Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Back in the Basin

Since the high passes through the Sierra Nevada remain closed due to a heavy snowpack, downed trees and rock slides, we backtracked to U.S. 50 last evening and spent the night in Carson City, Nevada.  This morning, we traveled south on Route 395, along the eastern base of the mountains, headed for Mono Lake; approaching that famous remnant of the Pleistocene, we re-entered California, ascended along the West Fork of the Walker River, descended into the basin of Bridgeport Reservoir and then climbed onto the northern rim of the Mono Lake basin where we enjoyed a fabulous panorama of the lake and its surroundings.  For more details on the lake and its history, see the above link.

Stopping at the Visitor Center and three public access sites along the edge of the lake, we explored the tufa (calcium carbonate) formations and surveyed the open waters where thousands of eared grebes fed on brine shrimp; during the autumn migration, up to 1.8 million of these diving birds stop to rest and feed on Mono Lake.  Two pair of ospreys are currently nesting on the tufa formations but must travel to other regional lakes to catch fish, which cannot survive in the alkaline waters of Mono.  Other sightings included hundreds of California gulls and a single pair of ruddy ducks; according to local birders that we met, avocets, black-necked stilts and phalaropes, regular migrants and summer residents at Mono Lake, have not yet arrived.

Heading east across the Great Basin, we passed the northern end of the magnificent White Mountains; Boundary Peak, the highest point in Nevada, is at the northeast end of that Range.  Continuing along U.S. 6, we crossed the stark beauty of of central Nevada; the highlight proved to be the broad, scenic Railroad Valley, southwest of Ely, where Blue Eagle Peak rises along its eastern rim and Currant Mountain anchors its northern end.  After a night in Ely, we plan to visit Great Basin National Park and then head for Colorado.