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MONO LAKE lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert,
eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is
guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits
are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sailless
sea—this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth—is little
graced with the picturesque. It is an unpretending expanse
of grayish water, about a hundred miles in circumference,
with two islands in its centre, mere upheavals of rent and
scorched and blistered lava, snowed over with gray banks and
drifts of pumice-stone and ashes, the winding sheet of the
dead volcano, whose vast crater the lake has seized upon and

The lake is two hundred feet deep, and its sluggish waters
are so strong with alkali that if you only dip the most hopelessly
soiled garment into them once or twice, and wring it out,
it will be found as clean as if it had been through the ablest
of washerwomen's hands. While we camped there our laundry
work was easy. We tied the week's washing astern of our
boat, and sailed a quarter of a mile, and the job was complete,
all to the wringing out. If we threw the water on our heads
and gave them a rub or so, the white lather would pile up three
inches high. This water is not good for bruised places and
abrasions of the skin. We had a valuable dog. He had raw
places on him. He had more raw places on him than sound
ones. He was the rawest dog I almost ever saw. He jumped
overboard one day to get away from the flies. But it was bad


Page 266


[Description: 504EAF. Page 266. In-line images, of a woman washing her hair and a dog running down a mountain.]
judgment. In his condition, it would have been just as comfortable
to jump into the fire. The alkali water nipped him
in all the raw places
simultaneously, and
he struck out for the
shore with considerable
interest. He
yelped and barked
and howled as he
went—and by the
time he got to the
shore there was no
bark to him—for he
had barked the bark
all out of his inside,
and the alkali water
had cleaned the bark
all off his outside,
and he probably wished he had never embarked in any such
enterprise. He ran round and round in a circle, and pawed
the earth and clawed the air, and threw double somersaults,
sometimes backward and sometimes forward, in the most


Page 267
extraordinary manner. He was not a demonstrative dog, as
a general thing, but rather of a grave and serious turn of
mind, and I never saw him take so much interest in anything
before. He finally struck out over the mountains, at a gait
which we estimated at about two hundred and fifty miles an
hour, and he is going yet. This was about nine years ago.
We look for what is left of him along here every day.

A white man cannot drink the water of Mono Lake, for it
is nearly pure lye. It is said that the Indians in the vicinity
drink it sometimes, though. It is not improbable, for they
are among the purest liars I ever saw. [There will be no additional
charge for this joke, except to parties requiring an
explanation of it. This joke has received high commendation
from some of the ablest minds of the age.]

There are no fish in Mono Lake—no frogs, no snakes, no
polliwigs—nothing, in fact, that goes to make life desirable.
Millions of wild ducks and sea-gulls swim about the surface,
but no living thing exists under the surface, except a white
feathery sort of worm, one half an inch long, which looks like
a bit of white thread frayed out at the sides. If you dip up a
gallon of water, you will get about fifteen thousand of these.
They give to the water a sort of grayish-white appearance.
Then there is a fly, which looks something like our house fly.
These settle on the beach to eat the worms that wash ashore
—and any time, you can see there a belt of flies an inch deep
and six feet wide, and this belt extends clear around the lake
—a belt of flies one hundred miles long. If you throw a stone
among them, they swarm up so thick that they look dense, like
a cloud. You can hold them under water as long as you please
—they do not mind it—they are only proud of it. When you
let them go, they pop up to the surface as dry as a patent office
report, and walk off as unconcernedly as if they had been
educated especially with a view to affording instructive entertainment
to man in that particular way. Providence leaves
nothing to go by chance. All things have their uses and their
part and proper place in Nature's economy: the ducks eat the
flies—the flies eat the worms—the Indians eat all three—the


Page 268


[Description: 504EAF. Page 268. In-line image of three men. One man is washing his clothes in the river. The other two men are on the banks of the river.]
wild cats eat the Indians—the white folks eat the wild cats—
and thus all things are lovely.

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. And in this connection let
us observe another instance of Nature's wisdom. 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-gulls' 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. So, in that island
you get your board and washing free of charge—and if nature
had gone further and furnished a nice American hotel clerk
who was crusty and disobliging, and didn't know anything
about the time tables, or the railroad routes—or—anything—
and was proud of it—I would not wish for a more desirable

Half a dozen little mountain brooks flow into Mono
Lake, but not a stream of any kind flows out of it. It neither


Page 269
rises nor falls, apparently, and what it does with its surplus
water is a dark and bloody mystery.

There are only two seasons in the region round about
Mono Lake—and these are, the breaking up of one Winter
and the beginning of the next. More than once (in Esmeralda)
I have seen a perfectly blistering morning open up with
the thermometer at ninety degrees at eight o'clock, and seen
the snow fall fourteen inches deep and that same identical
thermometer go down to forty-four degrees under shelter,
before nine o'clock at night. Under favorable circumstances
it snows at least once in every single month in the year, in the
little town of Mono. So uncertain is the climate in Summer
that a lady who goes out visiting cannot hope to be prepared
for all emergencies unless she takes her fan under one arm and
her snow shoes under the other. When they have a Fourth
of July procession it generally snows on them, and they do say
that as a general thing when a man calls for a brandy toddy
there, the bar keeper chops it off with a hatchet and wraps it
up in a paper, like maple sugar. And it is further reported
that the old soakers haven't any teeth—wore them out eating
gin cocktails and brandy punches. I do not endorse that statement—I
simply give it for what it is worth—and it is worth—
well, I should say, millions, to any man who can believe it
without straining himself. But I do endorse the snow on the
Fourth of July—because I know that to be true.