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Lee Vining Things to Do: 71 reviews and 162 photos
The Greater Sage-grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus, is the largest grouse in North America. Adults have a long, pointed tail and legs with feathers to the toes. Adult males have a yellow patch over the eye, are greyish on top with a white breast, a dark brown throat and a black belly; two yellowish sacs on the neck are inflated during courtship display. Adult females are mottled grey-brown with a light brown throat and dark belly.
The Greater Sage-grouse is a permanent resident that forages on the ground and feed mainly on sagebrush and insects.
We were lucky to watch one female Greater Sage-grouse (photo 1) in April. That was the time for courtship rituals but we did not stay long enough to see one.
Birds at Mono Lake ?
Mono lake is a rich ecosystem and given its situation on the western part of the Great Basin, plays a main part in the life of local and migratory birds. Microscopic algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies are a vital web for them. Over 325 species of birds are known to have occurred at Mono Lake. Over 118 species are known to breed during the summer months. Species that breed at Mono Lake breed on the ground of
As recently as 1948, Mono Lake once hosted nearly a million ducks.
The lowering level of the lake caused several islands used as breeding sites to become bridged to the mainland. Coyotes could cross the bridges and feed on eggs and gull chickens. With further reductions in lake levels, additional breeding islands became exposed to predators, and reproductive success plummeted. In 1982, only Paoha remained an island but was so close to the mainland that predators could access to the nests. When we visited in April (photo 1) and August (photo 2) 1980, we did not see many birds. In 1986, only 14,000 birds could be counted by ornithologists.
Even when the level of the lake began to rise again, the gulls seemed reluctant to reoccupy Paoha and Negit island for several years.
A nice place for a snack (april)!
As Mono Lake is on Road 395, it is a good place to have a snack when driving on this road. Actually, we came twice, once in April (photo 1), driving back from the Death Valley to Lake Tahoe and Davis and in August (photo 2), while we had visited the Yosemite and driven through Tioga pass with outstanding landscapes.
Tufa towers are a geological formation unique to Mono Lake. They were formed underwater when the water from underwater springs rich in calcium mixed with the lake’s water, rich in carbonate. A chemical reaction took place, that formed calcium carbonate (ie limestone) that, given it’s low solubility precipitated immediately, forming the towers. When the lake level went down, they appeared off water. Most of them should disappear underwater when the lake will have regained some of it’s level.
Is that snow ?
On this photos taken in April, with snow caped mountains in the background, it would not be a surprise if the white stuff in the foreground had been snow. It is not!
As the lake has no outlet, he loses water only by evaporation. Thus it is hypersaline. Before 1940, it’s salinity was 50g/l, higher than the ocean (31.5g/l). In 1982, when the lake reached it’s lowest level, the salinity reached 99g/l These photos were taken in 1980 and with such a high content in dissolved salts, they crystallize on the shores, which gives this snow like effect.
Now that the level of the lake has risen, the salinity has decreased and should stabilize in the 70g/l range.
History of Mono Lake
For decades, the history of Mono Lake was the sad story of a body of water that was shrinking and shrinking and that would soon die.
Using various documents (especially from the US Geological Survey), I have drawn a map of the lake for three dates.
The “oldest shore” is the shore of the lake as it has been for centuries and still was in 1941. When thirsty Los Angeles began to divert the creeks that fed the lake, the level of the lake began to shrink. Environmentalists fought hard to save the lake and forbid any diversion from the creeks. The lowest level of Mono Lake was reached in 1982. Only one island, Paoha island, the largest, was still an island. Negit island was now a peninsula. The lake had lost one third of its area.
For almost 15 years, there was a fierce court battle to protect Mono Lake. Environmentalists finally won. No water is now diverted from the creeks that feed the lake. Year after year, the level of the lake has risen, impeded though by drought years. The drawing shows the 2009 shores with a water level at 6,382 feet. Negit island is now an island again. The goal is to add a few feet and reach 6,391 feet.
All is well that ends well!
Arrival at Mono Lake
Arriving near Mono Lake in early Spring, offers a stunning landscape with snow-capped mountains, the Eastern Sierra range, that frame a small lake with rocky (volcanic) islands in the middle. We were lucky to have a gorgeous weather !
Before reaching Lee Vining and Mono Lake, the landscape, though at a high elevation is of a plain watered by several streams. The plain offers a rich grazing pasture for small herds of cows that give a tasty meat looked for by gourmets.
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