Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mono Lake and Tioga Pass

One of the special features of the Eastern Sierras is Mono Lake. Today it is a small remnant of what once covered this region. Like the Great Salt Lake, this lake no longer has an outlet. Water leaves only by evaporation, causing the natural salts to accumulate. Today Mono Lake is three times as salty as the Pacific Ocean.

In that briny environment live tiny brine shrimp and alkalai flies. These in turn feed millions of birds who come to this lake to feed during migration and to nest in the spring. It also brought the Kudzidika people here. Then, in recent history others came. Miners seeking the gold and silver in the hills of the region, ranchers and other settlers. The demand for wood changed the environment and the hostilities of newcomers toward the native Paiute and Shoshone people changed the face of the region. Still later came the representatives of the Los Angeles Water District. More than any other arrival, these changed the land dramatically.

Streams that had previously fed Mono Lake and Owens Lake to the south, were diverted into aqueducts to feed the growing populations of the Los Angeles Basin. Owens Lake no longer exists, except for a shallow puddle in the spring. Mono Lake is a much smaller, and more saline remainder of what was once here. When it is windy, the alkalai flats of both lakes spin blinding and health impacting dust.

Islands in Mono Lake, formed by volcanic action, were threatened with ceasing to be islands. One became a peninsula, allowing coyotes, fox and other predators to attack the eggs and new chicks of the nesting birds.

Eventually the Friends of Mono Lake prevailed in the courts. Los Angeles had to quit taking all the water from the steams feeding the lake. Even with this court help, the Lake is still in danger. Drought years expose the peninsula.

Still, this is a special place, one beloved by many, including photographers. Fresh water springs under the lake bring up water. As the calcium in that water interacts with the briny lake water, tufa towers are formed. As the lake has receded,these towers are exposed. The eerie landscape intrigues visitors.

Above:Double rainbow over the lake.

Below: Tufa Towers on land and in the lake and briny water with foam. The water of Mono Lake is thick and silky in appearance. It is bouyant. Mark Twain described it in "Roughing It" and said the the akalinity allowed one to toss in dirty laundry and have it come up cleaner than if an expert laundry woman had rubbed it on a wash board.

Below: views from Tioga Pass, the "backroute" into Yosemite. It closed the following day due to snow. Here is a view of Half Dome....not the usual one seen from the Yosemite Valley.

1 comment:

Don Peterson said...

Had a great time during that short week. Thanks for being such an excellent guide, Betty.

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