While growing up, I had a number of friends who loved the outdoors – the kind of outdoors where camping and hiking was the thing to do. It included the back country of Yosemite/Sierra’s and I remember some wearing a t-shirt that said “Save Mono Lake”. I certainly didn’t know what that meant back then, much less cared. I’m by no means a Conservationist, but am much more sensitized to this sort of thing the older I get likely due to a better understanding of the cause and affect of certain things going on around the world in which we live in. Anyhow, I thought, who cares … a lake is a lake is a lake, right? Barring an eco-system lesson (one I have no business talking about), but having seen images over the last 10 years of Mono Lake, has made me want to check it out – mostly out of curiosity. I guess this is how most things start, right?
It being where it is, even though it’s only 4 – 5 hours drive by car, it does take a certain amount of planning. So, it was always “I’ll do it one of these days” kind of thing to do. Like so many things that fall into this category, it eventually turned into all of those 10 years and wasn’t until living abroad, that that 4 – 5 hours didn’t seem too long of a drive after all. When I first made it to the lake (I’ve been there twice now), I was so taken in by it and for its natural beauty that I really didn’t know how to capture it in camera. And, you’ve got to return to places more than once (and many times over) to really get a sense about the place.
On my second visit, it was quite the different experience. The main attraction around the lake itself is the southern part called South Tufa. A what? Tufa. I’m not sure the exact definition, but a Tufa is a formation coming up from the ground and (me thinks) is made up of primarily calcium and sodium – limestone if you will. These mineral deposits percolate up from the earth to form these unearthly like structures. They’re what I call “crustified” and very jagged. I guess you’d call them stalagmites … or is that stalactites? I was never good at geology, but it’s either one of them … back to the lake itself … the first thing I noticed was the water level. Even during my first visit, I understood that the lake level was finally returning back to its “normal” level. Prior to my first visit, for many years, some riparian rights debate between Northern and Southern California, SoCal was granted certain water rights from the surrounding lakes/reservoirs thus preventing enough water runoff to help keep Mono Lake from disappearing. Finally, after several years of litigation, the water rights thing was resolved and the lake was beginning to thrive again and return to more acceptable levels. However, upon returning 2 or 3 years later, the water table was extremely low. I was walking in areas that were completely underwater. I think it was largely due to the severe drought that California – Northern California in particular is in right now. Very sad to see it in this state. What makes the lake unique, as if it weren’t already, the saline content is almost 3x that of the ocean. It being very alkaline, bathing in it is supposedly very therapeutic. I’ve put my hands in it several times and upon drying, there’s this white film, likely salt deposits and other minerals) that stays for quite some time. Being this saline, nothing lives in it except Brine Shrimp and Algae. During migratory season, birds make their stopover here to feed on the several trillions of shrimp before continuing onward. There’s so many floating about that you can scoop up a handful right from the shore!
Again, I’m not much up on the whole conservationist thing, but this is a special place. And, in turn, I’m sure an important ecological ecosystem somewhere up the food chain. When you’re in the middle of the Tufa, you get an unearthly sense of what it could be like to live on a planet that not of the this world. It worth a couple days stay if you’re photographing Mono Lake – you’ll likely get different colors each time, be it sunrise of sunset. The Lee Vining area itself is also nice to visit as June Lake, various Craters and Bodie very nearby.