Mono Lake

26 August 2011. Filed under category Travel.
Mono Lake

Mono Lake, surrounded by her beautiful mountains.

Mono Lake Rock Formations

As the waters receded, these strange rocks formed.

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.

Mono Lake Waters

The birds of Mono Lake are starting to return.

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. [The NASA study has not yet been independently confirmed by other studies. The matter is still being debated in the scientific community.]

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.

The Six Essential Bio-elements

There are six essential elements that all life on earth uses to build its biomolecules. They are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus.

What about Burning Man?

Patience, my dear reader, patience. I have just returned from Burning Man and I will write a post about it as soon as I can.


Are all lakes feminine, and if so, why?

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  1. Clokey says:

    Not so quick on the arsenic based life stuff. Follow up study controlling for contamination have failed to find the same link as NASA. Was on episode 319 of the skeptics guide to the universe (science fact and fiction section)

    Nice lake!


    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Ah yes, thank you my hawk-eyed friend. After digging about a bit, I found similar doubts. There is only one study made and it still needs to be independently verified. The original (and only) study claiming the arsenic bacteria’s existence has been criticised but not debunked.

      The report came out December 2010. That is very early days yet, so the jury is still out on the final word of GFAJ-1.

  2. Craig Brown says:

    Um, because life originally arose out of lakes? Is this a quiz?
    Because guys who like lake sports are sometimes homophobic?
    The Spanish seem to think lakes are masculine (only other language I know).
    Some other acidic lakes like those along the East African Rift System are rad masculine. And the deepest lake in the US, Crater Lake, (volcano) even has a kind of a penis growing out of it.
    If I had to do it over I might have studied astrobiology, but it was just becoming a new field of study when I was leaving. I went to their seminars.
    Anyway, since I live on a lake I’ll start refering to it as a “her”.

  3. Brother Henrik says:

    Tur att vi slipper arsenik i våran lilla älvasjön i Kvänjarp.

Are all lakes feminine, and if so, why?

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