I traveled twice to Mono Lake, CA, which is right next to the pass into the back entrance of Yosemite. Mono Lake was created some 700,000 years ago when a volcanic eruption 2,500 times greater than that of Mount Saint Helen’s occurred. The ash settled as far east as Nebraska and debris and ash south to Bishop, CA (65 miles south of Mono Lake). The rust color on the mountains east of Bishop is volcanic ash.
What spurred my trips was my visit to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) area north of Bishop called the Volcanic Tablelands. I’ve been looking around for inexpensive RV camping areas and was directed there by the local BLM office. More later on the tablelands.
The drive up Rt. 395 was beautiful. I passed several areas that need further investigating: Tom’s Place, Lake Crowley, Mammoth Lakes, June Lake, more adventures; kayaking, hiking- who knows? The aspens (what few there are of them) are turning golden yellow; the groves coming down the mountain look like molten gold spilling down the slopes, following the water sources. I followed one such grove, it seemed to be calling me like one of the sirens that sailors hear. I saw it Sunday, then again on Tuesday when I returned again to Mono Lake for another look-see. It looks like an upside-down, backwards question mark (I know there’s a name for it-anyone)? A Spanish punctuation mark?? Anyway, I took a road off 395 toward it. Poor Tracker has been on more dirt roads in CA than it ever traveled in MD! I opted not to hike into the ravine toward the aspens, it looked like there were at least two fishermen’s cars parked nearby, but I did listen to the evergreens sighing in the wind, such a pleasant sound. That’s all, I heard, just that sound and a squirrel chittering somewhere close by, no traffic, nothing. And the smell of those pines – heaven. They are Ponderosa Pines, they have huge 8-10″ cones. Interesting fact about aspens: they are clones. They all grow from the same root system, cut one down and another immediately starts from the roots. Some clones are bright yellow, others are orange – that’s how you can tell they are different clones!
I pray I don’t become so blasé about all this beauty that I take it all for granted!
On Sunday, I took the first exit I saw for Mono Lake. It was the South Tufa. I passed Panum Crater on the five mile trip on a side road to get to the lake, paved until I turned off to the lake (will have to go back yet another time). The first day, I opted for the Tufa instead of Navy Beach. I was in seventh heaven, the water was reflecting the bright blue sky, the sun was warm, not too hot, and the formations of the volcanic Tufa were other-worldly. Ruddy Ducks and Mergansers were busily gathering food: diving for brine shrimp and fly larva. Sea Gulls were there, even though the water is too acidic for fish. Ospreys also use the tufa as nesting sites-content to have to fly miles for food in exchange for safe nesting for their young.
A lovely old soul came clomping down the wooden pathway with her two canes. She stood looking and muttered that she thought there was a bench nearby. I overheard her and directed her to the one I had just vacated. We started chatting (there were so many photographers there that it was getting difficult to get a clear shot)! She had first come there in the mid-fifties when the water level was 45′ higher than it is now. I commented that the Tufas that I was photographing would not have been above water, and she pointed out some further behind us that would have been in the water, now on dry land. At that point in time Los Angeles (about 5 hours South) had already bought all the water rights from there and down the whole Owen’s River Valley (which is now a dry valley instead of the farm and ranch Mecca it once was-I feel another post coming) and was fast draining the lake to provide water for the city. She proudly pointed out that an agreement had finally been reached in 1994 with Los Angeles that a water level of 6,341′ would be maintained in order to preserve the area. She (and many others-along with the Sierra Club) lobbied for years to get that agreement. She also told of the hot springs between where we were and Navy Beach. She and her friends used to skinny-dip there! She stated this would probably be her last visit to the lake from her home in Berkeley, and wondered if I was going to be able to come back as there was so much more to see. I decided then, that Yes, I would come back.
On Tuesday, I traveled past the original entrance I used, and at Lee Vining (which is right at the back entrance to Yosemite) turned toward the park information building. They directed me further north. As I love late afternoon for photos, I had timed my trip accordingly. What I didn’t bargain for was the very tall mountain right behind me. I had about 15 minutes of sun, then it dropped below the mountain. It changes the whole landscape-turning it from other worldly to moonscape!
I wanted to find the hot springs, so decided to book on back down the road and go to the original Tufas. I headed toward Navy Beach. Apparently it’s not a favorite of photographers as I was the only one there. I found some sand tufa – very beautiful land sculptures created by spring water reacting with the calcium rich acidic water in the lake. I kept walking and taking pics, and stumbled across the sign below and lo and behold, there was the hot spring. I have to admit, knowing that you’re standing on top of a huge volcano that is still heating the surface water gives one pause. Now, the big question: did I skinny dip?