2014 Early August Around Mono Lake

Williamson's Sapsucker - Sphyrapicus thyroideusDuring my stay with friends Carmine and Mark at June Lake California, I made several excursions in the surrounding area’s well known (and some not so well known) scenic attractions. Below are my recollections about the times I spent in the Mono Lake basin.

The entire region is laced with evidence of a volcanic past. Just south of Mono Lake is one of the area’s largest features, the Long Valley Caldera. At 20 miles wide (east-west) by 11 miles (north-south) it is one of the largest ‘super volcanoes’ on earth. When it last erupted 760,000 years ago, it ejected 140 cubic miles of material and cast it over thousands of square miles of what is now western USA. This is over 800 times that of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. Recent measurements show 240 cubic miles of hot magma smolders and boils beneath the caldera, and it is growing. Yet scientist don’t suggest any imminent danger of eruption.

The next valley to the north of Long Valley is home to Mono Lake, a region with its own volcanic history. As recent as 250 years ago violent eruptions occurred within this system. The southern boundary of this system overlaps with its larger neighbor to the south and is believed to be responsible for the building of Mammoth Mountain 400,000 to 60,000 years ago. Given the tectonic pressures at play (see my page Collisions In The Eastern Sierra for more information), the significant vulcanism found here is no surprise.

Since the late 1970’s, present day Mono Lake has been the object of much controversy. In the early 1900s, William Mulholland’s Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) purchased sections of the region without announcing their intentions. Once they had all the key purchases made, they cut off and captured all the runoff from the eastern Sierras. As a result, Owen’s Lake south of Lone Pine is a dust bowl and Mono Lake’s water level has become dangerously low. Thanks to David Gaines and other vigilant citizens, in 1978 steps were taken to save Mono Lake, whose waters had fallen 40 feet and whose salinity had doubled. There is no outlet to drain Mono Lake and life there has adapted to high saline conditions, but past a certain point, life fails to hang on. Today the water level has risen slightly and seems to be viable, thanks to the efforts of these eco-warriors.

Mono Mills east of Mono Lake is the site of an 1880s logging operation started to support the mining operations at the notorious town of Bodie, a dozen miles north of Mono Lake. Today Bodie is a ghost town and Mono Mills is little more than a roadside monument to give witness of its previous existence. Still it gave me woodpeckers, a few other birds, and a few pleasant hours among the pines and pumice.

Following my interlude at Mono Mills, the South Tufa shores of Mono Lake a few miles away gave me thrashers, blackbirds, gulls, and shorebirds.

Images of these subjects appearing below are Brewer’s Blackbird, California Gull, Least Sandpiper, Osprey, Sage Thrasher, Western Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, White-Headed Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker:

Click map markers to reveal further information