01 October 2011
When my travel plans went awry, I wasn't sure a visit to Mono Lake would still happen. I'm so glad it did! Views of the lake from afar were lovely, though nothing extraordinary. It wasn't until walking down the path at South Tufa through the rabbitbrush and greasewood and coming out upon this scene, that the true beauty of Mono Lake became apparent.
The Tufa towers were created when fresh water flowing underground, rose up through the salt water of Mono Lake, at which point the interaction of salt and fresh water caused the minerals to precipitate out leaving these towers behind. All of these were created underwater at a time when the lake level was much higher than it is now.
Birds love Mono Lake and in particular, the California Gulls, who also nest on one of the islands in the lake.
There were large flocks of grackles too, iridescent in the morning sun.
Mono Lake has a small but unique eco-system. No fish live in the lake as it is too salty; 2 1/2 times as salty as the ocean! Instead the eco-system is based on just a handful of things. The algae, which the alkali flies and brine shrimp live on and the birds which eat the alkali flies and brine shrimp. The black band along the beach is not sand, but rather masses of the alkali flies. They don't swarm at humans or bite at all. In places, they mound up as in the above photo.
It was so fun to watch the gulls eating. They put their head down low and ran at the water, following the shoreline with beaks open, catching alkali flies and brine shrimp. The alkali flies would part right in front of the gull as though the gull were a vacuum cleaner sucking them up. The grackles would do the same thing! Their beaks would come up full!
I was lucky to have the area to myself for nearly an hour. The grand expanse of peace and quiet, but for the birds and lapping of the water, was a healing balm after having been sick for two days.
Looking out across the water, there were hundreds of ducks and grebes all across the lake. I can imagine what it must be like when thousands of birds stop here during migration!
The beauty continued on the walk back to the car. The rabbit brush was nearly done blooming, but the greasewood was covered with these pink blossoms!
Just as I left, the grackles took flight.