Panum Crater is an obsidian glass volcanic cone that is part of the Mono–Inyo Craters, a chain of recent volcanic cones south of Mono Lake and east of the Sierra Nevada, in California, United States. Panum Crater is between 600 and 700 years old, and it exhibits all of the characteristics of the textbook rhyolitic lava dome.
If you are visiting the Mono Lake area, Panum Crater is just a couple miles away from the main Mono Lake tufa formations. It’s a short, scenic, uphill hike, that I would rate it as easy.
Feature Image Details
I used a Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens at 40mm, ISO 200 for 1/100 second at F16. This is an easy shot. You just need a tripod and a camera with a timer.
This image is from September 11, 2018, at the top of the volcanic cone. The shadows would also be the same on April 1, mid to late afternoon (10 days before and 10 days after the equinox). Anytime within a couple weeks of those dates would likely have similar shadows.
This crater was a side trip hike that we took twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The afternoon is best for shadows like these.
We visited Mono Lake 10 times, 5 at sunrise and 5 at sunset over 10 days, not necessarily on the same days.
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.