I had made a list of things that I wanted to do and see and hike during my Sierra trip, but didn’t put them in any particular order. Places that I hadn’t seen yet had higher priority of course. Now high clouds lingered over Mono Basin in the morning, so I set out from Lee Vining to explore nearby Black Point first, instead of driving up to Yosemite right away.
Black Point once was an underwater volcano, thousands of years ago near the end of the last Ice Age. Mono Lake was much bigger and filled the entire Mono Basin when it erupted. As the lake shrunk, Black Point emerged from the water, and now the peninsula is said to be the only fully exposed underwater volcano on Earth.
The quick cooling and hardening of lava and cinder caused large cracks in the ground that are known as the Black Point Fissures. Given my fascination with slot canyons, I was of course intrigued to explore them, ever since I first saw a photo online. :-)
Via Google Earth I had scouted a dirt road that looked like it ended pretty close to what could be a possible entrance to one such fissure. It was easy enough to find on location, but a sign warned of a rough, rocky and steep road. Unfazed* and curious I continued to see how close I’d be able to get. An uphill section had the typical “potholes” that the free spinning wheels of 4WD vehicles leave as they climb, and that was the end of the road for me. Checking the waypoint on my mapping/logging app I saw that it was only a short distance to where the dirt road would end anyway. I parked the car and began to hike.
The sagebrush steppe was just gorgeous – I was there just at the right time of day, and year. Rabbitbrush was in bloom and glowed yellow in morning light all around me (there’s four or five different species of it growing here, Chrysothamnus and Ericameria species), and it smelled so, so good – like a mixture of honey and chamomile. Combined with the smooth pale green leaves of Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) – a counterpart to their own gnarly “miniature tree” nature of rough, twisted trunks – I was standing in an aromatic sea of shrubs.
Volcanic rock crunches under my feet. A big hare with incredible ears and eyes lazily jumps out of the way. Countless small depressions in openings between the shrubs mark the spots where animals slept overnight, maybe deer, maybe coyote? Hard to tell for me whether those were paws or hoofs, in the dry and dusty soil – or maybe deer slept there, and then coyotes came along and sniffed around? Either way – beyond it all lies the ancient lake with its two islands, the water gently shimmering and reflecting the cloud-filtered light.
If you can’t tell yet that I’m in love with the Mono Basin – yes, I am! :-D This vast expanse of lake and sagebrush steppe, the volcanic and tufa features, the hills and mountains around – it’s a majestic place to feel small and insignificant, get lost in wonder, and find oneself.
But not only that – I easily found the entrance to one of the Black Point Fissures as well, a narrow and deep gash in the ground. It wasn’t very long though, an old rockfall blocked the way, or rather, it didn’t entice me to scramble over it with camera and tripod. I turned around and left the fissure to wander around more, and eventually made my way to Black Point proper, the highest point of the area. Contouring the slope I hiked back in the direction of the dirt road and explored the area of the fissures from the top a little more before I decided that I had enough for the moment, after hiking ~3.5 miles (no GPS tracklog because there’s really no trail or route to follow from my more or less aimless wandering).
It was a good start to the day and I returned to Lee Vining for a hearty second breakfast late in the morning, before continuing to Yosemite to hike to Mount Watkins in the afternoon. More about that soon!
Following are some photos from the morning. Click on any image to open the slideshow viewer for a larger view.
*) we’re talking about the United States of America. Dire warnings are posted everywhere and because they’re often ridiculous, they have the opposite effect, serving as an indicator: “things could be interesting around here” – I guess it’s one of these situations where it’s impossible to do things right.