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Mono Lake

From Dead Sea to Environmental Treasure

Abraham Hoffman

Publication Year: 2014

Mono Lake is one of the largest lakes in California, and Californians have been using it, enjoying it, and abusing it since nomadic northern Paiutes began hunting the lake’s vast bird populations. Controversy between environmentalists and the City of Los Angeles brought so much attention to Mono Lake in the late twentieth century that it became best known for its appearance on “Save Mono Lake” bumper stickers. This thoughtful study is the first book to explore the lake’s environmental and cultural history.

Hoffman writes about gold mining in the Mono Basin; the taking of birds and their eggs to supply food for miners and townspeople; a failed oil boom; efforts to develop recreational activities such as a state-operated marina, which also failed; catastrophes including plane crashes and the testing of bombs underwater; and litigation over the diversion of creeks flowing into the lake and the resulting decline in the lake level. A variety of photographs, some never before published, ranging from mining to motor boat races in the 1930s are also included.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

Writing a book is generally considered a lonely occupation, but I had plenty of help in creating this one. Ken Downey encouraged me to get started, and lots of people helped me finish it. In no particular order of preference, I thank the following people, organizations, and institutions for the parts they played in making...

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pp. xi-xvi

“Mono Lake,” observed Berkeley ornithologist and Mono Lake Committee cofounder David Winkler in the 1981 film Water Wars: The Battle for Mono Lake, “is really one of the last untouched ecosystems in the state.” Winkler’s comment suggests an image of a region that has somehow escaped mankind’s polluting...

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1: The Changing Perceptions of Mono Lake

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pp. 1-20

The American Indians of the Eastern Sierra knew of Mono Lake and made use of its resources. The name Mono derives from the Shoshonean term for fly larvae—a basic food source the Mono Paiute Indians obtained by harvesting brine-fly larvae at the shores of Mono Lake. To other tribes the Mono were the “fly people,” a description...

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2: The Mining Era

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pp. 21-33

The first Euro-Americans who were attracted to the Mono Lake Basin did not come there to admire the scenery. Their motivation was gold, or silver if it was there; the promise of quick riches, even if it required backbreaking labor, brought hundreds and even thousands of men to the most isolated parts of the Eastern Sierra. Men...

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3: The Mono Lake Oil Boom

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pp. 34-43

Around 1886 Caesar Thuveringe, a farmer who was pasturing goats on Paoha Island in Mono Lake, discovered small quantities of oil seeping out of the ground. Over the next forty years Thuveringe’s modest discovery fueled ever-growing tales of Mono Lake’s tremendous potential for petroleum production. In the years...

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4: Commercial and Recreational Developments before World War II

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pp. 44-66

In 1852 a Mariposa miner named Leroy Vining organized some men to hurry to the Mono Lake region where gold and silver had recently been discovered by Lieutenant Treadwell Moore. Moore and his infantrymen had been pursuing a band of Yosemite Indians accused of killing several miners in the Yosemite Valley, and they had chased them...

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5: The Mark Twain Days Celebrations

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pp. 67-80

While the idea of developing the recreational possibilities of Inyo and Mono Counties was taking root in the 1920s and 1930s, a possibility became a reality by the shores of Mono Lake. Mrs. Venita R. McPherson, proprietor of the Mono Inn, conceived of the idea of an annual celebration that might attract visitors to the area...

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6: Eastern Sierra Recreation after World War II

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pp. 81-96

The Second World War meant lean years for Mono County’s recreational growth and a setback in its development. The county’s young men went off to war, Mark Twain Days celebrations were discontinued, and the Bridgeport Chronicle-Union closed down for the duration, not to be revived until 1947.
During this period the McPherson family...

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7: The Mono Lake Marina

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pp. 97-105

During the 1950s Californians were among the most prosperous citizens in the nation and were finding many enjoyable uses for their disposable income. Recreation boomed in the Golden State, and one of the most popular recreational activities was boating. Suburban homeowners put an astonishing variety of inboard, outboard, and...

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8: Tragedies, Disasters, and Human Disruptions

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pp. 106-118

In the past century and a half, Mono Lake has experienced a wide variety of human contact, taking in tragedies as well as celebrations of life. The following compendium is offered as indication that Mono Lake does not exist in splendid isolation but has impacted many lives over the years, for better or for...

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9: Los Angeles and the Mono Lake Basin

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pp. 119-149

This gloomy prediction of the fate of Mono Lake did not appear in the Mono Lake Committee’s newsletter during the 1980s. It was printed in the April 14, 1906, issue of the Bridgeport Chronicle-Union, evidently as an editorial response to Los Angeles’ aggressive moves in locking up the Owens River for the rapidly growing...

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10: Conclusion

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pp. 150-154

In the century and a half or so of human activity around Mono Lake, the area’s history has consisted of lingering optimism over mining, an oil boom that was never realized, and misconceptions concerning its recreational possibilities. In the late twentieth century, environmentalists condemned the prospectors and miners of the previous...


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pp. 155-160


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pp. 161-168

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780826354457
E-ISBN-10: 0826354459
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826354440

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mono Lake Region (Calif.) -- History.
  • Natural history -- California -- Mono Lake Region.
  • Mono Lake Region (Calif.) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Mono Lake Region (Calif.) -- Social life and customs.
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