“… picturesque turret-looking masses and clusters of a whitish, coarse-grained rock that resembles inferior mortar dried hard …”

Mark Twain
Shuttling as much as he did between Carson City and Virginia City, it was San Francisco that captured his imagination – but it was Mono Lake that almost killed him – and his curiosity.


An excerpt from Book Five in “The Knowledge Path Series” dedicated to helping you find the place of your dreams in the Sierra Mountain resorts.

On Hwy. 395 between Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes

We had just visited Lake Tahoe, where Mark Twain set the forest on fire and now Mono Lake appeared before us – the scene of another of his misadventures –

According to the 2009 LA Times article, Twain once said

“There are no fish in Mono Lake – no frogs, no snakes, no pollywogs – nothing, in fact, that goes to make life desirable.” 

Adventures in the Eastern Sierras

He and Calvin Higby – his mining partner — in “Roughing It”-

“… made a walking trip to Yosemite, carrying their packs, camping and fishing in that far, tremendous isolation, which in those days few human beings had ever visited at all. 

Such trips furnished a delicious respite from the fevered struggle around tunnel and shaft. 

Amid mountain-peaks and giant forests and by tumbling falls the quest for gold hardly seemed worthwhile”. 

More than once that summer he went alone into the wilderness “to find his balance and to get away entirely from humankind.”

Get rich schemes and tall tales – both consumed and sustained Mark Twain.

Shuttling as much as he did between Carson City and Virginia City, it was San Francisco that captured his imagination – but it was Mono Lake that almost killed him – and his curiosity.

Mono Lake at Dawn

Higby and Twain decided to explore the area in and around  Mono Lake.

They surveyed all its wonders in a small boat to explore the lake, just as a storm brewed.

Things go from bad to worse.

Twain actually said “They go from worse to a near fatal accident.”

First there’s the matter of all those seagulls.

Twain Least Expected to Find Sea Gulls

Mono Lake is a hundred miles in a straight line from the ocean–and between it and the ocean are one or two ranges of mountains–yet thousands of sea-gulls go there every season to lay their eggs and rear their young. 

One would as soon expect to find sea-gulls in Kansas. 

Then there’s the alien landscape with both hot and cold water.

Hard Boiled and Fossilized Sea Gull Eggs

The islands in the lake being merely huge masses of lava, coated over with ashes and pumice-stone, and utterly innocent of vegetation or anything that would burn; and sea-gull’s eggs being entirely useless to anybody unless they be cooked. 

Nature has provided an unfailing spring of boiling water on the largest island, and you can put your eggs in there, and in four minutes you can boil them as hard as any statement I have made during the past fifteen years. 

Within ten feet of the boiling spring is a spring of pure cold water, sweet and wholesome.

And that’s not the only odd thing.

Half a dozen little mountain brooks flow into Mono Lake, but not a stream of any kind flows out of it. 

It neither rises nor falls, apparently, and what it does with its surplus water is a dark and bloody mystery.

Though they arrived in the July, Twain and Higby couldn’t resist rowing 12 miles to the “big island.”

Curious “Big Island”

About seven o’clock one blistering hot morning–for it was now dead summer time–Higby and I took the boat and started on a voyage of discovery to the two islands. 

We had often longed to do this, but had been deterred by the fear of storms; for they were frequent, and severe enough to capsize an ordinary row-boat like ours without great difficulty–and once capsized, death would ensue in spite of the bravest swimming, for that venomous water would eat a man’s eyes out like fire, and burn him out inside, too, if he shipped a sea. 

It was called twelve miles, straight out to the islands–a long pull and a warm one–but the morning was so quiet and sunny, and the lake so smooth and glassy and dead, that we could not resist the temptation. 

They filled their canteens, just in case as a precaution and pulled ashore at their destination.

You Can Imagine Twain Hiking the Terrain

The island was a long, moderately high hill of ashes–nothing but gray ashes and pumice-stone, in which we sunk to our knees at every step–and all around the top was a forbidding wall of scorched and blasted rocks. 

When we reached the top and got within the wall, we found simply a shallow, far-reaching basin, carpeted with ashes, and here and there a patch of fine sand. 

In places, picturesque jets of steam shot up out of crevices, giving evidence that although this ancient crater had gone out of active business, there was still some fire left in its furnaces. 

Twain found the island’s single brilliantly green pine tree amusing.

It contrasted strangely enough, did this vigorous and beautiful outcast, with its dead and dismal surroundings. 

It was like a cheerful spirit in a mourning household.

Across the two or three miles they explored in vain. And then …


(32) Plan extended seasonal vacations during summer and winter months. Group destination locations together in regional trips to explore what several bucket list towns have to offer in the general vicinity – with only a week or two vacation time to spend, we recommend organizing your itinerary by travel regions.

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