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Tahoe Nugget #113:

Highway 395 Road Trip
June 10, 2007

On June 6, a chilly Pacific storm system dusted the Sierra and Lake Tahoe Basin with one to two inches of snow and overnight temperatures fell into the upper 20s. Snowfall followed by a cold snap during the first half of June is not that unusual here — in fact, experienced gardeners in the high country won't plant delicate flowers until after June 15. The white stuff melted off quickly and did nothing to change the fact that last winter was the driest in many years. On May 1, 2007, hydrologists measured the meager snowpack surrounding Lake Tahoe and no one was surprised when the survey revealed the snowpack at 15 percent of average for the date. Last year, on May 1, 2006, the snowpack was nearly 175 percent of normal.

Spent the last few days exploring the region around Bishop, California, located on Interstate 395 about 200 miles south of Reno, Nevada. I've enjoyed the world class scenery along Highway 395 for years now, but my wife Nora had never been down there so this week we undertook a reconnaissance mission.

We almost didn't make the trip when a nasty wildfire on June 5 near Coleville, California, closed 395. The "Larson Fire" started during a thunderstorm on June 1 due to a lightning strike, but firefighters were able to contain it to 150 acres by the following day. However, 48 hours later hot dry winds re-ignited some of the smoldering embers and the fire roared back to life, jumping the fire line near Coleville High School. Steep mountain slopes just west of the little town support a volatile mix of pinyon pine trees and resinous sagebrush. Fire crews were called in from as far away as June Lake and Lake Tahoe, but wind gusting to 65 mph grounded much needed air support and boosted the burning area to 1,000 acres. The students from three schools and 200 residents were evacuated after the wildfire jumped the highway. Despite threatening over 50 structures, bold efforts by hundreds of firefighters succeeded in saving all but two outbuildings.

Nearly 2 million birds rest or nest at Mono Lake each year. At least 35 bird species flock to the lake every spring and summer to feast on brine shrimp and alkali flies. Swarms of the flies cover the shoreline of this highly alkaline lake. These flies also walk underwater encased in small air bubbles to feed and lay eggs. Nora and I watched the seagulls do a sort of comical foot-slapping dance in the mud to break the bubbles and dislodge the submerged flies. Mono Lake supports the second largest California gull nesting population, second only to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Many birds pig out on the 4 to 6 trillion Mono Lake brine shrimp that inhabit the lake feeding on microscopic plankton.

Photo #1: Wildfire scorched terrain west of 395 near Coleville, California. Note burnt brush on mountain face in background. Flames nearly reached the popular Meadowcliff Lodge out of site at the base of the mountain.
Photo #2: Hundreds of thousands of seagulls flock to nest at Mono Lake
Photo #3: California gull hunting for flies
Photo #4: Islands in Mono Lake give nesting birds safe sites from land-based predators
Photo #5: Nora and Buzz at Lake Sabrina west of Bishop

Nugget #113 A logo Coleville fire June 2007

Nugget #113 B Mono seagulls 2

Nugget #113 C Sea Gull logo feeding Mono Lake copy

Nugget #113 D Gull logo reigns over Mono

Nugget #113 E Nora Buzz Sabrina photo copy


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