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The Eastern Sierra has been on my to visit list for a long time. The Sierras even in 2008 are still quite the barrier since the direct passes to the Mono Lake area are closed for half the year. Once the snows start and the passes close, it's a long detour to drive over Highway 80 and then south. As such, even though in the summer and early fall, the trip is not long, it had never worked out previously for me to go.
The eastern side is far different from the western side. The mountains create a rain shadow on the eastern side so the east is much drier and without the mass of pine trees that populate the western slopes. Driving over, I found the thick trees cover on the western side to be a little much and was glad when I made it over the sparser, almost barren, high desert country of the east.
The tufa formations which look other worldly are the primary attraction at Mono Lake. They bring tourists, particularly photographers like myself. If it had not been for Los Angles county diverting water from the lake, they would not be visible. They can only form under water and were exposed by the lake level dropping.
I was very impressed by the passion of the Mono Lake Committee . On my first evening, I took a walk at the lake, lead by a member of the Committee. In addition, to learning how tufa are formed, which is is from calcium rich fresh water springs bubbling up into the alkaline lake water, I learned that saving Mono Lake has been a constant struggle. Even with the court victories that protect the lake on paper, getting them implemented has taken dedication and resolve. Perhaps I've gotten too cynical about activism. It was refreshing to see committed people who through their passion and dedication are succeeding in saving a critical part of the natural environment
My first sunset at the lake was mobbed with photographers. I could hardly believe how many. Turns out a local community college class was there. I prefer more solitude when photographing but when a place is known as a mecca for photographers, it's not surprising when there are so many tripods setup up, one is tripping over them.