From the Midwest to Mono: A journeyJune 25th, 2014 by Adam, 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.
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.
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!
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.
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!