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From the Midwest to Mono: A journey

June 25th, 2014 by Mono Lake Committee Staff
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This post was written by Adam Dalton, 2014 Mono Lake Intern.

In early January I began to worry—it was winter break as I sat frantically searching the internet for internships on my laptop while sub-zero winter winds whipped the windows of my Iowa home. Many of my friends had already applied for internships for the summer and I, procrastinating as usual, had failed to look at any of the internship databases available to Grinnell College students. As I frantically searched the many available websites I kept running into dead ends such as: missed deadlines, unavailability due to major specifications, and general lack of interest. As my frustration neared a peak, in a near-godsend moment, I stumbled across the position of Mono Lake Committee Intern.

Adam, left, makes tufa with Education Director Bartshe Miller during seasonal staff training. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Being a lifelong Midwesterner, I had never heard of Mono Lake or the Mono Lake Committee but the internship looked perfect; I would be able to work in one of the most beautiful areas of the United States and focus on water issues, which I am passionate about. Furthermore, I was emotionally struck by the amazing story of the David vs. Goliath battle that the committee had won against the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and thought the Committee would be exactly the type of organization I would like to work for. However, I was concerned that my collegiate majors (Economics and Chinese Studies) would prove to be a large handicap in attaining the position. In the end I decided “Well, it can’t hurt to try,” and applied for the position. After applying I was both surprised and excited to receive an email from Rose, the Office Director, saying she wished to conduct a phone interview to determine whether or not I would be cut out for the position.

After a fateful phone interview I heard back from the Committee and to my great surprise I had been hired as an intern! After receiving the good news I decided that since I had never been west of Omaha, Nebraska before I would make the most of the Committee’s west coast location and explore America on my way to California by driving the 2,000-mile journey from Mason City, Iowa to Lee Vining, California.

Adam, right, and his fellow intern, Robbie, pull invasive white sweet clover from along Mill Creek’s banks during their training week. Photo by Emma Oschrin.

And what a drive it was; I took one of my best friends who also had obtained an internship in California, loaded up both of our luggage in my tiny two-seat sports coupe, and took four days to drive through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California on Interstate-80. During that journey I saw real mountains and desert for the first time and enjoyed unique local museums, scenery, attractions, and foods. It was quite the eye-opening and memorable trip. After finally arriving in Lee Vining four days after my adventure began I was exhausted, yet absolutely brimming with excitement at the prospect of beginning work at the Committee.

On the first day of work I was informed that all Mono Lake Committee Interns would undergo an intensive yet fun two-week crash-course in all things related to the Mono Basin and the Mono Lake Committee. During those two weeks I was able to adjust to the Eastern Sierra both mentally (by gaining all of the background knowledge I would need to work and forming friendships with my fellow interns) and physically; I learned as a collegiate long-distance runner that running at high altitude is substantially harder than running at a few hundred feet above sea level. During the two-week training period I learned about the history and current policies of the Committee as well as the local ecology, geology, and layout of Mono Basin. Additionally, I learned that in calm waters it is nearly impossible to flip a Mono Lake Committee canoe!

A guided canoe tour is one of the best ways to experience Mono Lake, and canoes are actually quite stable in the water! Photo by Arya Degenhardt.

Aside from work-related training during my first two weeks I was able to explore the great natural beauty of the Eastern Sierra. Having never been to the mountains before I was (and still am) absolutely awestruck by the beauty of the canyons, craters, mountain lakes, scrublands, and most importantly Mono Lake. Every day I see something that makes me pause and simply say “wow.” If you have never been to Mono Lake I would highly recommend experiencing this area for yourself. For example, last weekend I was at South Tufa at dusk for a storytelling and astronomy presentation which was part of our annual birding festival, the Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua, and the sky turned deep orange with pink streaks and golden saucer-like clouds appeared en masse over the lake. It was one of the most beautiful things I have seen to date.

One of the Eastern Sierra’s classic dramatic sunsets. Photo by Arya Degenhardt.

The Eastern Sierra is a great place for high-altitude distance running, including the Tioga Pass Run every September. Photo by Elin Ljung.

Finally, for a collegiate distance runner like me, the metaphorical cherry on top of my first two weeks of being an intern at the Mono Lake Committee is the Committee’s proximity to Mammoth Lakes, a hub of the US distance running scene. A couple of days ago I was lucky enough to run with professional marathon runners at the Mammoth Track Club (one of the USA’s elite marathon training groups) around Lake Mary and Lake George near Mammoth Mountain. Running at the high altitude in a beautiful area with people who I have looked up to for years was an absolutely awe-inspiring and surreal experience.

So to recap, my unorthodox journey to the Eastern Sierra and first two weeks at the Committee have been life-changing experiences (especially for someone who had never lived on his own or seen the American West before) and I can’t wait to see what further adventures the next few months at the Mono Lake Committee, Eastern Sierra, and the state of California will have in store for me. Lastly, to reiterate, if you have never been to Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra in person before I would highly recommend it—all of us at the Mono Lake Committee would love to see you here!

Adam, back center, with his fellow Mono Lake Committee seasonal staff members Lily, Sandra, Robbie, Erv, Tina, Julie, Mel, and Erica! Photo by Emma Oschrin.

7 Responses to “From the Midwest to Mono: A journey”

  1. avatar Phil Pister Says:

    Adam: Excellent essay. Never underestimate the value of a liberal arts education. as you have surely found by now. I can identify with virtually everything you said. I did my graduate work not far from Mono Lake in the early 1950s and never left the area, working as an aquatic biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Savor your time out here east of the Sierra. Iowa will never be the same! Very best wishes to you and all the great people with the Mono Lake Committee. I have been over Tioga Pass every year of my life since 1933! Phil

  2. avatar Sandy Says:

    Good story, Adam.

    Mono Lake is my favorite place. I live in Las Vegas and discovered the Eastern Sierras in 1979 while stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV. I will never forget my first drive through Death Valley. on the way to Mammoth and June Lake and seeing those glorious peaks off in the distance. Mono Lake is special and I do what I can to get there at least once every 2 years, if not every year.

    If you haven’t already, check out Bodie.

  3. avatar Daryl Says:

    I agree with Phil. Excellent writing, Adam. It sounds like they made a great choice when they brought you on board. Your enthusiasm and sense of appreciation is inspiring. I look forward to your future writings, whether here or in other publications.

  4. avatar mike lyons Says:

    Aloha from Kauai,
    Hey Adam, sitting here on Oahu visiting to my frail dad, i opened the latest Mono news and happened upon your excellent journey!!! brought huge tears to my eyes…heres why…
    My older brother tommy devoted tons of time riding the Mono lake bike a thon for years, always telling me about his endeavors to his favorite place on this planet. I was involved with my college life in santa barbara as were my 3 sisters, parents happily hearing from all of us from afar back in Hawaii. Tommy suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor back in 1990 and sadly couldnt ride another bike athon. A couple dozen of us decided to do it in his honor as a tag team. I geared up and trained for months yet NEVER expected the hard yet unbelievable experience i would accomplish the first year. We stayed in Lee Vining for a week after the ride. After tommy passed the next year, my self and 2 of my sisters did the bike a thon individually, supported by a ton of wonderful humans. I can still feel my tired burning legs, the dry heat of Mojave, the kinship of all the committee people like yourself, and the magnificence of Mono. Not a moment goes by that i don’t think of all the glories of that amazing area and what Tommy fought to preserve. I’m stoked you have found Mono!!!! We cannot wait to return and sit on Tommys lakeside bench(ask Geoff if you havent already found it). we are trying to get there in september for sister suzies 50th bday. Thats where she wants to celebrate. Sincerely, i was meant to read your story and recall some spectacular memories about Mono. Thank you very much! Savor the moments…Mahalo Mike Lyons

  5. avatar Adam Dalton (MLC Intern) Says:

    Thank you everyone for the positive feedback. When I went to publish my article I had no idea it would elicit this kind of response but genuinely appreciate it. I am considering the possibility of adding a similar article towards the end of my internship to recap and reflect on my summer in the basin.

    Sandy-I ran along the 270 up the mountains into Bodie during my long run last week and must say it is an amazing place. It a unique mix of historic, beautiful, and slightly eerie.

    Mike-Thank you so much for sharing about your experiences. I am sorry for your loss, however your story is absolutely incredible. I will shortly ask Geoff to point me towards Tommy’s lakeside bench and make a point of visiting it on one of my upcoming runs. I’m just glad I was able to help you recall some spectacular memories and wish you the best during your return to the Mono Basin and in the interim.

  6. avatar Julian P Donahue Says:

    What a terrific piece, Adam. You and Mono Lake are both very fortunate to have found each other. Welcome to California!

  7. avatar Vic A Says:

    Hike 20 Lakes Basin in a clockwise path. You’ll never forget it…….serious enjoyment! View the stars from a campfire……a must.