August 08, 2011

Mono Lake: From Shore to Surface

Most people come up to the Eastern Sierras to visit Yosemite, to camp, climb, or fish. 

I came for Mono Lake.

I was expecting an other-worldly, interplanetary experiece, since pretty much all of the published photos of Mono Lake are of its South Tufa region, with its unearthly formations.

And sure, those are a big part of the geography/geology and ecosystem, but there's so much more.

The northern end, by the county park, also has some tufa towers in its swampy shoreline. But the boardwalk just stops there. You can't get into the lake. You can't scatter the alkali flies with your footsteps, or collect brine shrimp in a plastic cup.

On the south shore, you can get up close and personal with some of the once-submerged tufa towers, now exposed by the receded water line...

...But still, there's more to see.

And not just the brine shrimp.

After taking a walking tour of the South Tufa on Friday night, shortly before the sun set, I got up with the sunrise the next morning, pulled on my board shorts and water shoes, and hopped into a canoe to get onto Mono Lake.

The canoe tour is not just for the boating enthusiast, or the birding enthusiast, or the photography enthusiast looking for some other-worldly landscapes. Mono Lake is where sun, sea, and mountains meet, in a simple ecosystem where geology evolves before your very eyes. New tufas arise from the bottom of this inland sea. Water levels rise with the melt of the nearby mountaintop snowpack. Phalaropes migrate to Bolivia; ospreys nest. Creatures feed on each other.

Rivers and streams flow in, and nothing flows out.

Mono Lake faces the same political obstacles as many other public lands do, but it seems to have a resilience that's missing in its fellow salty lakes (like the Salton Sea and Soda Lake). Is it because of the affluents skiing Mammoth Mountain every winter? The international tourists flocking to Yosemite? The lake's proximity to San Francisco, Fresno, Lake Tahoe, and even LA? The area's cooler temperatures?

Mono Lake and its supporters are still full of hope, and that feeling is palpable when you visit, never more so than when you get close enough to the lake to touch it. It's a feeling that's infectious. I think I should embrace hope more often than dispair.

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