Date: January 15, 2016
Place: Mono Lake, Lee Vining, California
Coordinates: 37.938774, -119.027170
Length: 1 mile
Mono Lake is a magical place. Seriously. That's why we take every opportunity we get to stop there whenever we travel in the region of the Eastern Sierra. I have already posted here about the story of this lake and of the little loop hike there, and lately I also had the opportunity to visit it's northern shore as well. This post is about that very same trail - but with a very different look and feel.
Last January my good friend came to visit me from overseas and both of us went on a week-long road trip, visiting some of California's prettiest winter-accessible places, and Mono Lake was on our must see list.
We were drawing to the end of our road trip when we were on our way to Mono Lake, driving north on Hwy 395 after a couple of lovely and somewhat adventurous days in Death Valley and Panamint Valley. We had planned to camp for the night in one of the National Forest campgrounds south of Mono Lake. On our drive, however, a snow storm rolled in, blowing down from the Sierra Nevada mountains, dumping quantities of now on the ground. During the final, grueling lag of our drive we dropped the idea of camping and continued straight away to the town of Lee Vining where we checked into a hotel room for the night.
In the morning we woke up to a changed world - everything was white with fresh, pure snow. Moreover - the sun was shining brilliantly and the sky was bright blue. It was the beginning of a splendid day.
|Down to Mono Lake|
|Being the first|
But Mono Lake is in California's Eastern Sierra, and the whipped cream-like snow covered plants were desert shrubs, not bare, wintering apple trees. And while the air was chilly, no icicles formed on my eyelashes when my exhale steamed past them.
|At the trailhead|
|View northeast from the south tufa trail|
It was easy to follow the trail to the lake. We saw more rabbit tracks crossing it, and also footprints of other animals, possibly birds, that had crossed the trail before we had arrived there.
I too was discovering it again - to looked so different under all that snow!
Every step we made was fresh. It felt odd to be leaving footprints in the pristine scenery, almost a sense of desecration, in a way. But there was also a great joy of pioneering, of being the first one there to see this new world of winter magic. It was like walking through a wardrobe, only one made of greasewood or saltbush.
|A fresh morning|
I was looking less at the individual tufa and more at the over all scenery. My gaze kept turning to the mountains to the west - the Sierra Nevada. The peaks closest to us were those of Yosemite. CA-120 and Tioga Pass were closed for the winter, but I knew we would not try that evening any of the other passes north of Yosemite. Yet, I wished I could go up there too that day.
It was only when we were getting ready to turn back toward the parking lot when I saw another living creature for the first time on that hike. It was a loggerhead shrike that sat atop a tall tufa and ignored us completely, even though we passed quite close below its perch.
From that part of the trail we had a nice view of the little volcanic butte to the south. It was also covered with snow which eliminated all the other colors of the volcanic soil comprising it.
The clouds kept shifting along the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, but never floated eastward over our heads.
By the time we were leaving Mono Lake much of the snow on the bushes had melted and the 'whipped cream' look was gone. After we returned home another visitor had posted online a photo of Mono Lake two days after our visit there - there was a bit of snow still on the ground, but the vegetation, as well as the tufa, were all brown again and much of the winter wonderland magic was gone.