The Mono Basin is home to one of the oldest lakes and the youngest mountain range in North America. We tromped around Panum Crater, the remnants of a volcano that erupted a mere 600 years ago. Spires of black glassy obsidian and impossibly light pumice make up most of the landscape.
The surreal Mono Lake with its tufa outcroppings reminded us of Bryce Canyon and its hoodoos. (Tufa towers are created when fresh water containing calcium combines with the carbonate-rich lake water. These form limestone.) It’s a crazy place: 2 1/2 times saltier than the ocean, it is teeming with tiny brine shrimp — baby formula for seagulls. For this reason, it is the spring/summer home for up to 80% of California’s seagulls and their little ones. Though devoid of fish, Mono Lake is also home to osprey, who nest on the tufa sculptures.
We crossed over Sonora Pass into the lusher western Sierra. From the home of ancient Bristlecones to the land of the mighty Redwoods. On the eastern side, pencil thin lines of green life follow creeks down the mountain slopes. The vast space in between is high desert scrub brush and rocks. The western Sierra is green everywhere. Life is easier on this side.