Saturday, 24 June 2006, Casa de Fruta, CA
Crossing the border into California seemed to bring about a drastic change. This state is definitely much more populated than either Nevada or Utah - in fact, I believe California to be the most densely populated state of the USA. But the terrain seemed to change almost immediately too. We no longer seemed to be in desert (although parts of the area we were travelling through still carry that designation), but driving through mountains, which became progressively greener and full of pine forests. We joined highway 120 almost immediately, which heads north to the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park. On the way we climbed up through the Inyo National Forest, with beautiful views of more snow-capped mountains which seemed to get closer and closer.
We stopped at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area (they have such a variety of names for their national parks and forests here!). Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America and is fed by a number of tributaries which come in underground and bubble up as springs on the lake floor. It has no outlet, so the mineral content of the lake has steadily increased over time until it is now very briny and very alkaline. Fish are unable to live in it but there are alkaline flies by the millions along the edge of it who are able to survive for long periods of time under water. These flies are the main food source for the millions of brine shrimp, which live in the lake and in turn provide a food source to the many migratory birds that come to the lake.
The lake also supports some amazing structures that on first look one might take for yet more eroded sandstone structures. But we are out of sandstone country and these structures are actually limestone and called Tufas. They are formed when the fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate rich lake water and produce calcium carbonate, which is a whitish limestone.
Mono Lake is a very special habitat that has survived for hundreds of thousands of years, and man almost managed to destroy it in less than 50! During the last century, they began to take water from the tributaries that feed the lake to augment the Los Angeles water needs. When Juergen passed through this area in 1988 the lake was mostly brown mud and the island in the middle that birds had used as a nesting area, was joined by a land bridge that allowed predators access, and forced the birds to leave. In the early 90's, somebody recognised the error and since then the area has been protected, including its water sources, and the lake is slowly filling again. It was wonderful to take the trail that led along the water's edge, and experience first-hand that it was filling, by the fact that in many places the trail was already underwater and a new one was being established a bit further from the edge by all the walkers avoiding wet feet! This place is really worth a visit, not only because of its beauty and interesting life forms, but also because it seems to be a success story in restoring precious environments on the planet, instead of destroying them.
From Mono Lake we passed through Lee Vining (the turn-off to Yosemite), and headed a bit further north-east to Bodie State Historical Park, which is an actual ghost town. What remains is only about 5% of the buildings that were present at its height as a gold-mining town in the 1880s, but the state park maintains what is left in a state of 'arrested decay'. You can walk freely down the streets and look through windows of the houses, which still have a lot of the furnishings and daily utensils left behind when the inhabitants left. A few of the buildings are actually open and you can walk right into them. This place is really worth a visit. There is some evidence in places that modern day materials have been used to 'arrest the decay', but for the most part, the experience is of an authentic ghost town.
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