En route from Los Angeles to the Burning Man festival, our temperamental motor home sprung an oil leak somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Navigating through the night with headlights only, we found a little parking spot and settled down.
The next morning I stepped out and saw, to my complete surprise, a stunning mountain landscape and in the centre of it, only a few hundred metres away, a glittering blue lake. We had accidentally stumbled across Mono Lake.
Mono Lake is a fascinating body of water. She was born 760 thousand years ago. Recently, she went on an anorexic diet when the city of Los Angeles diverted her inbound water streams to supply LA with water. The diet turned Mono into one saline and acidic bitch as her water levels dropped. She became so inhospitable that she scared away the two million migrating birds who annually use her as a resting place en-route to South America.
The birds needed Mono to support their migration, and they filed a complaint, claiming their right to life trumped the citizens of Los Angeles’s need to water their lawn. The birds won, and the redirected water streams were restored. Mono then began to put on weight again.
There is another angle to this story. While Mono was saline and acidic, she developed a habit of creating arsenic. In 2010, NASA found a bacteria in the lake who gave the finger to conventional truths regarding life on earth and replaced one of the six essential biomolecules in our cells with arsenic. Why NASA? Because this little organism, cutely named GFAJ-1, has revolutionized how NASA thinks about life in space.
Apart from all the above, Mono Lake is also the beauty queen of lakes, set in a fascinating high-altitude landscape (~2000m) of contrasts. Desert surrounds her, and beyond that, snow-capped mountains rise to provide a gorgeous backdrop. It is absolutely worth a deliberate visit.