Lee Vining, CA

(Click here for more photographs.)

Lee Vining put us close to Mono Lake and the June Lakes Scenic Loop.  Located just north of Mammoth Lakes, June Lakes is another collection of beautiful mountain lakes.  June Mountain is a small ski area (7 lifts) which is affilated with the much larger Mammoth Mountain ski area.

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Mono Lake is a very interesting lake, ecologically and socially.  Since it has no outlet the water in Mono Lake is very salty, 2 to 3 times higher concentration of salt than the ocean.  As a result there are no fish in Mono Lake but that doesn’t mean that it is lifeless.  The lake has a massive population of tiny brine shrimp as well as alkaline flies.  The combination of the shrimp and flies attracts a wide variety of birds here.  Notably, the majority of California seagulls are hatched in Mono Lake.  There are also some migratory birds that stop here during their trip from Canada to South America.  Notably the Eared Grebe spends a few weeks here to molt and fuel up for their non-stop flight from Mono Lake to Ecuador and Columbia.  Interestingly, this bird is very efficient in the water but cannot walk on land.  It has to land and take off from water.  If it finds itself on land it will die there unless a human finds it and takes it to water.

In the early 20th century, it became apparent that the city of Los Angeles would need additional sources of drinking water.  William Mulholland devised the ingenious plan to source water from the eastern Sierras and get it to LA by means of an aqueduct.  The water from the creeks that drained into Mono Lake were diverted for this purpose.  By the 1970’s it became apparent that Mono Lake was on its way to extinction.  It had already dropped over 40 vertical feet.  A group of concerned citizens embarked upon an effort to save Mono Lake and eventually reached a compromise that limited the amount of water that could be diverted.  The lake level has been rising but has not yet reached the target level established by the compromise.

An interesting feature of Mono Lake is the tufa’s.  These limestone formations were formed when spring water came into contact with the salty lake water.  Naturally, these were formed underwater so the tufa we see have been exposed by the lowered water level.  Along one section of the shoreline you can also see some sand tufa’s which were formed in a similar fashion when the spring water came up through a layer of sand.

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Among our hiking outings was the Rush Creek Trail in the June Lake Scenic Loop.  This trail starts at Silver Lake and ascends about 1,300 feet in elevation to Agnew Lake.  Along the way you are treated to terrific views of Horsetail Falls, a beautiful waterfall that dramatically descends from Agnew Lake.  We also hiked along the Lundy Lake Canyon and around the Panum Crater.  This volcanic crater is part of the Mono-Inyo Craters, a chain that stretches 25 miles.  The twin Inyo Craters that we hiked around in Mammoth are part of this chain of craters.

You may notice that some of the photos are smokey/hazy.  This is smoke blown in from various forest fires in California and Nevada.

Next stop:  Lake Tahoe

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