Goodbye West Side. Hello East Side.

5 June 2014 in Camping, Hiking, Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling

About 60 miles from our doorstep there’s another world in which we’ve only scratched the surface. A landscape of abundant variety from ragged peaks, to the barren flat desert. From crystal clear rock bottomed lakes to the saline sea of Mono Lake. There are natural hot springs just miles away from mountain sides that are still dotted with hearty patches of snow. It is a place full of adventure, and in some spots—as we would soon see—a wealth of people.

We started out late. We hadn’t slept in for months, the wretched beeping of the alarm has been awaking us for work or the trail ever since we arrived so we decided to spend the morning in bed, lazily drifting in and out of sleep until the appealing thought of fresh baked biscuits drew us out of our comfy slumber.

After breakfast, packing and lunch we loaded up the truck and departed. Even though it’s only 60 miles across the park it takes about an hour and a half, depending on traffic. But the drive is one of the most breathtaking commutes imaginable so there’s really no need to hurry.

Once we were across we excited our beloved home and entered the Inyo National Forest, making our way down to Mono Lake after a quick stop for the essentials – bread and beer. It was early in the evening, but the mountains massive mountains west of the lake were already drooling in anticipation of swallowing the sun. A warm yellow glow began to slowly flow over the strange, geological features that stand guard over the isolated ecosystem that is Mono Lake.

The guards are essentially pillars of calcium and salt. Cracks deep in the earth send these minerals upward and as they slowly ooze forth the combination quickly solidifies into a lumpy, white pillar that resembles very large stands of coral. While some of these pillars are very old most are surprisingly young – just a couple hundred years old. We took a guided tour and learned all about their formation and even observed an experiment of sorts in which our guide combined the two active ingredients in a jar and sure enough a white, viscid substance formed.

Our guide also went on to explain the history of the lake – Los Angles basically robbed it of it’s tributaries for decades and lowered the lake level substantially. Which in turn increased the alkaline and salt concentrations in the water. With great pains and much effort on behalf of volunteers and conservationists an agreement has been reached and surprisingly simple solutions like lo-flow toilets and showers half reduced the cities demand for water and the lake is slowly returning to a more proper level.

Then there’s the creatures of Mono Lake. It once was the temporary home to immense flocks of migrating birds before the low water levels presented new dangers when predators could safely cross to once isolated islands that now were connected to the shore by shallow land bridges. The birds are still coming though. Osprey, ?????, and the California Gull to name just a few. We learned a few interesting things about gulls from our guide: 1) there is no such thing as a seagull, what we commonly refer to as seagulls are actually California Gulls and 2) the California Gull is the state bird of Utah and there’s actually a statue in Salt Lake City to honor them. Apparently the gulls once saved parts of Utah from a plague of locusts.

Now all these birds—hundreds, maybe thousands at any given time—require a lot of food and a saline lake is not overly conducive to fish or any animal for that matter. But the lake is filled with tiny, tenacious life in the form of the Alkali Fly and the Brine Shrimp—otherwise more commonly know as Sea Monkeys. There is such bountiful supply of Alkali Flies that the native tribe actually sustained themselves on their larva with it constituting a substantial portion of their diet. And as for the Brine Shrimp these impressive little creatures look like flakes of green algae floating around in the water until you take a closer look. They have tiny black beads for eyes that are smaller than a grain of sand and their sides are a series of hair like tentacles.

The tour was very informative to say the least and the time was optimal for just as it finished the sun said goodnight and the fiery orange of sunset painted the landscape in the last warm tones of day.It was time to move on and find our home for the night. So we headed over to June Lake and the nearest Forest Service campground. Here we found a nice site right that provided us with a view from above June Lake and it’s surrounding peaks. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day. We had some pasta and beans along with a few brews and a tiny little campfire of collected brush.

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