Continued from Part I.
(For the complete set of photos, see the SmugMug gallery.)
On one of the days, we headed over to Mono Lake for the sunset. We were hoping to catch sight of some of the brine flies that we saw on Life (or was it Planet Earth?), but the main visitor center and local interpretive centers were closed, so we ended up going to the southern tufas, where none of us have been. Driving down the road to the lake, it looked like this:
You can see the tufas near the edge of the lake off in the distance. Tufas are these vertical mineral structure that are built up over thousands of years of underground mineral springs bubbling up through the lake. Over the thousands of years, the water level has also dropped dozens of feet, exposing these large white structures. They are gorgeous, especially in the light of a mountain sunset.
The sunset created a spectacular mix of oranges and warms from the sky, and the blues from the lake and tufas:
There were some ancient plants too that had been covered in dissolved and crystallized minerals:
Some more pictures of tufas:
We ended with a long hike in the ancient bristlecone pine forest. The Methuselah grove visitor center burned down in a fire two years ago, and was still in the process of being rebuilt. The elevation here was about 12,000ft, so the air was thin, the temperature was below freezing, and the wind often pushed 30mph. We jumped around a bit to warm up. Katie said she could touch her toes:
And off we go! We were panting for breath 10 minutes into this. Yay elevation!
Bristlecones are considered some of the oldest trees in the world, with the Methuselah pine, in this grove, the oldest living tree in the world, at 4,483 years old. They are highly resilient to all kinds of environmental conditions, including fires, cold, lightning, and erosion. They can adapt their vascular structures depending on destruction and water sources, and have giant roots that hug the surface to collect the rare near-surface water.
Nearing the top of the mountain, we took a lunch break:
Speaking of age, can you guess which is older?
Yes, in fact, that tree is about three times Jessa’s age. It also requires no jacket or gloves or hat. And is growing through straight rock. That’s actually one of the most amazing things you notice as you see these trees–so often, they are growing through, around and into solid rock. They are totally the honey badgers of trees. Bristlecone pine don’t give a shit:
This is the definition of gnarly:
A whole forest of these gnarly trees!
They’re called bristlecone pines because they form these purple bristly pine cones (thanks Ilya for finding one!):
Windswept and wizened:
At some point, we were all freezing, even in our winter coats, and were hurrying to get back to the car:
Another awesome tree:
With the elevation though, we still took breaks:
Group picture with an SLR?
What’s crazy is that trees like this are actually alive:
We ended the day parking for an hour or two, waiting for the sky to get dark, then looking at the stars:
Katie and Ilya stayed in the car since it was too cold. Look what you missed!