Mono Lake and the amazing weather balloon

Leaving the Owens Valley was a spectacular drive as we climbed in elevation, leaving Bishop and heading North,reaching 8000 feet before descending slightly towards Mono Lake. The scenery went from grasslands to huge pines and alpine meadows. The Tundra was working hard pulling Moaning Myrtle ( so named for the noise the stabilizer bars make when we go around corners slowly..trailers should be named like boats I think! ) up the incline on the US#395. and the temperature..cooler and cooler we sighed in relief as the thermometer on the truck kept going down as far as 68°..we were rejoicing!

Up and over the summit we descended slowly towards the NW and Mono Lake came into view. I’ve read about this place for years and marveled at the Tufa formations so was very excited to be seeing it finally. We pulled into the Mono Vista RV Park located in Lee Vining on the west side of the lake and were placed in a lovely shaded spot, it was still warm, but not broiling..what a relief! No air conditioner needed. After spending several nights wrestling with the heat and noise of the air conditioner this felt like paradise! Windows open!

Mono Lake approaching from the US#120

Mono Lake approaching from the US#120

After we settled in we took a quick walk about town and checked into the local groceries and edibles, lovely little town but full of firefighters from all over California as they were mopping up what was left of a fire to the SW of town, the Walker fire. There was some smoke haze in the air but no smell. I stopped and spoke to one of the crews as I was curious how they got here from where they usually work, these fellows were from the San Bernadino area, and they remarked that they had been the first to arrive at the scene of the fire several days ago and how impressed they were with the towns folk and how they had handled the fire up until then, a tight knit community, they sounded impressed and respectful of the locals..”damn hunter” they said started the fire..illegal campfire…they shook their heads in dismay but laughed heartily at the hand drawn map one of the locals had made for them when they first arrived on the scene of the fire and no topographical maps had been available, it had been very accurate they remarked. They were camping where we were and we invited them to look through the telescope late in the evening.

I begged Mike for a quick late day trip out to see the South Lake Tufa formations I’d read so much about..remarkable formations now exposed in an ever declining Lake. Mono Lake has no outlet only a few tributaries that the greater Los Angeles area has been steadily draining it for decades. The Mono Lake Committee has worked hard at fighting for the lakes survival and to restore the water depths to previous years, an uphill battle.There website is well worth a read for the history and formation of the lake as well as the information on the millions of migratory birds that stop here. it

From the Mono Lake website “ECOLOGY OF MONO LAKE”
The primary lake life is composed of algae, brine shrimp, and alkali flies, and is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Nesting birds consist of California Gulls (50,000, 85% of California’s breeding population and second largest colony in the world after the Great Salt Lake in Utah) and Snowy Plovers (400, 11% of the state’s breeding population). Migratory birds include Eared Grebes (1.5-2 million, 30% of the North American population), Wilson’s Phalaropes (80,000, 10% of the world population), Red-necked Phalaropes (60,000, 2-3% of the world population), and 79 other species of waterbirds. 

It was amazing:) Everything I had seen in the pictures!


What Mike didn’t realize is that I was scoping this spot for a sunrise photo-shoot;)..little did he know he was going to be dragged out of bed at an unearthly hour of the morning, pulled from his warm sheets and snuggling cats and made into my personal sherpa:) I had to be nice today:) Passing the Mono Lake Committee storefront in Lee Vining I saw an add for a bird walk on the Northern part of the lake so now our following day was arranged.

The alarm went off at 5 am, I got one cup of coffee down my gullet and Mike out of bed before he drove me the 20 minutes back out to the south lake Tufa formations and packed my tripod out to the lakeside for was delightfully cool and we walked about to several spots with several other lunatics with cameras and tripods;)..Mike’s words:) coming from a telescope nut that is awake all times of the night and day…and we waited..what fun I had:) and so beautiful! As the sun peeked over the eastern hills a slight breeze was blowing but the reflections were amazing..a perfect way to start the day.

Sunrise at Mono Lake looking East

Sunrise at Mono Lake


Looking West towards the Sierra Nevada

After the sun had peaked we packed up and headed to the Northern part of the Lake where the Volunteer Bird Walk was scheduled for 8am. I’ve never done a bird tour. Two volunteers, Erv and Sandra ran the tour and it was a delight. We wandered through some wooded meadows, down a road and finally onto the boardwalk that looks out over the lake, The group was enthusiastic and friendly, great to share nature with other people who love it as well. I learned a great deal, saw new birds to me, and even a doe and fawn. An altogether splendid morning.



White breasted Nuthatch

White breasted Nuthatch



We rested for the afternoon, laundry and such, before we unpacked Mike’s telescope and set it up behind the trailer at dusk. It gets shady quickly with the hills that overlook Lee Vining as the sun starts to go down. Even before dark Mike had the scope trained on the Moon and Saturn. A very enthusiastic Dutch family had arrived in an RV and were crowded about the scope when Mike caught sight of a very bright object to the NW and turned the telescope to it-a giant weather balloon-it was so cool-we later read they go up to 100,000 feet before bursting. You could see the equipment package underneath with some flashing lights..our first sight of something like this! The Dutch family were delighted, and delightful. Mike spoke to them in German that night, more than he has for years. The entire family spoke their native Dutch as well as several other languages, English included.The number of Europeans in the RV park outnumber the North Americans by huge margins. It was wonderful to hear and speak a chorus of different languages with several other passersby who were invited to take a look through the telescope.

Moon seen through the smoke of forest fires

Moon seen through the smoke of forest fires

Extremely high weather balloon

Extremely high weather balloon

Mike covered the telescope late and that was the end of a busy day. We’d planned a trip to the Eastern portion of Yosemite Park for the morning so a good night’s rest was in order..but another story..stay tuned…

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