4 a.m. Monday: Honey, are you awake? zzzzzzzzzzzz…... Wanna go catch the sunrise at Mono Lake? zzzzzzzzzzzzz…..OK!
We slowly got ourselves upright and semi-coherent with the help of…..Coffee. I put water on to boil, set up the French press, the grinder and our dark French roast beans. Howard takes over while I wash, brush, and dress. We relish the first invigorating cup, gather the camera equipment, warm clothes, and a go-cup, then head out for the day.
We arrive at Mono Lake South Tufa State Nature Reserve , about a 20 mile drive, just before 6 a.m. The parking lot is full of the “real” photographers who come from all over the world to capture the interplay of light on mountains, desert, and water. The reflections of tufas and clouds make for interesting subjects.
The reserve was formed to protect the spectacular tufa towers, calcium carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Mono Lake is an ancient lake, over one million years old, covering 65 square miles. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now about 2 1/2 times as salty as the ocean.
The reserve also protects the lake surface itself, as well as the wetlands, and other sensitive habitat for the 1-2 million birds that feed and rest here each year. Alkali flies and brine shrimp provide an endless food supply. It is the 2nd largest California Gull rookery in the US and by late spring, as in now, there is an average of 50,000 gulls arriving to feed and breed!
NASA recently announced the finding of of a new species of bacteria in Mono Lake that uses arsenic to replace phosphorus, one of the six known building blocks for most known life, to make its DNA and proteins. Other researchers are saying they’ve been unable to replicate the production of bacteria in arsenic, calling into question NASA’s findings. This is all very interesting but for our non-scientific minds, the beauty and grandeur on this early morning excursion is akin to a spiritual experience.
By 8:30 a.m. we’re having lattes and muffins at El Mono Hotel’s Latte Da Cafe in Lee Vining. Fortified and re-invigorated, we’re now ready for the climb up Tioga Pass, the highest highway pass in California, through the Sierra Nevada, to explore the upper Yosemite Nat’l Park.