Visiting Cooney Lake

Cooney Lake is one of a dozen lakes and ponds, collectively called Virginia Lakes, in the upper reaches of Virginia Creek, west of Conway Summit on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, east of Yosemite. The well-used trail to Cooney Lake and beyond starts at Big (or Upper) Virginia Lake. It follows Virginia Creek to Blue Lake, crosses talus at the south base of Dunderberg Peak to the next short step in this glacially-carved valley, winds through some forest, passing small meadows and streams, and in just over one mile arrives at the shore of Cooney Lake.

Blue Lake

Blue Lake.

Blue Lake

Blue Lake and Black Peak, from the talus slope under Dunderberg Peak.


A prospector’s cabin (circa 1890s to 1920s?) near Cooney Lake.

A miner's prospect

A collapsed tunnel entrance near the cabin.

Cooney Lake

Cooney Lake at last, at a refreshing elevation of about 10,270 feet.

The name of this lake commemorates J.P. Cooney, a local woodcutter and miner who helped Walter and Anita Foster establish the Virginia Lakes Resort at Little (or Lower) Virginia Lake in the mid-1920s (Mono County Historical Society 2013 Newsletter).

Cooney Lake

The outlet stream of Cooney Lake. Frog Lakes lie beyond that next rise.

I came here in late July looking for Kobresia, (the plant, not the asteroid) a close relative of the sedges (Carex). Kobresia myosuroides is common through much the Rocky Mountains and around the globe at high northern latitudes and in high mountains, but it’s very rare in the Sierra Nevada. Here it seems to occur only on high, cold, wet marble/limestone soils, and it’s known mainly from the extensive marbles in the canyon above Convict Lake, about 40 miles southeast of here. But there’s a narrow band of marble just east of Cooney Lake, near the contact between late Paleozoic metasedimentary and  Triassic metavolcanic rocks (see the Geologic Map of Yosemite National Park and Vicinity). The Kobresia was collected here by Dean Taylor in 1988. Well, I didn’t find it this time, but I’ll come back and try again.

Geologic map

Part of the Geologic Map of Yosemite National Park and Vicinity, showing Cooney Lake.

Not to worry, though. There’s no shortage of other wonderful subalpine plants and plant communities to see along the way, such as:

Dasiphora fruticosa

Shrubby cinquefoil, Dasiphora fruticosa (used to be Potentilla fruticosa)
at the edge of Cooney Lake.

Rhododendron columbianum

Labrador tea, Rhododendron columbianum (used to be Ledum glandulosum)
at a seep along the trail.


Dense-flowered spiraea, Spiraea splendens (used to be
Spiraea densiflora) beside the trail.

Juniperus communis

The low, spreading, Mountain juniper, Juniperus communis var. saxatilis,
on rocky soils.

Pyrola secunda

A wintergreen, Pyrola secunda, under willows near the lake.
See the disarticulating whitebark pine cone?

Above Cooney Lake

Whitebark pines (Pinus albicaulis) climb the steep north-facing slope of Black Mountain, on the south side of Cooney Lake.

Blue Lake

Blue Lake again, seen from above, looking east, on the way back down the trail. Thunder was echoing off the mountainsides and that distant squall over Mono Lake gave a good dowsing to Lee Vining later in the evening. Beyond Blue Lake are Big and Little Virginia Lakes, Virginia Lakes Resort, Trumbull Lake Campground, and the road back home.

Copyright © 2016 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.
See also Tim Messick Photography and the Bodie Hills Plants blog.

About Tim Messick

Photographer, cartographer, and botanist/naturalist. Home is in Davis, California. Home-away-from-home is the eastern Sierra Nevada. Compiling a flora of the Bodie Hills.
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