith by Steve McQueen shot near the lake.

 

 

 

 

 

Mom and I arrived early, so I headed up to the lake with my fishing pole. I got skunked but had a darn nice view. The next day, I left mom on her own and I headed south for the McGee Pack Station.

The McGees were pioneers in this area and I learned quite a bit of the history from their website.

Back in 1872, “two brothers, Alney and Bart McGee, homesteaded a cattle ranch on McGee Creek and opened a stage station.  Cattle and sheep ranchers established the livestock trails over McGee and Hopkins Passes, which cross the crest of the Sierra. Since the 1890s (and evident on many maps) camps throughout the area have been called ‘Sheep Camp;’ for decades there was evidence of sheepherder camps – carvings, stoves and grazing areas.

In the 1920s, Alney McGee’s granddaughter and her husband established a Pack Station… calling it McGee Pack Train. By 1934 the station operated with 30 head. In 1944 the Pack Station moved to it’s present location next to the creek and took up the name it still carries – McGee Creek Pack Station.

An avalanche in the winter of 1982 destroyed the original house, bunkhouse and rental cabin and the following summer a new combination house and bunkhouse was built. The rental units were not rebuilt. So, until now, there has not been a place to stay for many years and we are delighted to offer that experience again.

The pack station still does not have electricity, but does have phone service. The original phone wire was laid by Lee’s father, Lou Roeser, in the 1950s. Lou and friends ran the line from the McGee Creek Lodge up into the Canyon; when a call for the pack station came through to the Lodge, the bartender would place the two separate handsets together in a box so that communication was possible.”

I arrived early, looking forward to spending the day riding in Dave Stamey’s hoofbeats up McGee Canyon. I had a song of his in my mind, Old McGee Canyon.

Ranger, being led out for his adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

Ranger

 

 

 

 

They led out my trusty steed for this ride up McGee Canyon. Ranger turned out to have excellent footing in those rocks. He knew the trail well and he had a bit of a personality after we got to know each other a little. More on that later . . .

Trevor’s Briefing

 

 

 

There were three of us on this ride. The other two were a married couple from San Dimas who were vacationing on the east side for several days. Our trail boss for the day was Trevor and he gave us a safety briefing and rules for the trail before we headed out.

Heading up the trail.

 

 

 

Off we went, up the trail, following McGee Creek. I had hiked up this trail as a day hike but had never gotten as far up the trail as I would on this day. I just love looking ahead toward the high red mountains.

 

We reached a wide spot where the creek opened up to a meadow-like area and Trevor said that this was Beaver Dam Meadow. I had no idea that there was a real Beaver Dam Meadow. There is a verse in Dave Stamey’s song about this.

Beaver Dam Meadow

"The willows are growing in Beaver Dam Meadow
The cascades are rolling
The water is high
The crossings are deep
They’re plumb over your stirrup
But sweeter than syrup
When you’re feeling dry
And how are things in Old McGee Canyon
How are those mountains I knew?
I dream so long of Old McGee Canyon 
Saddle my pony I’m gonna ride it through."

Beaver Lodge in Beaver Dam Meadow


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We crossed McGee Creek, then headed on up the trail. We followed what looked like an old road as we gained elevation.  

The cottonwood trees
Their leaves are like laughter
They dapple the stream with the sun shining through
The trail’s rough and narrow up through the boulders
Oh, I’m getting older
I’ll be better than new

And how are things in Old McGee Canyon
How are those mountains I knew?
I dream so long of Old McGee Canyon
Gonna saddle my pony ride it through.
I rode off one day to follow a star
Too often those stars ain’t what they seem
Brought out my mules and pack up my loads
And I’ll throw me a diamond plumb over my dreams.”

I knew that we were heading toward an old mine, so this must have been the road that supported that. Shelly Kresan took this video as we headed up that trail. I am the person in the long sleeve plaid shirt behind Trevor and Ginny.

 

We reached a large area that was our lunch spot. Trevor tied the horses up while we took our lunches out and we found good spots to eat them. I mentioned earlier that Ranger was a bit of a character. He sure liked to be scratched and I tried to scratch all of the spots that felt good to him but when I quit, it was kind of like he asked for more.

Ranger is Itchy and Wants More

 

Ranger

As I was laying on a big rock slab, I looked up through the trees, admiring the clouds that were slowly building.

Lunch Spot

Mount Baldwin Towers over Scheelore Mine

 

Mount Baldwin, Framed by White Puffy Clouds and a Beautiful Meadow

 

 

Trevor came over and asked me if I had seen the view of the mountains and I did not know about this, so headed up with him to take a look.

 

 

 

 

I was looking up towards Mount Baldwin, 12,240′ elevation with the Scheelore Mine below it. Of course I had to find out a little more about this mine when I got home and I did. The Scheelore Mine is a Tungsten Mine that is located at about the 11,5000′ elevation. The workings included 3 areas that were mined, comprised of surface pits and trenches. The deposit was discovered in 1940 by Mr. Morhardt after two summer seasons prospecting, and the 10-mile access road was constructed by the Public Roads Administration in 1942 to 1944. The Scheelore property was owned by J. K. Morhardt and H. A. Van Leon of Bishop, California, until 1946 when J. H. Riley of Reno, Nevada purchased a one-third interest. The only signficiant production was from 1942 to 1944. A total of about 100 tons of ore were mined. 11 tons of this ore was taken to Jones Mill at Benton. In 1944, 90 tons of ore were removed and taken to Red Hill Mill near Bishop. In 1954, several truckloads of tactite was shipped to the Pine Creek mill of the Union Carbide Nuclear Co. A bunkhouse suitable for housing about 25 people was also located 3 miles from the mine on the access road.

This Could be Kelley’s Lily, One of Many Wildflowers Putting on a Show in the High Meadows.

 

 

I wandered down through a grassy area with several different kinds of wildflowers.

 

 

 

 

 

Back at our lunch spot, I thought I would say hi to Giny, Trevor’s mount for the ride. I have never been around mules much but admire them greatly. I’m not sure if Giny was trying to tell me something about what she thought of me though.

Giny

Giny


It was time to head back down. We crossed McGee Creek in several places on our way down, giving the horses a chance to get a cool drink of that fresh water.

Getting a Drink of Cool Water

Crossing McGee Creek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1000050

Heading Back Down the Trail with Beaver Dam Meadow in Sight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we headed down, I could catch a better glimpse of the entirety of Beaver Dam Meadow way ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

Beaver Dam Meadow, Looking Toward Mount Crocker and Mount Stanford

 

 

Trevor planned a break at Beaver Dam Meadow and tied our horse up while we checked out the area closer and we relaxed. It looked like Ranger was enjoying the break. Shelley and Joe Kresan shared the adventure with me on this ride. What a fun couple!

 

Beaver Dam Meadow

 

 

 

Beaver Dam Meadow

 

 

Joe and Shelley Krisan at Beaver Dam Meadow

 

 

 

Ranger, Resting Up at Beaver Dam Meadow

 

Wild Iris in Beaver Dam Meadow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading Back Down the Trail

It was time to head back down the final parts of the trail. This was a ride I had been wanting to take for quite a while and I am so glad I finally got to do it. I look forward to taking more rides with the McGee Pack Outfit, exploring a couple of other areas that I have been dreaming about. I tried to find a video of Dave Stamey singing “Old McGee Canyon” for you but couldn’t. I will leave you with the words to the song though.

Old McGee Canyon

Have you seen old Dick?
He rode in this morning
Rode in from Nevada 400 miles
His horses are gathered and he looking rough
Said he’s had enough
He’s gonna to camp here a while

The willows are growing in Beaver Dam Meadow
The cascades are rolling
The water is high
The crossings are deep
They’re plumb over your stirrup
But sweeter than syrup
When you’re feeling dry

And how are things in Old McGee Canyon
How are those mountains I knew?
I dream so long of Old McGee Canyon
Saddle my pony I’m gonna ride it through.

The cottonwood trees
Their leaves are like laughter
They dapple the stream with the sun shining through
The trail’s rough and narrow up through the boulders
Oh, I’m getting older
I’ll be better than new

And how are things in Old McGee Canyon
How are those mountains I knew?
I dream so long of Old McGee Canyon
Gonna saddle my pony ride it through.
I rode off one day to follow a star
Too often those stars ain’t what they seem
Brought out my mules and pack up my loads
And I’ll throw me a diamond plumb over my dreams

And how are things in Old McGee Canyon
How are those mountains I knew?
I dream so long of Old McGee Canyon
Saddle my pony I’m gonna ride it through.
Have you seen ole Dick?
He rode in this morning
Rode in from Nevada 400 miles

Old McGee Canyon was written by Dave Stamey and is on his CD Come Ride With Me, published by Horsecamp Music, 2009.

 

Sources:

Convict Lake Resort

McGee Pack Station

Scheelore Tungston Mine Report

Scheelore Mine Information From Mindat.org

 

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