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Mono Lake

An Ancient Sea


"A country of wonderful contrasts, hot deserts bordered by snow-laden mountains, cinders and ashes scattered on glacier-polished pavement, frost and fire working together in the making of beauty."
-John Muir

It is easy to see why Muir was so enthusiastic about the Mono Basin during his first summer visit in the Sierra. It is an area of extraordinary contrasts. Perennial snowfields and glaciers at 13,000 feet overlook a dry, sagebrush covered desert below.

The lake itself is a majestic body of water covering about 60 square miles; 13 miles east-west by 8 miles north-south. And it is an ancient lake, (about 760,000 years old) -- One of the oldest lakes in North America. It has no outlet. Throughout its long existence, salts and minerals have washed in from Eastern Sierran streams. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts behind so that the lake is now about two and a half times as salty and eighty times as alkaline as seawater.

You will notice a soapy or slippery feel to Mono Lake's water. The alkaline water is very cleansing. Mark Twain wrote of Mono: "Its sluggish waters are so strong with alkali that if you only dip the most hopelessly soiled garment into them once or twice, and wring it out, it will be found as clean as if it had been though the ablest of a washer woman's hands."

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