We have taken the drive into the Eastern Sierras on US 395 and it is simply a breathtaking slice of California! Although a slow starter, Autumn is finally announcing her arrival. Once again we have met up with our buddies Nina and Paul at the Oh! Ridge NFS campground overlooking June Lake and, oh yeah, this is something special. There is so much to do here that a month would not suffice.
Nina and Paul have been here a week so they, being the ever-so-gracious hosts, have given us multiple ideas and a number of trails to set off on for viewing fall colors.
Given that I have a bit of an altitude issue, I am working on acclimatizing myself to hiking at higher elevations. This campground sits at roughly 7600 feet above sea level so we opted for a nice 4-mile hike to Parker Lake, with an easy 680 foot elevation gain, a great starter hike for me. Parker Lake is a sparkling little lake nestled into a small canyon at the base of some 12,000 foot peaks of the Sierra Crest. It is a lovely little prize at the end of the trail.
Next up was a sunrise visit to the Mono Lake Tufa Towers, which Nina said was a must-see and oh yeah, she was not kidding.
Mono Lake is a large, shallow lake that formed more than 760,000 years ago. Because it has no outlet to the seas, high levels of salts have accumulated, resulting in waters that are 2.5 times saltier and 1000 times more alkaline than the oceans. With such alkaline waters you would not expect a thriving ecosystem but you would be wrong. Interestingly enough, brine shrimp and alkali flies are prolific here, and the flies seem happy to live both above and under the water, feasting on the algae that grows in large number here. The alkali fly larvae were a source of nutrition for the native peoples long ago and continue to be the food choice for the two million annual migratory birds that grace these shores.
So, what the heck is tufa you ask? Here at Mono Lake these strange rock formations, which have grown since the existence of this lake, are basically limestone (calcium carbonate). The lake water and the calcium in the underwater springs combine to create a chemical reaction, that over centuries lays down layers of limestone to create these bizarre towers. Had it not been for the water level of the lake dropping precipitously over the past 70+ years, photographers from around the world would not have the pleasure of capturing these odd yet beautiful spires, some reaching heights of over 30 feet.
Tufas grow many places around the world but Mono Lake has the most active formations and some of what we were viewing in the early morning light have been around since the last Ice Age, when Mono Lake was five times her present size.
Although it was rather brisk at 6:00 am, I cannot tell you the excitement I felt as the sun breached the mountain peaks. Her fingers first tickled the lake, casting stunning colors and reflections, only to have her reach out minutes later to cast a golden glow on the tufa. Wow, what a sight!
After many, many photos, we headed back to the warmth of our vehicle and straight to Silver Lake Cafe for a yummy breakfast and a chance once again to marvel at what we had just witnessed.
From here a quick 3-mile hike up the Lundy Canyon Trail, to a striking overlook showcasing golden aspens and a cascading waterfall, rounded out our day. Oh yeah, life is good.
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