Mano y Mono

One of the great things about the Eastern Sierra is that they are part of the buffer between the central valley of California and the deserts of the Great Basin, including the Mojave and Death Valley.  Because of this you can pretty quickly move from alpine lakes (see previous post) to arid desertscapes — in fact, Inyo County contains both the highest and the lowest points in the continental US (Mount Whitney and Death Valley) – located only  ~100 miles apart.
On Sunday, we took part of our day to explore the area around Mono Lake – which is a large alkaline lake that is pretty similar in many respects to the Great Salt Lake.  The lake is a major stopping point in the migration pattern of many shorebirds and (oddly enough) the breeding ground for the majority of California Gulls.

But what makes Mono Lake pretty interesting to me is the formation of outcroppings of tufa. The tufa columns and “castles” are formed from precipitation of calcium carbonate from supersaturated upswells.  

There is a short trail that leads along the edge of the very still lake and through some spectacular tufa formations.  The area is pretty barren, its overly saline environment (and pretty intense heat) permits only a few hearty grasses and shrubs to live along the shoreline.

After the pristine alpine beauty of the mountain forests and lakes a few miles away, the starkness and desolation of Mono Lake is somewhat jarring – but beautiful in its own otherworldly fashion.

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13 thoughts on “Mano y Mono

  1. I loved the Sierras. Those trees are amazing, and it is so peaceful (despite being part of a major fault zone). Did you try your hand at gold panning while you were there? Or fishing? John

  2. Sadly no gold — nor fish — though I wonder if Penny would have chased a fish? We actually thought about you b/c the area was more geologically active than I had been aware and we had lots of questions that most of the signs in the visitor centers couldn't really answer.

  3. We actually thought about you b/c the area was more geologically active than I had been aware and we had lots of questions that most of the signs in the visitor centers couldn't really answer. You can always email me…The quick answer to any question about the area is "microplate"; it is a region that is bounded by a transform fault to the west and an extensional province to the east. Our current best guess is that the collision and direction change of the North American and the Farallon plates has created a microplate that is slowly rotating. The extension to the east in the Basin and Range may be indicative of a new rift system forming (lots of debate in the community about that). If true, you can expect to see a new Gulf open up in just a few million years.John

  4. Oh! So instead of my idea of a Rent-a-Ranger to drive along with us – we can just ask John! What a deal! Thanks for the quick answer, John – I'm fascinated by the idea of a rotating microplate – that explains so much!

  5. Oh, so pretty!! And it's odd, Steve – right away this reminded me of the Band-e-Amir lake in Afghanistan and its travertine dams.

    Maybe not much of a similarity but the photos reminded me of it.

  6. So instead of my idea of a Rent-a-Ranger to drive along with us
    You know, I've been debating with others in the geo community about the feasibility of adapting those "Roadside Geology" books to the GPS age. Hook the GPS up to a Kindle (or its equivalent) and let a local expert tell you all about the geology that you see. heck, you could even use one on an airplane ride and turn that boring Minnesota field under you into an exciting battleground full of drumlins and terminal morraines.
    Most of them think I'm nuts. I don't disagree, but think that there is a bigger market for this than they realize.
    John

  7. We would absolutely buy the PinPoint GPS Geology Ranger app! When we have our Roadside Geology book with us (which we inevitably forget at home) – we have to stop and figure out where to look & I get carsick trying to read in a moving car! If we had a very patient GPS-based ranger to say, now look due west and you'll see a rotating plate – that would be awesome! I'd predict you'd steal 80% of the Roadside Geology market at least!

  8. what about a geology alert instead!? It could be done, but most geology events are either incredibly slow (soil creep, orogeny, plate motions) or unbelievably fast (earthquakes, tsunamis, beer runs).John

  9. Pingback: Arsenic and Extrapolating Aliens | Stevil

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