You might call these God's own sand castles. Naturally occurring near springs on the floor of an inland salt water sea three times the strength of the ocean, these extraordinarily intricate sand and mineral formations are truly awe-inspiring to behold.
And yet when I explored this area, I had the whole place to myself in serene peace and quiet for hours while the tourist hordes descended upon some better known formations at another nearby beach area.
Last year, I explored another set of formations at this lake, and this year I set out to push further, exploring some of the numerous 4x4 tracks that circumnavigate this incredible place. I'm sure I've scarcely scratched the surface of the wonders this place holds, and I look forward to getting to know it more in the future, if I am blessed with the opportunity to do so.
For those interested, here is a short backstory on where these formations came from:
These "sand tufas" were exposed when the City of Los Angeles used its political muscle to divert some of the critical freshwater streams that feed Mono Lake in California's Eastern Sierra. Over the next decades, this critical inland sea dropped by more than 40 feet! The salt lake is used by more than 2 million birds, representing over 100 different unique and fragile species, and without it, they cannot complete their more than 3000 mile migrations to winter nesting grounds in South America. The lake is also home to millions of multicolored brine shrimp.
After L.A. diverted the water, the surrounding areas began to be plagued with dust storms, in addition to numerous other environmental effects, and collateral damage to both the environment and the ecosystem not only of the area, but of the world. The effects of the decisions made about this special lake have been felt as far south as Argentina, and as far north as Canada, and there has been an international effort to get the area better protection.
Several years ago, a victory was won in court by the Mono Lake Committee, which resulted in the city of L.A. being forced to stop diverting so much water away from the lake. This one court case alone has resulted in more than 10 feet of lake level rise since the decision, with another 10 feet predicted to come. This will still leave the lake 20 feet lower than it should be, but the state of California is enjoying the national and international tourism business it gets from the sand and mineral formations, and would rather rake in a little extra green paper than do the right thing for the millions of effected animals and people. (They plan to stop restoration efforts after the lake rises another 10 feet, 20 feet short of the proper level.)
While the formations are beautiful, it would still be best to return the lake to historic levels, in order to reduce and eventually eliminate the catastrophic effects that man's shortsighted political and business decisions have had on the environment and the ecology connected to this sensitive area. Ironically, as a part of the court's decision, L.A. was granted funding for wastewater reclaimation facilities that would entirely make up for the water that they stopped taking from the inlets to Mono Lake. So, in other words, L.A. had been ok with damaging the ecosystems of two continents in order to avoid spending a little money on one or two facilities to process used toilet and sink water. Education of the general public on these matters is critical in avoiding similar shortsighted mistakes in the future, as people will not protect what they do not understand or know about.