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July 9, 1863: Mono Lake

July 9, 2013

Mono Basin 23

Mono Lake County Park (vicinity of Camp 121); by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 121

Mono Lake 04

Tufa formations, Mono Lake south shore; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

[Today] we came on about ten miles north over the plain and camped at the northwest corner of Lake Mono. This is the most remarkable lake I have ever seen. It lies in a basin at the height of 6,800 feet above the sea. Like the Dead Sea, it is without an outlet. The streams running into it all evaporate from the surface, so of course it is very salt—not common salt. There are hot springs in it, which feed it with peculiar mineral salts. It is said that it contains borax, also boracic acid, in addition to the materials generally found in saline lakes. I have bottled water for analysis and hope to know some time. The waters are clear and very heavy—they have a nauseous taste. When still, it looks like oil, it is so thick, and it is not easily disturbed. Although nearly twenty miles long it is often so smooth that the opposite mountains are mirrored in it as in a glass. The water feels slippery to the touch and will wash grease from the hands, even when cold, more readily than common hot water and soap. I washed some woolens in it, and it was easier and quicker than in any “suds” I ever saw. It washed our silk handkerchiefs, giving them a luster as if new. It spots cloths of some colors most effectually.


Parnassia californica; by randomtruth, on Flickr

No fish or reptile lives in it, yet it swarms with millions of worms, which develop into flies. These rest on the surface and cover everything on the immediate shore. The number and quantity of these worms and flies is absolutely incredible. They drift up in heaps along the shore—hundreds of bushels could be collected. They only grow at certain seasons of the year. The Indians come far and near to gather them. The worms are dried in the sun, the shell rubbed off, when a yellowish kernel remains, like a small yellow grain of rice. This is oily, very nutritious, and not unpleasant to the taste, and under the name of koo-chah-bee forms a very important article of food. The Indians gave me some; it does not taste bad, and if one were ignorant of its origin, it would make fine soup. Gulls, ducks, snipe, frogs, and Indians fatten on it.

Specimens collected: Potentilla gracilis; Silene menziesii; Polygonum amphibium var. stipulaceum; Parnassia californica; Carex aurea; Trifolium wormskioldii.

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