In the summer of 1998, my brother Morten came over from Norway to visit.
He had never been in the United States before and gave me an excuse to
take time off to show him the Eastern Sierras. (The layout is optimized
Bristlecone Pine Forest
|Here's Morten looking like a cowboy. These windblown bristlecone pines
in the high Sierras are the oldest living things in the world. Thin
drill cores tell the story of five thousand years of global climate fluctuations.
Because of the cold and the resins, the dry wood of dead trees stays around
just as long, and archaeologists have been able to use this record to calibrate
the carbon-14 dating method. Artifacts and remains dating back to the very
beginning of agriculture can now be dated more accurately, thanks to these
Heavy snowfall had blocked the entrance to Yosemite National
Park. We drove into Tioga Pass in the late afternoon and walked a couple
of miles over the snow to a camp site overlooking the lake.
From time immemorial, Mono lake has been a resting place for hundreds of
thousands of migratory birds. Water diverted by the Los Angeles Water Authority
has increased the salinity of the remaining lake and made conditions inhospitable
for the birds. The columns of tufa, formed by mineral-rich subterranean
water bubbling up through the bottom of the lake, all used to be below
the surface. The decade-long fight to save Mono lake is now paying off
and the water table is again rising slowly.
The Mexican farmer on my right made a living collecting the unique
salt-flies that thrive along the shore, pounding them into a fine protein
powder just like the Paiute used to do.
Fans blasting to cool the engine, we crept up from the valley floor in
first gear towards Whitney Portal. At eight thousand three hundred feet,
it's a great starting point for a climb. It took us a couple of hours to
get up to the first lake and the view was stupendous. We hoped to see a
bear but no such luck.
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