Mono Lake is a terminal lake located in the Sierra Nevadas. Geologists believe the lake was created about 760,000 years ago during the Long Valley volcanic eruption. However, lake sediments below the ash layer suggest that Mono Lake could be even older, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America. Mono Lake is extremely saline and alkaline, as there is no outlet for these minerals to go. Limestone rock formations, known as tufa, are found in Mono Lake. Tufa is created by precipitation from the combination of calcium in underwater springs and carbonates from the lake water. Although tufa grows underwater, it can now be seen from the surface due to Mono Lake’s decline in water level.
Although the high salinity and alkalinity make it inhabitable to fish, Mono Lake is the location of a diverse ecosystem. Alkali flies and brine shrimp found in the lake allow millions of migratory birds to feed during mid-summer to fall. Nearly 100 different species of birds stop in Mono Lake during their migration south. About 50,000 California Gulls breed on Negit Island in Mono Lake each year. However, when the lake’s level declined to the point where a land bridge connected Negit Island to its shore, coyotes crossed over to eat the gull chicks.
The Kutzadika’a people are the first known inhabitants of the Mono Lake region. Their name “Kutzadika’a” roughly translates to fly-eaters, as they ate the alkali fly pupae found in the lake. They migrated around the region, but returned to the Mono Basin in late spring. This tribe consisted of about 200 people before prospectors destroyed their natural resources and took their land. The Kutzadika’a worked on ranches and farms to survive. In 1852, members of the US Army became the first European Americans to see Mono Lake. Prospectors soon came to the area. Although little gold was found, the timber industry in the area grew rapidly, selling to nearby mining towns. Ranchers and farmers also settled near Mono Lake, until the LA Department of Water and Power bought most of the land and water rights to extend the LA Aqueduct.
Alaskan Dude. “Tufa formation reflected on Mono Lake, California.” Photograph. Fotopedia. Fotonauts, Inc, Oct. 2008. Web. 16 Feb. 2013.
Mono Lake. Mono Lake Committee, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2013. <http://www.monolake.org>.
“Political & Legal Chronology.” Mono Basin Clearinghouse. Mono Lake Committee, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2013. <http://www.monobasinresearch.org/timelines/polchr.htm>.
State of California State Water Resources Control Board. “Decision and Order Amending Water Right Licenses to Establish Fishery Protection Flows in Streams Tributary to Mono Lake and to Protect Public Trust Resources at Mono Lake and in the Mono Lake Basin.” Mono Basin Clearinghouse. Mono Lake Committee, 10 Jan. 2007. Web. 16 Feb. 2013. <http://www.monobasinresearch.org/images/legal/d1631text.htm>
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Snow Geese Migration Flight.” Photograph. Public Domain Images. n.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2013.