Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mono Lake

To work out today, I put on my favorite T-shirt. It's about six years old, so it's seen better days. It is light green and says "Long Live Mono Lake" on the front.

It is my favorite shirt because Mono Lake is the only thing I know in nature that has actually been saved. When I first saw it, in 1992, it took my breath away and fast became my favorite place. It is on the "wrong side" of Yosemite, near the Nevada border, in a high desert landscape that looks pretty barren. It isn't easy to get to, and in 1993 it was in deep decline. It has an unusually high alkalai composition makes it home to swarms of annoying alkalai flies, but also makes it beautifully reflective. And it also produces tufa, which look like those drip sand castles, but are white and permanent.

In 1941, Los Angeles began diverting water from Mono Lake, and by the 1990s, the level of the lake had fallen by 40 feet. It exposed the tufa, like strange sandcastles, even poking up out of the shallow lake. The dramatic skies reflecting off the lake made for gorgeous photos. But the lake was in crisis, and within 10 years would no longer exist if something wasn't done.

At the time I made a donation to the Mono Lake Action Committee, and I got one of their popular bumper stickers,"Save Mono Lake." They were bright blue with white helvetica capital letters. You'd seem them now and then on old Volvos and VWs.

Over the years, I've taken various people there. I took my friend Susan Mastrangelo, an artist, who was blown away by the sculptural forms of the tufa. I took my first husband, and then after a weeklong Spanish class at Lake Tahoe, I convinced my friend Doug to drive back to Southern California to see it. That was in 2004, when I bought the T-shirt. It was official: Mono Lake had been saved. The water is not being diverted, and the lake has risen. There are protections in place.

The lake actually is not as eerily beautiful as it was ten years ago. There are now swarms of alkalai flies and all of the tufa except a few on the shore are submerged beneath the lake. It's best seen now by kayak.

It's still dramatic in its reflective power and its presence out in the high desert of California.

photos from the Mono Lake Committee home page. Above, depleted lake in 1968. At right, present day Mono Lake.

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