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Mono Lake: The salty truth about eating flies and tufa towers

Mono Lake: The salty truth about eating flies and tufa towers

October 2019 · 3 min read · California


When you turn right, you'll miss a real gem. But most of the tourist do it: When they came down from the Yosemite Valley National Park they let Lee Vining lie on the roadside and decide to go straight ahead the 395 south.

What a mistake! Because only a few meters on the left waits the Mono Lake, a hidden gem of blue and alkaline water, formed 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin and still here nowadays. The Mono Lakes name has nothing to do with "mono" as the opposite to "stereo". It' s a word from the native americans Paiute language for the famous alkali fly they collected to eat.

The lake is easy to find: If you reach the T-cross at the end of the 120, you have to turn left and drive 2,5 miles before you see the roadsign for the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve . There is a picnic area and a parking lot and you have to go only 200 meters to reach the shoreline with it's dramatic tufa towers.

It's a breathtaking panorama with bizarre rocks, pines, volcanoes, tufa towers and a lot of gulls, grebes and little black alkali flies under a glittering blue sky and the Adobe Hills at the horizon. If you're on the, you're in the middle of whats once was the lakebed of Mono Lake. Beginning in 1852 the Mono Basin was impacted settlers they build canals to take water from the Mono Lake. Their sheeps and cattles damaged streambanks and vegetation, but the great damage comes in 1941 with the extension of the Los Angeles Aqueduct to the Mono Basin. Four new creeks drying up the streams below the diversion dams, the lakelevels sinks dramatically and the Mono Lake lost half its volume.

monolake6.jpgAt the same time the Mono Lake Committee starts his fight for the rights of mother nature to live by it's own rules. They try to save the Mono Lake, this 40 km wide desert basin 2,000 meters above sea level, where no fish lives, but a lot of worldwide unique animals like the brine shrimp "Artemia monica", small as a thumbnail and endemic to the lake.

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Put your finger into the water and lick with your tongue to understand the wonder of life. Mono Lake water is 2.5 times as salty and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean! That is the simple reason why no fish are here. And so the whole food chain of the lake can be based on the high population of a single-celled planktonic algae. By late spring 44,000 to 65,000 California Gulls are coming to the lake to nest here, in midsommer Wilson's Phalarope follow.

The great threat for the Lake and the birds for years was the sinking water level. Since LA drilled four of five creeks who feed teh lake its salinity doubled and its surface decreased to one third of its original size. But it gets better. Since 1994 the California State Water Resources Control Board set minimum flows for the streams and limits on water exports toallow the lake level to rise and stabilize at an elevation of 6,392 feet above sea level.

In Goliath Season 3 Billy Bob Thornton has a struggle with Dennis Quaid which is a bit inspired by this problem.

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