May 26 2013

Mono Lake’s Black Point


There is definitely still snow on the E Side, but the best place to ski was undeniably at Mammoth.

The main goal was to simply get outa Dodge. A secondary goal was to go prepared to make some turns. It was possible, but we had to admit, the fanaticism to ski mediocre conditions has left us. We’ve become snot-nosed, cherry-pickin’ Tahoe locals who turn our noses up when we have to hoist our skis for a half mile of dry trail. Spend a few seasons doing slingshot tours from Sugar Bowl and see if you don’t get spoiled too. ;)

Besides, it was time for a new activity. I love skiing, but I also love the things I can do in the summer that aren’t done in the winter. Since Spring came early to the Sierra, and now Summer too, it’s time to face the music.

On this day, we chose to do some exploring around the shores of Mono Lake. The ravages of several decades of sucking the water out of the Sierra, bypassing their natural flow into Mono Lake have taken their toll.

Mono Lake from Black Point so named for the dark, volcanic beach that is frosted in white alkalai left behind as the water evaporates.

A few years back it seemed like the mandate to at least allow excess water in good years to flow in to Mono Lake might restore it to a former glory with a larger coastline. It probably won’t fill back up in my lifetime, but if another flood like 97 came along it could at least right a few decades of wrongs. Indeed, it was higher the summer of 2011, after the big Ten-11 season with 180% snowpack. It has only been two years since then and it is all too obvious that was only a temporary stay of execution. For Mono Lake to survive the long run southern California needs to find alternate sources of water. I’m not holding my breath for that to happen though.

From afar Negit Island looks like a short wade across a shallow channel. Perhaps, but the water is not exactly inviting.

Today the stench of sulphur and the unusual vegetation that seems to thrive in that environment made Mono Lake smell like a rotting corpse. It is a surreal environment, with dark, volcanic rock ground down to the consistency of coarse sand with rounded edges. Flowers are blooming in it. Closer to the waterline a frosting of dried white alkaline minerals coats the black sand in the final runout to the water where green and mustard colored algae clings to the tufa under the surface.

The volcanic sands at Black Point aren’t lush with vegetation, but what manages to grow there looks quite healthy.

It is both eerie and beautiful. A swarm of camofloughed insects buzzes at the boundary between earth and water, a thousand wings beating the air so hard that it sounded like a soft wind but with a rhythm that made it hum. It was low and they were so small that it felt like the sand was humming in response to my steps, until I saw their wings reflecting the suns rays. As I bent closer to see what caused it the hum became a buzz from the swarm but they didn’t attack, just moved about ready to scatter if my looming figure got any closer.

After wandering about, thoughts of wading through the shallow waters to Negit Island evaporated. The thought of immersing my body in such a noxious liquid was hardly appealing and I was glad I had explored the area before committing to the crossing. On this day a SUP would work but with any chance of wind I’d rather use a sea kayak to reduce the chance of swimming, at least from Black Point. Now I know why I don’t ever see boats on the lake. The ocean can have a pungent smell to it, but it comes from the life that grows within it. At Mono Lake there are things growing in it, but shrimp are shellfish that transform garbage into edible meat. It might taste good, but I know a grass fed steer, or wild salmon will treat me better in the long run.

© 2013