Lesser Known Californian Jewels

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Flag of United States  , California
Friday, September 23, 2005

Mono Lake

Located close to the Eastern Entrance of Yosemite National Park and accessible via highway 395, Mono Lake's main attraction are its tufas, pronounced "too-faw". These are created when the carbonate rich alkaline waters of the lake react with calcium rich freshwater emerging from underground springs beneath the lake.

The largest cluster of tufas are located in the Southern reserve. The tufas are visible from the car park, and a short walk takes you through tufas on dry land (an indication of how the water level receded, mainly as a result of diverting some streams) before reaching the waters edge, where you'll notice the black mass on the ground are actually alkali flies, and the waters of the lake are teeming with brine shrimp.

The best times for capturing these geologic wonders are sunset and sunrise so you might want to make reservations ahead to stay at the motels in Lee Vining, a small town at the eastern entrance to Yosemite (sorry no five star accommodation around for miles).

Devils Postpile National Monument

Another rare sight, and a really unique one, is the Devils Postpile National Monument. Geologists call it "the finest example of columnar basalt" or in laymen's terms, you're not likely to see a more stunning example of lava columns which nature has created. The columns rise 60 feet from the ground and are between 4-7 sided.

Again you need to drive along US 395 further south from Mono Lake. Once you turn into S.R. 203 head 10 miles to Minaret Summit and then another 7 miles on a narrow paved road to bring you to the Mammoth Mountain resort, which in winter is transformed into a ski haven. To preserve the geology of the area, you can't drive your car any closer to the monument and have to take a shuttle bus from the resort.

The shuttle bus drops you off about a quarter of a mile from the monument, and then your trusty hiking boots will take you there. Now how often do you get to see something as unique as that?

For the budding geologists, there is a small information board at the base of the monument explaining how nature created this wonderful sight.

But your adventure doesn't stop there. Carry on walking along the trail, roughly for about 2 miles or so, to the aptly named Rainbow Falls. A rainbow is always visible in sunlight but is best captured when the sun is at its brightest.

For those with strong thigh muscles there's a trial that goes down to the base of the falls. The going down is dead easy...the climb up will have you wishing you had listened to your gym instructor and gone easy on all that junk food.

Burney Falls

Burney Falls State Park is located 6 miles north from the junctions of Highways 299 and 89, along Hwy 229. The falls are just a short walk down from the car park and are said to have mystical powers by the native Indians. The falls is actually a series of waterfalls flowing through a porous basalt layer (i.e. porous rock), and this creates a wonderfully complex network of little waterfalls cascading down the rock.

Ex US president Theodore Roosevelt called it the Eighth Wonder of the World, and its easy to see why. The trial around the falls is also particularly pretty, especially around winter when the whole park is cloaked in a blanket of white.

Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument is located close to the California-Oregon border. The landscape, which was created by a series of volcanic eruptions and subsequent lava flows is particularly stunning in winter when the black river of rock is semi covered with a nice blanket of snow.

Here one can find examples of cinder cones, spatter cones, and for those whose aren't afraid of the dark, the largest concentration of lava tube caves in the United States. As this is quite a remote area be sure to leave word with someone on your whereabouts, lest you encounter any incidents.

The monument is adjacent to the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge which during the spring and fall seasons is a haven for migrating birds which flock to the lake by the thousands.

Rim-Of-The-World Drive

Fancy being on top of the world? Well, you can...well, almost. Just a short 2.5 hour drive from LA airport will take you to the base of this loop that takes you up the San Bernardino Mountains leading to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake.

Its aptly named as it takes you up to elevations of between 5000 to 7000 feet and once you're up there, you're in for a magnificent panoramic view of a sea of clouds below you.

Once you're done exploring the area, head eastwards to Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park

Fans of the Irish rock band U2 will be all too familiar with the album cover of their 80s milestone "The Joshua Tree".

Why Joshua? Well, apparently the trees were named by Mormon settlers who likened the outstretched branches of the tree to the Prophet Joshua raising his hands in supplication and guiding the travelers westward.

This peculiar looking plant is extremely thorny and hardy, and the native Americans work its tough leaves into baskets and sandals, and raw or roasted flower buds and seeds make a healthy addition to their diet.

Whilst you're in the park, stay on for the spectacular sunsets!
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