Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

A Mill Creek ramble

This post was written by Sarah Melcher, 2010 Mono Lake Intern.

After I finished my day’s data collections of stream flows for Mill Creek, I took the time to explore the Mill Creek bottomlands and the Black Point Marsh at the lakeshore. I eagerly hiked down the stream, bushwhacking through sagebrush, stopping to closely observe wildflowers, and frequently crossing the creek to observe curious Killdeer through my borrowed binoculars. Suddenly, completely out of the blue, I stepped onto the pumice sand of the beach and I was in a new world.

Where Mill Creek's water meets Mono Lake.
Where Mill Creek’s water meets Mono Lake.

Not only had I had never seen Mono Lake from this angle, but following the trickle of Mill Creek water into the lake gave my weekly flow measurements and data collections new meaning. I am monitoring creek flow in order to provide the Mono Lake Committee with an accurate sketch of water use in the North Basin—use that ranges from irrigation to trout-rearing to recharging groundwater sources. But here, the stream flows into the lake and contributes to the rising lake level. The fresh water of Mill Creek meets the salty water of the lake in a rippling concoction of new-and-improved, newly-ordained Mono Lake water. What a beautiful sight.

After a dip into the lake and a swim with the Wilson’s Phalaropes, I continued east to the Black Point Marsh. These spring-fed wetlands are lush habitat for birds and other species, and the tufa islets just offshore provide a nice resting spot for California Gulls in between their frequent meals of alkali flies and brine shrimp. My treat was seeing hundreds of phalaropes gracefully lift off the water together and fly in perfect sync, twisting and turning in the afternoon sun, to a new spot farther from the shore.

Wilson's Phalaropes flock over Mono Lake. Photos by Sarah Melcher.
Wilson’s Phalaropes flock over Mono Lake. Photos by Sarah Melcher.

I breathed in and out, fully reminded that Mono Lake is not just my temporary home, but the temporary home of millions of birds as they make their way south for the winter. One thing I have in common with the birds is that we are all, in a sense, migrating.  As we move on to other places and stages in our journey we remember Mono Lake as our life-giving home, both peaceful and dramatic.