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Winter in a seasonal town | The Mono-logue

Winter in a seasonal town

January 22nd, 2014 by Emma, Project Specialist

As a Bishop native, I’m no stranger to quiet streets and brisk winter days. However, there aren’t many experiences that can entirely prepare a person for a winter in Lee Vining.

January's full moon rising over Mono Lake. Photo by Arya Degenhardt.

Having first moved here at the beginning of summer to work as an intern, I knew I would be coming to a very small town with entertainment that consisted more of being outside than going shopping or to movie theaters. Most people who come to Lee Vining for seasonal work see that as a positive and an opportunity for adventure. In fact, I was surprised by the amount of activities happening here over the summer months. Of course there are more hiking trails than can ever be completed, ample opportunities to swim, canoe, backpack—everything a nature-lover could want—but there was also live music every week and good company to enjoy it with. Basically, it was an unforgettable summer.

I knew going into it that winter would be different. There were no delusions that all of these activities would continue because I knew how seasonal this town is. Now for some, myself included, it can be quite hard to grasp what exactly is meant by a seasonal town. “Does the whole town just shut down when it gets cold? That’s ridiculous! How can that be?” I’m here to tell you, as strange as it may seem, it’s pretty accurate.

Since Lee Vining relies heavily on tourism, as soon as Tioga Pass closes for the winter, the amount of people coming through town drops dramatically. It simply isn’t worth it for businesses to stay open. Consequently, most restaurants and gift shops close down, many hotels close their doors. Just enough stays open that residents can get by and people passing through aren’t stranded. The town has a very different feel over the colder months.

For me, this change was made manifest in goodbyes. While I have had the good fortune to stay on with the Mono Lake Committee as Project Specialist, this meant that I remained here while very few others did. Gradually, the seasonal staff that I had grown very close to left. And as they moved away, the town became that much quieter.

Erik, Bryce, Julia, and Emma, the remaining seasonal staff, at the end of September. Photo by Arya Degenhardt.

The winter, strikingly different from the summer, has held its own adventures. My roommate and co-worker, Julia, and I have learned to chop our own wood and build fires; we’ve seen some decent snow storms (although we’re always hoping for more); and somehow we’ve become Lee Vining’s most in-demand pet sitters. As far as work, we’ve become even more comfortable at the Committee; we feel like we’re helping with the Committee’s mission in new ways; and we’re getting to know the permanent staff much better.

A fresh dusting of lake-effect snow covered the ground in early December. Photo by Santiago Escruceria.

While the winter months can seem long and the daylight hours short, the Mono Basin is a wonderful place to be in every season. Having the opportunity to see the Basin itself change and shift as the seasons pass is probably my favorite part of being here. Although, more snow is on mine and everyone else’s mind, I’m excited for the months ahead where signs of spring will start to appear and eventually summer will roll around again, bringing with it new people, more explorations, and a long-awaited swim in Mono Lake.


9 Responses to “Winter in a seasonal town”

  1. avatar Dan Zimmermann Says:

    Emma,
    You are looking at this in just the right way. It is an adventure…enjoy every minute. I am much older than you and discovered Mono Lake on my first trip west to Yosemite in 1985. I have loved it ever since. While Yosemite has its own appeal; there is just something special about Mono Lake. It is so peaceful and a great example of what the earth should look like. I have only been there during the summer so I am a bit jealous of your chance to really have the whole area to yourself. I like to photograph so I would be out as much as possible just enjoying the pureness of the experience! Have Fun!!!!!!
    Dan

  2. avatar Rebecca Watkins Says:

    …thanks Emma! Nicely written…I just read an quote (but can’t find it) that said summer is lovely but winter builds character! Rebecca

  3. avatar Matt Moule Says:

    I spent seven summers there (Intern, OE coordinator) then was able to be there one whole year while teaching at the high school. That winter is very special to me. I especially loved spring skiing up at Tioga…I think Arya has some good shots of us snowboarding.

  4. avatar Arya, Communications Director Says:

    Hey Matt! I’ve definitely got some photos of us out there … they’re pretty memorable, if my memory serves me right. We still miss you around here. — Arya

  5. avatar al karger Says:

    I,ve beenstopping at MonoLake for the past ten years. I’ve been a trapshooter since I was 14, I am now 67. So I really enjoyed photograghing the old abandoned trap range at the edge of Mono Lake. I wish I could find some of the history of it, whe it opened [what year] and when it closed. Any body know? Al Karger

  6. avatar Sherry Perry Says:

    Nicely written. I especially enjoyed the pet sitting comment. Inner reflection is what the winter season is all about. What a beautiful place to enjoy such an activity. Wood chopping builds muscles as well as character. Lucky you!

  7. avatar Jane Green Says:

    I now live in the UK and really miss Mono Lake and the surrounding country and mountains. Thank you for reminding me why I love the area. I will be back in the spring.

  8. avatar jackie williams Says:

    I love your essays, Emma. Seasonal locations are good for inner reflection and character building. Super crazy during the tourist season, then crazy slow in the off time. Having lived in the Sierra Nevada for the past 20 years or so, in a few different locations at the entrance to busy National Parks and Forests (and within one park when I worked there), I have felt this ebb and flow first hand. When I worked as a seasonal ranger in various parts of Sequoia NP, the 3 months of summer were always quite busy with people and activities, but the rest of the time things were much, much slower, and shopping/banking/car repairs involved very long drives to get to a real town as everything in the park shut down.

    The Mono Basin is a pretty awesome place, with beauty that inspires during all seasons, but I think I like it best during the warmer months.

  9. avatar Elin, Communications Coordinator Says:

    Hi Al,

    I looked into the history of the trap range for you, and here’s what I found out.

    It was probably established sometime in the 1960s and was grandfathered into the California State Park that was established at Mono Lake in 1982. It was used for a number of years but use gradually diminished and it was removed in 2008. At that point it was pretty run-down, with trees growing up through the facility. So that’s what I know—let me know if you want more information!

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