Catching Mono (Lake) – Part One

Three female nurses with a trunk load of snacks, a former-resident of South Africa, an English teacher with an infectious laugh, a quiet man with kind eyes all led through the wilderness by a master photographer. This is not the ensemble cast of a reality TV show: these are people with a love for photography, an appetite for good food and adventure. Everyone was armed with a telephoto lens, fast DSLR and corresponding tripod. Except for me. My tools were a small Fujifilm Finepix X100 with its fixed lens, extra battery, battery charger and a pseudo tripod: a flexible Gorilla Tripod used primarily for taking self portraits. I tried not to feel ill prepared or inadequate. I just wanted to learn new skills: to continue to evolve my way of viewing the world and the ability to express myself.

The route to the Eastern Sierras, (by the way, I didn’t know such a place existed…I was only familiar with the one set of Sierras) was very scenic. What I didn’t expect were moments of terror as I drove along the cliff side while pushing out the scene from “Thelma and Louise” where the two women hold hands…and…well, you know the rest. This was my first experience crawling along the side of a mountain, letting out squeals of panic as I tried not to careen out of control at a terrifying 10 miles per hour.

Highway 89 peaks at over 8,700 feet. To give some perspective, the Empire State Building is 1,454 feet and planes fly at about 30,000 (or more) so you can imagine my fear. I maneuvered the Touareg and tried not to look down, around, anywhere that would take me off road and over the cliff. I found it perplexing that the highest point of this route didn’t have a guard rail…was this because if the car went out of control at 8,700 feet you would basically be screwed regardless of a guard rail? Once I got past the worst and switched onto US 395, I exhaled, stuck my left hand out of the window, waved into the cool air to dry my palms.

A college geography professor once told my class “Everyone should visit Mono Lake, a salt water lake in the Sierras.” I can’t remember the rest of the lecture but the name of this lake became embedded in my mind: a mysterious lake in the Sierras with odd rock formations surrounding it. The town of Mono boasts approximately 400 people and it was home base for the Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop.

I checked into Murphy’s Motel which had creaky floors, 1970s furniture and an in-room Hamilton brand coffee maker. Once settled, I opened up the heavy drapes and spotted “Mono Cone” across the street. Since I deserved a treat for expertly maneuvering the Touareg on treacherous roads, I jaywalked across and looked at the ice cream offerings. In a matter of minutes, I was handing over $5.25 for a Salty Caramel shake.

There was time before the workshop meeting so I sat in the back of Mono Cone, opened up a book and tried not to pop a blood vessel while sucking the shake through the thin straw. A Mono Cone employee asked what book I was reading. I told him The Accidental Creative (this is a book about unleashing your brilliance no matter what field you work in). His response was, “Hmmmm…it sounds mythical.” As he continued to wipe down the red table next to mine. I thought about the word “mythical.” I think mythical means something not tangible…whereas the book is about nurturing creativity no matter what role or environment someone is in. Then I started to wonder if creativity was something you can attain by gaining the right tools to become more  “creative.”

As I got ready to meet the other students, I hoped that creativity was about having a vision and then using the right tools to express that vision. I hoped that creativity was not a commodity limited to a select few.

The mysterious Mono Lake after sunset. Fujifilm Finepix X100: no editing or filters used.

Categories: Other Trips

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2 replies »

  1. Very nice image. My take on photography is that equipment is not nearly as important as a good eye and skill for composition. Keith Skelton is indeed a "Master" and he knows all of the best areas to shoot and the time to be there like the back of his hand. He’s been there and done that — he’s patient and has an excellent, if off-beat, sense of humor. I’ve done two workshops with him and I am looking forward to going to the Salton Sea with him in the fall and perhaps Death Valley in the early spring. You wrote an excellent piece.

    • HI Larry,

      Thank you for reading and for the encouragement! Maybe we will meet at another one of Keith’s enlightening workshops!


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