Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Volcanic Fissures and a Subalpine Lake near Lee Vining, CA

Lee Vining, CA is perched on the edge of Mono Lake and serves as the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park. We last spent a few nights here in October 2014; this time was another short stay, just two nights but we managed to pack in some very diverse hikes in such a sort time frame.

We arrived at Mono Vista RV Park just a few nights before they would close for the season (on Nov. 1st). A nice little RV park, it is just down the street from the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center.
There we found the lovely creek trail we'd hiked on our last visit had been washed out by the raging snow melt this past winter so our post-drive leg stretcher hike was a sandy trek down to the lake shore instead.

Mono Lake is a large shallow lake with no outlet so it is highly saline and alkaline. The flies and brine shrimp that thrive there feed many thousands of birds on their annual migration. From 1941 to 1990 water was diverted from the streams feeding Mono Lake and the water level dropped 45 feet endangering this fragile ecosystem.

In 1994 a lawsuit determined that the lake must be allowed to recover to 20 feet above its lowest level. Fortunately the heavy rains and snow pack this past winter is helping to reach that goal, though there is still a long ways to go, it was good to see much more water in the lake than we'd seen in 2014.

Wetlands and tufas around Mono Lake.
The low black hill on the opposite shore is Black Point, an ancient underwater eruption...
we will climb that tomorrow.

Tufa are limestone columns formed long ago by calcium rich underwater springs when the lake was much deeper.

We began our one full day in Lee Vining with a hike to the Black Point Fissures. This small hill on the north edge of Mono Lake erupted underwater thousands of years ago and the fissures were created by the rapid cooling. There is no official trail, just head up the loose black cinder hill towards the top and continue past the high point until you come across the fissures.

Loose, black sand-like cinders make the climb into a workout.

The fissures are similar to slot canyons we've seen elsewhere in the west.

I thought this was a neat hike, it's about three miles round trip with a treasure hunt feel as you search for the fissures.
Not everyone will like the deep cinders and all the bushwacking involved.

Making the most of our limited time in the area our second hike for the day was to Parker Lake, a trail we'd learned about from Hans' brother, Norm. The trailhead is located up a short dirt road off of June Lake Loop.

This was a gorgeous trail! The long distance views, both back towards Mono Lake, and ahead into the towering Sierra Nevada mountains, the burbling creek, the enormous Ponderosa Pines, all served to take our minds off the fact we were hiking up at 8,000 feet!

The trail starts climbing gently right away,
the views behind us to Mono Lake and various volcanic mountains were beautiful.

Parker Creek burbled away in the canyon to our right and the Sierras loomed ahead of us.

Lively Parker Creek accompanied us through the second half of the trail.

We saw numerous decent sized trout, both in the creek and the lake.

Parker Lake did not disappoint.

We decided to try to circle the lake.
The going got a little rough at the far end but we made it all the way around.

The big pile of sticks at bottom right is a beaver lodge.
The water was so clear it was tempting to sit and watch until a beaver emerged!

Creek crossing.

There are endless adventures to be found around Lee Vining, one full day just barely scratches the surface. But we've got places to be...onward!


  1. Don't you just love bushwhacking willows and underbrush? :)

  2. Those were both great hikes. We had a hard time finding the fissures but after we did we were able to go down into some of them and walk through the slots. Very cool!
    And Parker Lake was beautiful. We also tried circling the lake but it was so overgrown we gave up. You guys are tough!

    1. We felt kind of short on time so we did not drop into the fissures...I thought they were neat though!

      I think we were fortunate to hike around Parker Lake at the end of the summer...lots of fishermen had broken something of a trail at the far end.

  3. Wow, beautiful lake! Those limestone "tufa" are really cool.

    1. The 395 corridor alongside the eastern Sierras is divine...you would love exploring it!

  4. We loved the Parker Lake Trail! But we didn't bushwhack around the lake. :-) Mono Lake is so surreal and beautiful -- it's good to see so much water in the lake.

  5. We did the Parker Lake hike but hadn't heard of Black Point Fissures. I love the Mono Lake area and would love to visit again. Thanks for writing about the fissures Lisa.

    1. This area is worth stopping every single time we pass through, no matter how short the stay!

  6. We were there in 2005, but never made it to Black Point. Very cool, Lisa!

  7. We're going to have to go back. It's such a beautiful area. Great photos.

  8. Parker Lake is a fun hike. I loved listening to the creek for the second half. Great photo of the lake! Black Point Fissures looks very interesting!

  9. You picked out two great hikes...the tufa are interesting and Parker Lake is beautiful!