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Volunteer spotlight: Rich Foye

August 15th, 2012 by Mono Lake Committee Staff
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This post was written by Lynette Villagomez, 2012 Mono Lake Intern.

Have you ever visited Panum Crater in the Mono Basin? If not, you may want to take advantage of the free Panum Crater walks that are made possible by volunteers such as Rich Foye.

Volunteer Rich Foye, right, leads a Panum Crater tour. Photo by Lynette Villagomez.

Anyone who has spent an afternoon at South Tufa will be familiar with Panum Crater—the youngest volcano in the Mono Craters, which stretches to the southeast of Mono Lake and forms the base of what was once Mono’s shore. Visitors are often shocked to learn that Panum Crater is the result of a volcanic explosion that took place only six hundred years ago, rising up from the basin floor at the same moment that Notre Dame was completed in the heart of Paris. But to see Panum Crater from the shore of Mono Lake or the side of Highway 120 East is to miss a truly breath-taking scene of exotic volcanic remains and landscape reminiscent of the surface of some alien planet.

Constrained federal and state budgets have led to a curtailing of many programs, including interpretative tours. One of the first interpretive programs to be cut was the Panum Crater walk that the Forest Service had provided for Mono Lake visitors for several years. When word got out that interpretive tours would no longer be available to the public, Mono Lake Volunteer Rich Foye decided to take on the project himself and began providing interpretive tours of the fascinating and youngest member of the Mono Craters. As a member of the Mono Lake Volunteer Program, Rich spends several hours each week introducing visitors to the dynamic landscape of Panum Crater, as well as its natural history and place in the complex and fascinating ecosystem of the Mono Basin.

Rich has been visiting the Mono Basin for nearly half a century; like many members of the Mono Lake community, Rich first came to the basin as a young man and fell in love with the lake and its surroundings. If you were in the Mono Basin during August of 1965 you may have spotted Rich wandering the iconic tufa groves of Mono Lake. That summer was his first visit to the basin, but definitely not his last! Rich recounts the lake as very different during his initial visit, and “that afternoon began a decades-long fascination with the lake and its surroundings.”

As Rich ascends or descends Panum Crater, he’ll often come upon groups or individuals who have just begun their hike. Rich says he likes to take that opportunity to break the ice and provide short impromptu versions of his Panum tour—he enjoys taking the time to speak with hikers because everyone is different and has varying interests. Having kids on a tour is also fun for Rich since they’re often very inquisitive and ask funny questions. Pele’s Tears, pieces of obsidian that hardened while in flight as a result of an eruption, have a unique teardrop shape. Rich points out that collecting resources from Panum is against the law but, “on two occasions, young girls found excellent examples [of Pele’s Tears] at their feet.” Since collecting is prohibited, the girls contributed their Pele’s Tears as samples volunteers use during their tours. Might they be budding volcanologists, Rich wonders? Who knows—their excitement is contagious!

As a Mono County resident, Rich not only dedicates his time as a volunteer, he also owns and runs an engineering consultant business in Mammoth Lakes. Rich’s enthusiasm of the Mono Basin’s geologic history is uniquely expressed in his interpretation of Panum and surrounding ranges: it is an interpretive tour not to be missed.

The view from Panum Crater looking west to the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The Mono Lake Volunteer program, a joint initiative sponsored by the US Forest Service, California State Parks, Mono Lake Committee, and supported by the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, would cease to exist without the help of our dedicated, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable volunteers like Rich. They are integral in providing the public with interpretive tours within the Mono Basin, and the Mono Lake experience would not be the same without their help. A huge thank you to Rich and all of our Mono Lake Volunteers. Panum Crater walks are offered every Saturday and Sunday at 10:00am and meet in the Panum Crater parking lot located off of Highway 120 East.

Find more Mono Lake Volunteer spotlights here and here.


2 Responses to “Volunteer spotlight: Rich Foye”

  1. avatar Silvia Says:

    It is so great that volunteers’ passion can help drive programming to keep people hooked and coming back.

  2. avatar Sue Says:

    Thank you Rick! Anyone joining up with you for a tour is a very fortunate person. The Panum Crater is a fascinating jewel in the area. We visited Panum for a geocache and realized what we had been “missing” all these years. We heartily recommend it to anyone who is visiting the area.