Monday, March 22, 2010

A Roller Coaster Ride

Today we put in 10 hours on the highway, and during that time, gained 17,000 feet of elevation and lost 12,000 feet. No, we were not in Alaska driving up Denali; we were on the east side of the Sierra Mountains in southern and central California! We left Death Valley at 8am and immediately climbed 5,100 feet to the top of Towne Pass, then began a precipitous drop of 3,600 feet, followed by another 4,000 foot climb. The pattern continued throughout the day with gains of 2 – 3,000 feet and drops of similar depth. Our Chevy Silverado 1500 put in a good, hard day, and so did our brakes! Only once did our “Check Engine” light come on, and only once did we stop for a 15-minute break because we could smell our brakes.

We stopped for lunch in Bishop, California at a bakery and lunch deli recommended by our friend Hobie, who has traveled and camped throughout California many times. We had a delicious sandwich and bought a loaf of fresh-baked bread to get us through the trip home.


The highlight of the day was a stop at Mono Lake on the opposite (east) side of the Sierra Mountains from Yosemite National Park. Mono Lake is at the foot of a drainage basin which collects water from numerous mountain ranges in the vicinity and has no outlets, so is a “closed ecosystem”. Its’ water is 2.5 times as salty as the ocean, and 100 times as alkaline. The water, though crystal clear, appears blurry, as if oil had been poured into water, the result of fresh water springs that bubble up into the salty lake water. The most astonishing feature is the many formations called “Tufa Towers” which line the shore and spring up from the water’s surface. We’ll let the park signage explaining these formations tell their story.



The water level in the lake is now more than 30 feet below historic levels, as the City of Los Angeles began draining water from several of its tributaries in 1949. In 1994 an agreement was reached to limit those water withdrawals, and a goal was set to replenish the water level to only 25 feet below historic levels. In the 16 years since, it has not yet achieved that goal. This is significant because the Tufa Towers stop growing when the water level drops below their locations, and the brine shrimp and alkaline flies that are the predominant residents of the lake suffer huge population losses. The area is surrounded by snow-covered mountains that loom as high as 9,000 feet, and today there was snow along the shores of the lake. A beautiful sunny day, though cold enough that Bob donned jeans for the first time since early January when we left home.


We spent about an hour at Mono Lake, then continued north on Highway 395 which meanders briefly into Nevada, thus leading to our overnight stop in Carson City, where we’re in an RV camp outside a Casino. We picked this one because it has both cell service and internet, two features we lacked access to while in Death Valley. Tomorrow we head into Oregon!


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