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Mark Twain’s "hideous place": the case for Mono Lake

When Mark Twain visited Mono Lake in the 1860s he called it a “lifeless, treeless, hideous desert… the loneliest place on earth.” Twain’s critique was echoed by others who saw here only the lack of majestic beauty of nearby Yosemite and failed to notice the extremely complex and productive ecosystem.

While Yosemite was made the nations’ third national park, Mono Lake became simply a source of water for the rapidly growing thirst of Los Angeles (350 miles away). In 1941 Los Angeles Water and Power Department began to divert water from Mono Lake and by 1982 the lake had reached a historic low of just 31% of it’s prediversion lake level.

When the water level fell islands in the middle of the lake became peninsulas and important bird nesting sites became vulnerable to predators. Algae photosynthesis slowed, as did brine shrimp reproduction. Air quality grew so poor- the exposed lake bed began to send off airborne particulates- that it was in violation of the Clean Air Act.

In the 1970s the Mono Lake Committee and the Audubon Society fought a court battle to use public trust laws to protect Mono Lake. Finally in 1994 Mono Lake and its tributary streams were given protection.

In this video, faircompanies Nicolás Boullosa talks about how Mark Twain was wrong and how important it is that we’ve evolved in the past century to  no longer just see nature when we’re in front of this “Walt Disney evergreen environment”.