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July 11, 1863: Mono Lake

July 11, 2013

Mono Basin 24

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


Camp 121

[Today] we were up at dawn, a clear, calm morning. Clouds of gulls screamed around us. An early breakfast, then a tour of examination. These islands are entirely volcanic, and in one place the action can hardly be said to have ceased, for there are hundreds of hot springs over a surface of many acres. Steam and hot gases issue from fissures in the rocks, and one can hear the boiling and gurgling far beneath. Some of the springs are very copious, discharging large quantities of hot water with a very peculiar odor. Some boil up in the lake, near the shore, so large that the lake is warmed for many rods—no wonder that the waters hold such strange mineral ingredients. The rock is all lava, pumice, and cinders. At the northeast corner of the island are two old craters with water in them. The smaller, or north island, has no fresh water—it looks scathed and withered by fire. One volcanic cone, three hundred or four hundred feet high, looked more recent than any other I have seen in the state.

Mono Basin 25

Tufa towers, Mono Lake County Park; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

We sailed back to camp, stopping on the north shore, where some Indians (Pah-Utes) were gathering koochahbee. Along this shore many curious rocks stand up from the water, of lime tufa, made by springs in former times. They are of very fantastic shapes, often worn by the water into the form of huge mushrooms, ten to twenty feet high. I took a bath in the lake; one swims very easily in the heavy water, but it feels slipery on the skin and smarts in the eyes.

The afternoon was showery and there was much thunder, and we made our preparations for an uncomfortable night. Soon after sunset the clouds came over the whole heavens, night set in intensely black and dark, the wind rose from the southeast, and the thunder roared incessantly. Soon the big drops began to fall; we took the hint and went to bed. The rain set in in earnest. The lake roared with the wind, which, with the thunder and rain and our lonely place and no shelter, made the situation peculiar. But luckily the rain was not so heavy as we anticipated—it did not wet our blankets through, yet I cannot say that it was a pleasant or comfortable night. At every movement of the body the water would run in from one’s face, under the clothes, and feel so cold—one’s hair and beard saturated—yet it was stifling to sleep with head covered. The tall grass and weeds around my bed nodded in the wind and slatted big drops of water over me.

Specimens collected: Shepherdia argentea; Descurainia californica.

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