One of the most desolate stretches of highway in California is the section of road on Highway 178 from Ridgecrest to Highway 190. To the North are the uninhabited regions of China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and the Coso Wilderness. To the East are the high peaks of the Panamint Mountain range, and not one, but two salt flat laden valleys, the Searles Valley, and the Panamint Valley. There is only one “town” – in this area, and that is Trona, and it has seen better days. There is no cellular service on this stretch of highway, and during the summer, temperatures regularly exceed 115 degrees. The area is wild, and beautiful in a desolate, endless desert type of way. Along with the town of Trona, the area is also littered with places and things that time has forgotten, like the Trona Pinnacles, and various old mines and mining claims.
Mono Lake is one of the locations in the Eastern Sierra that is well known and it should be, because it's existed for over one million years. Today, the lake is located just outside the town of Lee Vining, California, and is easily accessible from Highway 395. Mono Lake is unique for innumerable reasons - it is 2.5 times as salty as the Pacific Ocean; it is home to the Mono Lake Brine Shrimp; it provides a needed spot for migratory birds, and it has a rich place in geologic and human history. Despite all of these amazing things, the main attraction at Mono Lake are and has been its tufas. A tufa is an otherwordly looking phantasmagorical tower of rock. Specifically, tufa or tufas are limestone towers, formed by the precipitation of carbonate materials in water. In Mono Lake, underwater springs rich with calcium have come in contact with lakewater rich with carbonates for hundreds of thousands of years; and the end chemical reaction is the slow growth of these limestone towers that only form underwater. Some of these tufa towers can grow up to thirty feet in height, which occurs over a great period of time. While the tufas have existed for quite a bit of time, they weren't as visible to the public until some of the water in Mono Lake was diverted in 1941. Today, the tufas in the lake are quite visible, especially after three years of drought in California.
What is Fossil Falls: It is an area with unique geologic features. The area was part of the Coso Volcanic Range, which was an active volcanic area thousands of years ago. Some of the remnants of this volcanic activity can be seen in the form of a cinder cone, Red Hill, which is next to Fossil Falls. The other remnants of this volcanic activity are the “falls” themselves, which is a large area of basalt (hardened lava). This large sheet of basalt blocked portions of ancient Owens River, and probably portions of the Owens Lake. The significance of this is that during the last ice age, water from receding glaciers (and the river and lake) flowed over this basalt, smoothing it, eroding it, and forming the canyons and holes that remain today over a period of thousands of years. Today, what remains is smooth basalt that has eroded into a distinctive geologic area. (For more information click here and here).
In Southwestern Nevada, there’s a place where some of the purest, clearest, cleanest and most pristine water bubbles to the surface. Shocked? You shouldn’t be. As I’ve discussed before, large swathes of Eastern California used to be glacial lakes, such as where present day Trona and the Trona Pinnacles are located. There’s also an oasis in the former town of Zzyzx, and groundwater at Salt Creek in Death Valley and Badwater. Even cooler, Death Valley has salt pools that randomly appear and disappear across the Valley floor proper in random locations (one of the more accessible pools is currently located by the Devil’s Golf Course, but it is closing – slowly!). When you look at it like this, through the lens of time, geologic change, as well as the interconnected nature of the environment, crystal clear desert oases really aren’t that surprising.
Everything has its time.-Dr. Who. Think about that for a second – everything has its time. It’s simple, elegant, and true. Everything – no matter what it is, has its time. There are songs that had meanings in life that you forgot but instantly remember when you hear them again; there’s foods that comfort you when you need them; and there’s smells that have the power to drag you to ancient epochs past. This is to say nothing of people, things, places, and pretty much every tangible and intangible thing in life. Everything has its time. The practical application of this phrase, however, is present in Trona, California, where the Trona Pinnacles currently stand.