The Grotto at South Tufa, Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierras
I was first introduced to the Mono Lake Basin in September 2011 on a trip with my son Charles and his Green Tortoise Travel bus and have since had the opportunity not only to spend a lot of time exploring there, but more importantly to become acquainted with and a part of the Mono Lake Committee, a conservancy organization co-founded by the late David Gaines that has been in operation at ML since the mid-80’s. It’s very safe to say that lacking the efforts of the MLC there would be no Mono Lake today. It would have long since gone the way of Owens Lake a little further south of the Basin. Owens, despite its ‘lake’ designation, is now a very large salt flat: Picturesque. Toxic.
Not so Mono Lake, which even bearing a salinity level exceeding twice that of the Pacific is one of the liveliest (and loveliest) bodies of water on earth. It plays host to trillions of brine shrimp which control the lake’s algae levels and provide a critical food source to the millions of migratory birds that use Mono Lake annually. The shrimp are also a staple for about a third of the world’s California Gull population that calls this place its nesting home.
I became a volunteer with the Committee this past spring and commuted up from Los Angeles over a period of several weeks to get the training necessary to the work and then to actually deliver on that investment before leaving for the east coast in mid-July. The photographic materials piled up and for the most never got posted so I thought I’d better do something about that before it slipped away entirely. I’ve culled through my logs and come up with a couple hundred shots. It’s overkill I suppose but does offer a reasonably good view of my activities over these many months. It also includes shots of the volunteer group I was a part of, led by a very dedicated former California State Park Ranger, Janet Carle. Janet, and her husband David, also a former ranger at Mono Lake, have published a book entitled Traveling the 38th Parallel which ties together global water issues common to the latitudinal band that intersects the Mono Basin. Well worth looking at.
And Mono Lake is well worth visiting. If you find yourself traveling to Yosemite or anywhere in the Eastern Sierra area you’d be well rewarded making the trip to the Lake, to the Bodie Hills and Mono Craters and to the little town of Lee Vining hard by the shoreline. If you happen there next spring look me up. I’ll be the guy hanging around the Old Marina on the west end sporting a Mono Lake Volunteer vest and a spotting scope to keep an eye on the Osprey that nest in the towers. Be happy to give you a tour. By next year I might even be able to name a few of the other species that call this place home.
It started raining just after midnight and hasn’t ceased or even slowed since – has me pinned in my tent pondering the rain gear stored in the car.
Rain of this magnitude – it’s really pouring – is a normal occurrence in the Mid-Atlantic region though usually not this early in the season. Trees begin storing water in the fall to create the sap necessary to get them through winter. But early fall is six weeks off. I keep thinking as I lay stretched out here on my sleeping bag how welcome this rain would be in the Eastern Sierra – Mono Lake especially comes to mind. But if I’ve learned nothing else out here it’s that Nature is what it is; fiddling with it can be problematic. Adjusting is a better approach. As Charles says ‘It’s never a matter of wrong weather just wrong kit.’ In this case it’s right kit; wrong storage location. And a soaking trip in between.
When I arrived in Shenandoah National Park yesterday, after completing the three day run of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the sky was near crystal clear. Very unusual here where a haze is almost constantly present from the summit of Skyline Drive out across Shenandoah Valley. Not yesterday afternoon. Visibility was excellent, better than I’d ever remembered from my many trips here over the years. I immediately anticipated a grandelicious sunset. That was around 1400.
But there was rain to the south headed our way. I believe there’s something called a Tropical Depression running round the Gulf so this might be a result of its presence. This is the early edge of hurricane season in that area which tends to frequent rain in this area. (Rain is much more welcome than a hurricane.) Anyway, as the clouds rolled in about 1600 my hopes began to fade. But I thought there might be a chance so, after getting camp set up and grabbing a couple of Reese Cups and a bottle of Gatorade for dinner at the camp store, I drove the ten miles or so south to Turk Mountain Overlook and took up the vigil, camera at the ready.
What you see, compliments of iPhone, did.
What you don’t see is my hesitance to open the tent flap and make a dash for the car to retrieve the gear I should have placed in the tent last night. I’m sure I’ll rally soon. In the meantime I’ll enjoy another chapter of Twain’s Roughing It<a