Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Camp Mesa

It was time to leave Camp Desolation. Our plan for the day was a short hike over to Mesa Lake where we hoped to set up a new camp. As we broke camp and descended to the shore of Desolation Lake, we were able to look up at the high country that we had been visiting the day before. It already looked very remote.

The shores of Desolation Lake

Looking back at the Sierra crest.
The first notch that we visited is just left of center (kinda like us).

If I have one complaint about this trip, it was the early onset of autumn. On previous trip, we have seen lots of blooming plants and butterflies into mid September. There was very little snow pack last winter, and they have had a drought over the summer, and I believe that this contributed to an early end to the growing season. There were a few flowers still in bloom, but really very few. The whole time we were above treeline, I saw only a handful of butterflies during the entire trip. This is my first visit to the high country since I have developed entomological interests beyond butterflies. I have no idea if the other insect groups were similarly depressed. We did see lots of grasshoppers, but limited species diversity.

Beautiful but autumnal scenery

Blue gentian

Blooming lupine. Usually we see thousands in bloom. This year there were dozens.

Bee on buckwheat

Still, the scenery made up for this. Mesa Lake is a beautiful, roughly cross-shaped lake. Like Desolation Lake, it has a beach. I actually did go to the beach one afternoon. I did not go swimming, nor did I really go sunbathing (I wasn’t about to expose more skin than I needed to in the thin air and High UV intensity at 11,200 feet). Still, it was fun to sit in the sand and watch the world go by for a bit.

Mesa Lake

On Mesa Beach. Pass the tanning butter.

We stopped for lunch about 150 feet from the lake. Out initial plan was to set up camp there, but we soon discovered that the entire area was a seepage slope and large areas of the ground were saturated with water. We found another site further uphill, and nestled in the first scrubby trees that we had seen in several days.

Square Lake living up to its name.

Fairy Shrimp

Sparkly Caddisfly

What's in there? Checking out the aquatic biologists' cache of equipment.

We stayed two nights at Camp Mesa. On our second day there, we took a day hike past Square Lake to a ridge overlooking Know Lake and Knob Peak. Square Lake was fun because, like Mesa Lake, it had lots of invertebrates in it. We say fairy shrimp, tiny diving beetles and lots of caddisflies. The caddisflies all incorporated a lot of mica flakes into their cases, which were very sparkly. We discovered that we were not the only ones interested in the aquatic biology. About 50 feet above our campsite, Leon discovered a cache with a couple of large plastic bins in it. We peeked inside; they contained seine nets, wet suits and the like. We left a business card in the cache- we’ll see if any of the aquatic biologists working there decide to contact us.

Looking west at Knob Lake and Knob Peak

Mt. Humphreys and the high country of Humphreys Basin

The view down to Knob Lake looks into a lower-elevation region where the forest begins thickening again. We did not go down there, but it was interesting to see the valley begin to take on characteristics of the western Sierras. The rise that we were on also offered some of the best views of Humphreys Basin as a whole. We could even see over to Muriel Lake- our goal for the next day, and the last place that we would camp before hiking back out to civilization.

Sunset from Camp Mesa

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At 11:23, Anonymous Jyoti said...

Fantastic travelog ...
Another lovely set of images. Gorgeous blues throughout ...

I always believe that the importance of these well maintained travlogs increases with time ... Few years down the line, when we forget the details, just read and relive the moments.

At 23:41, Blogger Ur-spo said...

and the water is so blue! lovely photos and saga.

At 12:28, Blogger robin andrea said...

I am always struck by the color of the sky when you are at that altitude. It is so profoundly blue. I bet the stars were amazing, too. Love the shrimp. Such hardy little creatures.

At 20:48, Anonymous rcwbiologist said...

What a great series of posts you've written here regarding you and Leons trip. I've really enjoyed them. It's nice to see pictures of real mountains. I miss that living out here on the east coast.

At 12:05, Blogger BentonQuest said...

Great photos Doug. I miss seeing mountains!

At 20:22, Blogger burning silo said...

What a wonderful trip this must have been. As others have mentioned above, the blues are incredible. Great photos and travelogue.

At 22:44, Blogger Will said...

Austere but somehow not bleak--wonderful textures and colors. Great photos, Doug.

At 01:44, Blogger Tony said...

Serene Doug but almost Moon-like too. I don't know if I could handle several days of that but then again I did the Grand Canyon. Maybe. I think the twilight pictures are the best .

At 08:54, Blogger Doug Taron said...

jyoti- Thanks. I agree, I'm rally glad that I have good photos of trips that I took 19 and 15 years ago. They help keep the memories alive.

Spo- The blues were even more intense in person.

Robin- The stars were amazing. One morning just before dawn Leon roused me to see the crescent moon and an incredibly bright Venus rising above Piute Pass. Unforgettable.

RCW and Ben- I miss mountains, too. And RCW, you're a lot closer to something passable than I am here in the Midwest.

Bev - Thanks. I consider compliments from you on my photography to be high praise.

Will- Austere is an excellent description. Above treeline, it felt like I was crawling over the bones of the earth.

Tony- We spent 2 1/2 days at very high elevation above treeline. I was very glad to see trees again- even very stunted ones- when we first got back down a bit lower.


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