These Plaques Featuring Little Known
and Forgotten Facts About Mono Lake
E Clampus Vitus
Bodie Chapter No. 64
September 13, 2013
Mono Lake - Land of Many Uses
Except for fishing, this "inland sea" has been a lake of many uses over the years. (commercial, industrial, recreational, military, medicinal, etc.) starting in the 1800s and by the 1910s, in and around this body of water, oil drilling and mineral extraction activities took place. By the 1900s it became the venue for: bathing beauty pageants, boat races, swimming competitions and water skiing contests. During the 1930s, a boat tour of the lake and islands was offered, advertised as a visit to the "Tahiti of the Sierras" due to the existence of hot springs on the islands. A Tahitian spa was planned, but never built. In the late 1950s, a public boat dock and marina was built along the west shoreline and operated for several years. And, during the Cold War a secret military test site was located along the south shoreline. Although, today, only remnants can be seen of those activities, they made a lasting contributions to the development of Mono County and the Eastern Sierras.
First appearing on official maps in 1854. It is the predominant geological feature of this region and source of many myths, legends and controversies. One unresolved issue - who was the first to document this unique body of water? was it Jedediah Smith during his trek through the region in 1827? or was it Joseph Walker in 1833? Perhaps, it was Lt. Treadwell Moore in 1852? Coincidentally, each reported finding a lake with similar features. Another debate is the origin of its name. Some sources report it was named for the Monache Indians, early inhabitants of the area. Other accounts note "Mono" was a Spanish word and cite the majority of California county names were of Spanish origin. Others refer to the Greek word "monos" meaning - solitary or deserted. Each is a plausible explanation. In the late 1800's, this intimidating lake gained international notoriety through the writings of Mark Twain's newspaper articles and his book "Roughing It". What is not in question - Mono Lake was the namesake of the 47th county created by act of California State Legislature (SB-199) in 1861.
Mono Lake & Hollywood
This body of water has been the backdrop of many Hollywood and television productions. Two of the first movies filmed here were "Kilowatt, the Conqueror" (1921) and "The Huntress" (1923) staring Colleen Moore. "White Magic" (1930) was one of the first "Talkies" to feature Mono Lake. "The Bride Wore Red" (1937) staring Joan Crawford; "Kim" (1950) staring Errol Flynn; "Fair Wind to Java" (1953) staring Fred MacMurray; and, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" (1973) had second unit photography (background scenes) taken here. Numerous nature films, produced and directed by major studios and independent filmmakers, have told various stories of Mono Lake - its ecology, geography, chronology, etc. Also, may "Commercials" and music videos have been filmed here. However, the most recognized and successful movie shot on location here was "High Plains Drifter" (1973) staring Clint Eastwood and served as the stark setting of the fictional western town of Lago. Today, remnants of the volcano set built for the 1953 film can still be seen above the waves of this inland sea. As long as Hollywood has need of breathtaking vistas and clear blue skies, Mono Lake will have a continuing role in the film and video industry.