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U. S. SCENIC HIGHWAY 395: MONO LAKE (PART 3)

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Mono dad by tufaMono sunset dad with tripod rearMono Lake is an impressive body of water.  I first discovered this great destination almost 20 years ago on a trip with my dad.  We had driven to Bishop, California, to see the fall colors and took a break in Lee Vining.  While there, we met some folks who were talking about photographing the sunset at Mono Lake, so we decided we would check the place out.  And we were sure glad we did!  The afterglow during the sunset generated some great colors.

Mono sunset deep colors

Mono evening

IMG_5227In 1864, John Muir offered this description of the area surrounding this majestic body of water:  “A country of wonderful contrasts, hot deserts bordered by snow-laden mountains, cinders and ashes scattered on glacier-polished pavement, frost and fire working in the making of beauty.”  His geological assessment was accurate.  Mono Lake is surrounded by the Sierra Nevada to the west, ancient volcanic Bodie Hills to the north and Anchorite Hills to the east, desert sands also to the east, and the relatively young volcanic Mono Craters to the south.

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IMG_5251The two islands in the middle of the lake were formed by volcanic activity as well:  the black island erupted about 1700 years ago while the white island erupted only about 250 years ago.

IMG_5216Having no access to the ocean, Mono Lake has a fluctuating but always high salt concentration.  The strange spires and knobs that rise out of and surround the lake shore are the most unique features of Mono Lake.  These formations—called tufa (too-fah)—are whitish limestone deposits that are formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up into the carbonite-rich lake water.  As water evaporates—or more recently is diverted—the lake’s mineral content fluctuates but often is recorded around 10%.  In other words, Mono Lake ranges from two to three times more salty than the ocean.

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Mark Twain called the area “the loneliest place on earth” in his book Roughing It (1872). In reality, Mono Lake—although seemingly desolate—is really full of life.  No fish can survive in its alkaline waters, but green algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies thrive and in the past helped sustain the tribe called Kutzadaika who lived nearby. The area—which contains 14 different ecological zones—is home to over 1000 plants and 400 animals.  The lake itself is home to 80 species of migrating birds, including two nesting species (California Gull and Snowy Plover).

A RECENT VISIT

IMG_5202In March 2015, I visited Mono Lake again—and it is still beautiful.  There are several viewing sites where tourists can walk to the lake’s edge.  One spot, called the Old Marina, is a few miles north of the Visitor Center.

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IMG_5228The most popular viewing site is the South Tufa Area, situated a bit southeast of the Visitor Center. It can be reached via a gravel road from a turn-off about 5 miles south of Mono Lake.

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IMG_5262There are two view sites in the South Tufa Area. Of the two locales, South Beach is easier to reach and is patrolled by a patient raven.

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I preferred the more remote Navy Beach.

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IMG_5280The drive back to U.S. Route 395 offered some wondrous clouds in the late afternoon.

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SOME RECENT HISTORY

This wondrous lake and the ecological systems it is a part of have been in existence for over 760,000 years, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America.  In 1941, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began diverting water from Mono Lake’s tributary streams to meet the water needs of Los Angeles.  Quickly, the lake’s volume was greatly diminished, and the ecosystem was negatively impacted.  For example, the higher salinity content undermined the life cycles of the algae, shrimp and flies, thus also impacting the migratory birds who feasted on them.  Here’s another example:  The lower water levels turned the islands into peninsulas, making the nesting birds and their eggs easy prey for predators who could now reach them.

Before the water diversion started, Mono Lake measured 86 square miles and its water level was 6,417 feet. In the 1970s some major research studies were conducted to document the disruption of Mono Lake and its ecosystem caused by the water diversion.  The Mono Lake Committee was formed in 1978, taking legal and media action to try to return water to Mono Lake to save the area’s ecology.  The lake’s historic low was recorded in 1982 when it covered only 57 square miles with a water level of 6,372 feet. At that point, 18,500 acres of the pre-diversion lake bed were exposed.

In 1984, Congress named the area the Mono Lake National Forest Scenic Area.  By 1994, legal battles conducted by the Mono Lake Committee concluded, reaching a compromise regarding the water level situation.  Now, a formula is used to determine when and how much water can be diverted; there is a goal to maintain Mono Lake at 76 square miles with a water level of 6,392 feet.  At that level, 6,700 acres of the pre-diversion lake bed would be exposed.  A sign in the parking lot at the Visitor Center says the parking lot itself would be underwater if no diversion had ever been started.  The area was named the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve in 1994.

Although nothing like its past glory, Mono Lake is still a magnificent body of water.  This year—2015—is the fourth year of a major drought. As a result, the water level has dropped below the mandated minimum level used as part of the formula that determines how much water can be diverted from the area.  Right now, Mono Lake–at its lowest level in 18 years–only covers 71 square miles with a water level of 6,379 feet.  10,000 acres of the pre-diversion lake bed are exposed.

Mono Lake is still incredible and still supports extensive life.  If you drive by the area, I expect you will agree with the description offered by Israel C. Russell, an historian working in the area in 1889:  “In the middle distance there rests upon the desert plain what appears to be a wide sheet of burnished metal, so even and brilliant is its surface.  It is Lake Mono.”

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If you have not visited this area, do so. And if you live in California, do all you can to conserve water.  It would be a shame if this wondrous lake did not last another 760,000 years.

Mono reflections Dad panorama

 

 

 

 

Scenic U.S. Highway 395: A Few Stops (part 1)

 

Highway 1

Highway 1

 

Along I-5

Along I-5

If you have traveled by car throughout California, en route to a wide variety of tourist attractions, then you know that the state has a great highway system. The freeways are well maintained, the exits are well marked, and rest stops are numerous along major routes.  Along the west coast, Highway 1 travels down the coast past some of the most scenic landscape in the state, maybe the country.  Interstate 5 is the major north-south freeway that runs from San Diego to Los Angeles, close to San Francisco, and then up through Oregon and Washington en route to Canada. Highway 99 runs parallel to I-5, traveling roughly from Mexico to Canada. Highway 99 was supplanted by I-5 in the 1960s as the primary thoroughfare up and down the state, but it still serves residents well.

hwy395Highway 395 also runs north-south through the state, east of both I-5 and Highway 99.  Although it does not run through large cities such as Los Angeles or San Francisco and it does not extend from Mexico to Canada, it is a lengthy impressive route.  It runs from about 140 miles north of San Diego up basically to the Oregon border.  It also travels for a short time into Nevada. It connects such natural wonders as Death Valley, Lee Vining near Yosemite National Park, and Mammoth Lake.  This 557-mile route runs along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, giving access to many impressive locations.

Bishop dad by treeBishop DadI never drove extensively on Highway 395 until one year, almost 20 years ago now, I took my dad on a trip to Bishop, California. Bishop sits at the northern end of the Owens Valley at an elevation of 4,150 feet. Nestled against the Sierra Nevada, it was named for Bishop Creek that flows out of the mountains.  Although the Bishop area represents the largest population in Inyo County, Bishop has fewer than 4,000 residents as of the 2010 census.  The purpose of our trip was to seek out fall colors, and we were successful.  The colors were glorious, the mountain vistas were impressive, and the fishing holes seemed popular.  What I remember the most is that Dad had a great time!

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Mono vista mid with dadOn that same trip, days later, Dad and I ended up in Lee Vining, California, for lunch and quickly realized how close we were to Mono Lake. Mono Lake is an immense inland sea, one of the oldest in the western hemisphere. It measures 70 square miles and fills a natural basin that measures 700 square miles. Ancient volcanoes created the lake, which is thought to be anywhere from one to three million years old.  Many tributaries fill the lake, but the there is no natural outlet, so Mono Lake retains sulfides and carbonates, making it an alkaline lake with a ph of 10.  Mono Lake is almost three times as salty as the ocean.

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Mono dad by tufaIts salinity fluctuates, especially since 1941 when Los Angeles began diverting water from the lake’s tributaries to Los Angeles consumers. Some restoration and preservation measures have been enacted since then, so the danger of Mono Lake becoming a dead area has passed. But it is still at lower water levels and higher salinity counts than it would have been since the initial water diversion.  The restoration measures preserved the lake’s main biology of algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies. The area still serves as a major bird migratory path and nesting site.  As the water level fluctuates, various formations such as spires and peaks become visible, giving the lake an otherworldly look.  The spires are called tufa and add to the picturesque appeal of Mono Lake.

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Mono dark shadowsMono sunset dad with tripod rearDad and I spent the afternoon hiking around Mono Lake, waiting for dusk’s afterglow as the sun set opposite the lake.  We thought about waiting around for the moon rise later that night, but we were not really prepared for the stake-out.  And once the area became pitch black and we got lost a bit in the sands surrounding the lake, we decided to head in for dinner instead.  We talked about going back to both locations—Bishop and Mono Lake—at some point, but we  never did.

Mono sunset deep colors

Mono sunset

Mono evening

My goal is to return to Mono Lake at some point.  Since California has been experiencing drought for the last three years, I imagine the water level has dropped a bit. I also hope to visit other natural wonders that are accessible via Highway 395, like Death Valley.  Maybe I’ll travel there in the winter.

HAVE YOU DRIVEN HIGHWAY 395?  

WHAT SITES ALONG ITS ROUTE HAVE YOU VISITED?

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Quick:  What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word horizon?

For me, what thundered across my mind was a cowboy riding off into the sunset.  Then a ship appeared, getting smaller and smaller as it sailed off for lands unknown.  If the images stopped there, the connotation might seem to focus on departure, ending, some unknown future, maybe even loneliness

But the truth is that HORIZON carries a much more positive message. Horizon is hope, expectation, transition, possibility, progress.  The horizon marks a liminal moment marking change or passage from one place or emotion to another.  Some dash across that horizon racing to tomorrow as quickly as possible; others tend to linger, stalled by something—fear, apprehension, contemplation—perhaps daunted by expectation.  Fortunately, the horizon is magnetic, always pulling us forward. Horizon is akin to a spiritual journey leading the traveler to new adventures and people, future prospects, potential improvements. . . to the next horizon.

Here are a few of my photos that capture the horizon as if it were a static moment in time.  What new beginnings do they conjure up for you?  Which quote below clarifies what horizon means for your life?  I wish you all a world of beautiful horizons to strive for, to capture the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

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“[My father] had a name for the bottom of the sky–‘the hem of heaven.’”   Nancy Horan

 “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”   Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.”  Dag Hammarskjold

“Between two worlds life hovers like a star, twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge.”    Lord Byron

“Do not be in a hurry to succeed.  What would you have to live for afterwards?  Better make the horizon your goal; it will always be ahead of you.”   William Makepeace Thackeray

“A dream is the bearer of a new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope.”    Howard Thurman

“One of the reasons that I accepted, once asked to do Star Trek, was to give a single child a chance to see the long thought, to see themselves some 400 years hence.  It occurred to me that we must ensure that we keep in front of children the ever-changing horizon.”   Avery Brooks

“We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon.”   Konrad Adenauer

“When we look up, it widens our horizons. We see what a little speck we are in the universe, so insignificant, and we all take ourselves so seriously, but in the sky, there are no boundaries. No differences of caste or religion or race.”    Julia Gregson

“Hope is the moonlight filtering through the trees,
Hope is the silent prayer that we make in distress,
Hope is the promise that we make to ourselves,
Hope is the happiness that we visualize,
Hope is the horizon that we reach, if we try!” 
Balroop Singh   

Photo Adventures with Dad

I cannot say that my dad was a stereotypical father, doing the things that you might see in commercials or on television shows.  He did not read me bedtime stories, play board games, or tuck me in at night.  He did not teach me to throw a baseball or take me for walks.  He did not help me with my homework or talk to me about boys or dating or growing up.  He did take me out driving once when I had my learner’s permit, but the main instruction had been from the required class offered by the high school.  No, I cannot say my dad is typical.

My memories of him when I was a kid are minimal.  Basically, he worked, a lot, so he was not home that much.  But I do have great recollections of watching TV with him in the evenings, as he would unwind from the day.  Somehow, the Lady Thunderbirds (a women’s roller derby team) and favorite wrestlers such as Gorgeous George were more exciting to watch when I could cheer them on along with Dad. On weekends, I could help him mix the sugary liquid that would fill the hummingbird feeders hanging in the backyard.  My job was to keep an eye out for the little birds, calling out when they were in sight.  Along with Mom, we would also feed the birds and squirrels that visited the back yard, loving it if they stayed around long enough to watch them in action.

I have always liked Christmas!  One reason was that from a young age—maybe 6 or 7—I was able to travel with Dad to lot after lot, in search of the perfect Christmas tree.  We did not really talk strategy, but we knew a good tree when we saw it.  And, indeed, when he would carefully place the lights on the tree before we all pitched in to help with the ornaments and icicles, the tree looked glorious.  The first year I was an adult living away from home for the holidays, I could feel Dad with me as I selected the perfect tree, all on my own. 

But our best adventures by far came when we would take off together on some Nature Photography Expeditions.  I had received a Brownie camera as a gift when I was in the sixth grade, and since then always dabbled in taking pictures to capture whatever event was unfolding.  Dad, too, enjoyed photography and spent some of his time taking photographs for church directories, an occasional wedding, and some high school year books.  But it was the nature photos of flowers and birds and squirrels and deer that fascinated us both.  After I moved out on my own, we would make plans to go somewhere together to take pictures. 

We did not have to go far, although some of our trips did keep us out overnight.  Often it was just the two of us, but—when possible—Mom would join the expedition.  We had fun, even as we trudged around in the heat, always seemed to have to walk up hill to get back to the car, or commiserated over the birds that often proved too illusive for our efforts.  Back then, before digital cameras, we would eagerly wait to get our photos back, so we could admire each other’s great shots and relive the adventure.

This Father’s Day, Dad is in a Rehab Center, waiting for antibiotics to do their job and eradicate a bad infection. He is frustrated about not being able to go home.  I am hoping that the memories of our photo expeditions might help him remember the lessons we learned over the years, together:

  1. If you want to capture the best photos, you often have to put up with heat, dust, and pesky little bugs.
  2. No matter what path you take, you will probably be trudging uphill, but at the end of the day—you get some great shots and make it home.
  3. Patience is one of the best skills of a good photographer—the light will change, the butterfly or bird will stand still eventually, the wind will die down, and we’ll always get home at the end of a good day.
  4. Enjoying memories and photos long after the shared expedition is an added bonus we can always treasure, even if we cannot go walking as far as we used to, to get the photo.

These lessons hold true, no matter where we wandered:  whale watching around Anacapa Island, trekking to the Salton Sea or through the Red Canyon, driving through the Petrified Forest, visiting Yosemite in the winter, or capturing birds and squirrels in action in the back yard.  The photos below showcase some of the photos/memories we shared over the years.  Dad, I hope they help keep your spirits up as you work to get better and back home. Even though neither of us walks so well anymore, let’s think about planning another expedition, okay?

We took many trips to the Los Angeles County Arboretum (Arcadia, CA).  The rose garden is delightful, the peacocks often put on a show, and orchids are in bloom once a year!

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve (Lancaster, CA) is about an hour away from    home, but it transports visitors back in time to a less hectic, less populated world.  In a good year, the hills are truly alive with color—mostly California Poppies, but also Cream Cups and Lupine and maybe some other blossoms clinging to the hills. 

We made one trip to Mono Lake, near Lee Vining, California, stayed for the sunset and then waited and waited and waited for the moonrise.  We were not prepared for it to be so many hours later, so we headed back to the car in the dark—wondering if we would ever get there. We did, by the way, but it took quite some time. 

We have enjoyed many zoos together.  I’m pretty sure it was Dad who stayed with me for hours to watch the baby elephant at the Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago) when I was a kid.  But as adults, we have also visited zoos in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Fresno.  Capturing shots where the animals do not look closed in and confined is always the goal. 

 

Monterey, California, is also a terrific destination.  One time, we took a Wildflower Tour hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  On that trip, we toured through the Carmel Valley, finding some wild flowers as well as a lovely little oak grove.  A gourmet lunch was served on china with linen table cloths and napkins over picnic tables nestled under a small grove of redwoods.  Later we drove down the Big Sur Coastline.  On another trip, we stopped and waited and waited and waited to see the butterflies in the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, Pacific Grove, California. 

Dad, get better so we can plan another trip!  Happy Father’s Day!

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