Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda lake in Mono County, California, in the Eastern Sierras. The lake formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline.
Mono Lake has two major islands, Negit Island and Paoha Island, plus numerous minor outcroppings. Among the most iconic features of Mono Lake are the columns of limestone that tower over the water surface. These limestone towers consist primarily of calcium carbonate minerals such as calcite (CaCO3). This type of limestone rock is referred to as tufa, which is a term used for limestone that forms in low to moderate temperatures.
This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp that thrive in its waters, and provides critical habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and alkali flies. Historically, the native Kutzadika’a people derived nutrition from the Ephydra hians pupae, which live in the shallow waters around the edge of the lake.
When the city of Los Angeles diverted water from the freshwater streams flowing into the lake, it lowered the lake level, which imperiled the migratory birds. The Mono Lake Committee formed in response and won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially replenish the lake level.
Lithoid tufa – massive and porous with a rock-like appearance
Dendritic tufa – branching structures that look similar to small shrubs
Thinolitic tufa – large well-formed crystals of several centimeters
The tufa types vary interchangeably both between individual tufa towers but also within individual tufa towers. There can be multiple transitions between tufa morphologies within a single tufa tower.
The feature image is a panorama composite of five overlapping images stitched together shortly after sunset.
I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens at 17mm, ISO 100, for 3.2 seconds at F16 with a circular polarizer to increase the shutter time.
The polarizer was a purposeful error that took hours to correct in Lightroom and Photoshop. I should have used neutral density filters, and I have several, but I did not have them with me that evening. After considerable effort with Lightroom adjustments, I was able to get the look I wanted. The 3.2-second exposure did smoothe out the water as I wanted.
Polarizers have an uneven effect on blue skies and stitching multiple images together compounds the problem significantly.
People misuse polarizers. I generally do not use them on sunny days, especially if I have a lot of sky in the image. Why? The polarizer will darken the sky in a very non-uniform manner that is hard to correct even in Photoshop. I used them on this occasion as a last resort.
I often use polarizers on cloudy days and did so on these images. Here are more images from the glen.
Additional Images Before Sunset
The interesting thing about the above image is the Godbeams are in the opposite direction of the sun. You can verify my statement judging from the bright light hitting the distant background. Prior to this, I had only ever seen Godbeams looking towards the sun.
These Godbeams are actually called Anticrepuscular Rays. Looking towards the sun, they are called crepuscular rays.
There were two other photographers at this location before I arrived. It severely limited my composition choices. For the above image, one photographer agreed to move long enough for me to grab that shot.
I could not get as much foreground in the feature shot as I wanted because another photographer was in the way most of the time.
All of these images were taken within a 20-minute or so window.
Olive Branch Illinois, in Alexander County, is the home of Horseshoe Lake, not to be confused with Horseshoe Lake in Madison County.
Horseshoe Lake is an oxbow lake in Alexander County, Illinois. It is the site of Illinois’s Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, a state park 10,645 acres (43 km2) in size. A remnant of a large meander of the Mississippi River, it is today a shallow, isolated patch of water located near Cairo and the southern tip of Illinois.
The Alexander County lake has major problems with siltation. During the Great Flood of 1993 the river tried to shift back to the Horseshoe Lake meander, but returned to its modern channel after the flood subsided. Much of the lake resembles a swamp or bayou. This is one of the northernmost parts of the natural ranges of the Bald cypress and Tupelo trees, which are found on the shoreline of the lake. Another tree found here is the swamp cottonwood. There is a good growth of the flowering American lotus.
Feature Image Details
The feature image shows Bald cypress and Tupelo trees at sunrise.
The key to reflection images such as these is for the water to be in the shade.
Play around with various exposures and time durations.
Get low to the water! Sometimes you cannot see any reflections unless you get low. Find a composition you like, then set up the tripod in that position.
Here are some more images from the same morning.
I like the above image a lot. It distinctly shows the Bald Cypress trees. It was taken with a Canon 14MM F2.8 L Lens. I did not have my tilt shift lens with me at the time. It was in the car. Had I walked back to get it, I would have missed the shot.
Perspective controls in Photoshop are amazing but it is better to use the right lens.
The above image was taken with a Canon 100-400 MM F 4.5-5.6 L Lens. I seldom carry that lens, simply because of the weight. I had it with me because I knew there were opportunities like this.
Hatfield vs McCoy
Horseshoe Lake is not a “family destination”. There are few services and unless you are interested in photography, fishing, or birding, there is little else to do.
The above images are recent and digital, but here’s my story from twenty years ago that highlights the issue.
In the immediate area, there was then and there still is today precisely one place to eat, and it’s in a bar. I sat down at the bar and asked for a menu.
Then I made a mistake: I asked the person sitting next to me a question about the number of the geese in the fall. This was the resultant conversation.
Me: Is this an average year for geese in the area.
Him: Do I know you?
Me: I’m Mike – cutoff
Him: Are you from the DNR?
Me: I’m Mike – cutoff
Him: I did not ask you who you are. I asked if you were from the DNR.
At that point, he pulled out a gun, pointed it at my head and said If you are from the DNR I’m going to blow you away.
I assured him that I was not from the DNR and he put the gun away.
I should have immediately left at that point, but I had already ordered dinner and waited for it. The man who pulled the gun on me started talking to the person next to him. The other fellow mentioned that his daughter was dating someone who he did not know.
As you might imagine from this, our “hero” said that if his daughter was dating someone he would know when he got up, where he went, and would stake him out until he knew everything about him.
The next day, I filled up at a gas station and a young kid came out to pump. This was not self-service yet. I told the kid what happened and he laughed.
He then said: “I am not surprised. In fact, if anyone sees me talking to you, I can get in serious trouble.”
The moral of this story is please do not try to talk to anyone in deep Southern Illinois unless you know them.