I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. ~Andrew Wyeth

Monday, May 18, 2015

Quick Trip to the Moon

Driving up over Tioga Pass in California is beautiful and intimidating... especially when you drop down on the East side. This is when you ask yourself, "Why in the world would anyone even think to build a road up here?" After you drive through Tuolumne Meadows and climb up to the pass and then down past Tioga and Ellery Lake the landscape starts to change. You start down a very steep grade and into the Mono Basin. You finally reach highway 395.
We turned north and drove through the town of Lee Vining, to the Mono Basin Visitor Center.
It's a good overview of the lake but quite a distance from the shore. I remembered, on another trip years ago, that the Prospector and I had driven out on a long road to the south shore of the lake where you could walk among the Tufa.  So, inside the center, we asked someone behind a desk and he gave us directions to the South Tufa area. It's about 10 miles off the freeway and now has parking, a small information center and board walks out the the lake. Now, you also pay a $3.00 fee.
The lake level has dropped considerably in the years since I had been there.
The reason visitors see so much tufa around Mono Lake today is because the lake level fell dramatically after water diversions began in 1941.

Let me tell you a little about this Tufa. Geologists call this tufa (too'-fah... not Tofu). Tufa is common limestone.

 Underwater springs rich in calcium  mix with the lakewater that is rich with carbonates.
  As the calcium comes in contact with carbonates in the lake,a chemical reaction occurs resulting in calcium carbonate--limestone. The calcium carbonate settles out of  as a solid around the spring, and over the centuries, a tufa tower grows.
 Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater, and some grow to over 30 feet tall.

 Tufa is essentially common limestone. Dead plants, dead birds and anything that ends up in the lake will become fossilized with this calcium mix and basically turn to stone in this lake. Interesting stuff? Beer cans will be found millions of years from now and geologists will theorize about the origin of these small pumice boulders. But, by then, the lake will likely be gone. At the end of the last ice age it was five times bigger than it is today! So, I'm thinking that there won't be any lake left in 1.8 million years, if the planet lasts that long.

We had a great time crawling all over this place. "D" looked very professional in this shot...
She's bracing the camera against the wind. It was blowing from the south and never stopped.
I turned and took this shot toward the west and the Sierra Mountains from which we had come...
It truly was like being in another world... but interesting and not without its own beauty.
Nearly 2,000,000 waterbirds, including 35 species of shorebirds, use Mono Lake to rest and eat for at least part of the year.
One small Audubon's Warbler peered at us from the top of a tufa.
And a few squirrels were sunning themselves, and looking out at the mountains.
They did not seem bothered by the people coming and going on the trail. Again... the wildlife seems surprisingly at ease with humans.
We walked back to the car against a cold wind.

 The place took on a different feel. 

Probably because we were cold, tired and hungry.
We drove the 10 miles back to the highway and then into Lee Vining to eat an early dinner. We had not eaten since the cafe in Coulterville that morning... except for some crackers and a coke. Yeah... I know. It was time for some real food. We found a restaurant and got some hot tea and BIG Chinese Chicken salad. Salad never tasted so good. 
As we passed this motel, walking to the car,
  I kind of wished that I could just pay for an hour's worth of sleep. Just a short  nap... but it was 4:00 p.m. and we still had to drive back into the park, over the pass and into Yosemite Valley before dark. "D" drove. We said goodbye to Mono Basin and climbed up the grade toward the east entrance to the park.

We wanted some "good light" and we got it at Olmsted Point. This was the "Golden hour" in  photography terms. The sun was setting in the Valley and I was in the right place and the it was the right time. 
I got the "money " shot. 
It was magical. Being there was magical...
The light was perfect. This is what Yosemite is all about. This is Half Dome as the sun was setting. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. 
The wind had died down and the light was perfect. 
What more could I ask for?
Sometimes life gives you a moment that stays with you forever. This was one of them. 

Next time... The Valley of Yosemite.


  1. Connie, what a wonderful post. I learned something new today. Your photos are just beautiful. Have a blessed day. Madeline

  2. Money shot is right!! They are absolutely gorgeous! I enjoyed this teaching post and the beauty of an area I've never had the privilege to visit. Thank you for sharing Connie.

  3. Oh yeah! You got the money shot alright! This reminds me of a Ansel Adams photo...hmmm...maybe you should do a B&W conversion? What an interesting place but sad to see how much lower the water is.

  4. WOW!!! Your photos of Half Dome are FANTASTIC; you really did hit it at the perfect moment.

    Love your animal pictures, too. Thanks for taking us on the tour!

  5. Thank you so much for the little journey...it hasn't been a season of out and about for me so I deeply appreciate the grand photos and your information about the carbonate doings!


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