The morning sun hit Carson Peak by Silver Lake and it glowed. Several anglers were already out there fishing by the shore in the cold morning. Ducks were catching their breakfast. This was the beautiful morning I’ve been looking for at Silver Lake Campground. I immersed myself into this tranquil scene. Two destinations were on our agenda today – the ghost town Bodie, and the South Tufa at Mono Lake.
We took highway 395 north towards the visitor center at Mono City. It was hazy in the northern sky. I said it might be wildfire. The note on the door said that “Highway 395 closed northbound at Bridgeport.” The ranger said that there was a wildfire near the California Nevada border. From the visitor center, we saw the vast Mono Lake laid in the basin with two islands in it. Odd shaped tufa towers stood by the shore. The short documentary about Mono Lake was very informative.
We continued our trip to Bodie but first we stopped at Bridgeport to have lunch. The Bridgeport Inn was 140 years old decorated with lace curtains and lace table cloth under glass. The salmon burger was delicious so as the beef burger. Then we headed to Bodie.
After a 10-mile paved road crossing the deserted mountains, a dirt road took us to the park entrance. Bodie was a wild west boomtown in the gold rush era. Now it is a “ghost town” with deserted buildings, closed mills, mounds of yellow orange colored soil dug out on the mountains. There are about 170 buildings remained. At an elevation of 8,379 feet in a remote area, I imagine it could be hard to get everything here especially water. Bodie once got water from Mono Lake. The Standard Mill sitting on the hillside overlooked the town. The discover of gold lured hopeful prospectors here. In 1878, nearly 10,000 miners lived here. There was even a China Town. It is hard to fathom living here in winter when temperature dropped down to 30 or 40 degrees below zero, with snow up to 20 feet deep and winds up to 100 miles per hour. Many people died in this harsh environment.
A small house is opened to public. A broken chaise with exposed springs, a small armchair, a dresser and a single bed with bare springs were displayed in the living room. The living room used a wood burning fireplace, and the dining room and kitchen used a coal fireplace. The bed in the bedroom was really short and small. James S. Cain was the prominent figure here who owned the Standard Mine and Mill. The Cain’s residency is well preserved. A small window room displayed different glass bottles on rack. A sawmill cut firewood to keep residents going through the long winter. An old church still stood in town. I would say the best building in town is the Dechambeau Hotel & Post Office with its bricks.
Walking up to the hill towards the mines in the hot afternoon sun, I saw mirage above sagebrushes. The air was dry and I was thirsty. After spending a good two hours there, we left and headed to South Tufa at Mono Lake. The air was hazier than before when we got back on highway 395. We took the sharp turns with a 6% degree down hill to Mono basin. I noticed that a big area of forest on the hill near Mono City was charred by wildfire. Luckily, several small businesses were spared.
Mono Lake is an inland sea twice the size of San Francisco. 600 years ago Native Americans lived on this land. They relied on Mono Lake for a living. The most recent volcanic eruption occurred at around 400 years ago. Mono basin was created by fire and ice. The extension of the earth and volcanic activities shaped the landscape. Five streams provided most of the water resources of the lake. Underground springs, rains and water also provide precious water to the lake. With no outflow, evaporation made the water in Mono Lake as twice salty as the sea and alkaline. There are two types of tufa here: rock tufa and sand tufa. Rock Tufa formed around springs underwater. It comprised of calcium carbonate and other compositions in the water. The exposed tufa above water level stopped growing. Water level of the lake has dropped by 49 feet when Los Angles diverted the springs that fed the lake in 1941. This endangered the delicate ecosystems of the lake.
Mono Lake is not Mark Twain’s “California’s Dead Sea.” It teems with life. The two important roles in the ecosystems are the Alkali Flies and brine shrimps. Native Americans- Kucadikadi ate larvae of the alkali flies. Migratory birds feed on the underwater flies. Mono Lake is a major breeding ground for California gulls. In 1994, California government issued an order to protect Mono Lake and its tributary system.
Walking through a sea of yellow sagebrush flowers, we came to the southern shore of Mono Lake. Lots of tufa towers with different shapes and sizes stood on land, by shore, or in the lake. A line of tufa towers standing in the lake was the most picturesque. The black lines on the water by the shore were formed by millions of small alkali flies. Seagulls were chasing the flies with their wide-opened beaks and chowing down the feast! Waterfowls were swimming and diving on the water. Some people were swimming or floating on the lake. I wonder if the lake is salty enough to keep you afloat on the water.
On our way back, we seemed to drive into a smoke choked world. The northern sky was really hazy. It seemed that the wind blew the smoke through a wind tunnel. The right half of the mountain ahead was hidden behind the smoky air and the left half was vaguely visible. We didn’t go back to our campground right away but head south on 395 towards Mammoth Lakes to fill up the tank. The scenic 395 presented its best with magnificent soaring mountain range near Mammoth Lakes. The striking faces of the mountain peaks were mesmerizing. Taking the June Lake Loop back to the campground, we found that our campground was safe and sound amid the light smoky air. Well, fire is a way of life in California. We just need to be cautious.