On Sunday morning I packed up my car and hit the road. My first two weeks were mostly planned out: I’d make my way from San Francisco to Denver before Labor Day weekend with a long list of stops along the way, including Mono Lake, the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the Mobius Arch, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce, Goblin Valley, Mule Canyon, Arches, Dead Horse Point, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Great Sand Dunes.
Just east of Yosemite I pulled up to the entrance of the campsite I planned to use that night, only to find it blocked off with orange cones and a “Closed” sign. I knew some Yosemite campsites had been shut down for a cleanup effort related to a plague scare, and I guessed the closures extended further than I thought. Probably for the best – coming down with a case of the plague might not be the best way to start my trip.
A campsite at nearby Grant Lake wasn’t full, so I set up my tent there and headed over to Mono Lake for sunset photos. Mono Lake is an unusual place. It has no drainage, so over time it’s become highly saline, and the chemistry of the water creates strange underwater formations – called tufa – that are then exposed as the water level drops. Some of the tufa now rise over 20 feet from the ground.
Mono Lake is popular with photographers and I’ve visited often over the years. This time the water level was dramatically lower than I’d ever seen it, which was an alarming reminder of the drought we’re experiencing but also interesting from a photography perspective because the newly revealed tufa made it almost seem like a different place.
I set my alarm for an early wake up and made it back to Mono Lake for sunrise. Local wildfires had filled the air with a smoky haze, turning the sun into an mellow orange circle that cast an eerie light on the lake.
What a great feeling to kick off another round of traveling! I realized, however, that it’s going to take me a while to shift out of my work mindset. I already missed the people on my team, and I frequently found myself turning work problems around in my head, second-guessing the way I’d handled different issues, thinking of steps I’d take if I were still there. Which is OK, I hope – after almost four years I wouldn’t want it to turn off like a switch.