Scenic USA - California

Rattlesnake Gulch

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Rattlesnake Gulch - Lee Vining, California

Photo by Scott Dommin
Scott's PBase Gallery

   Common misconceptions about the world’s deserts are usually centered on the geological characteristics and ideas about scorching temperatures. One false assumption views deserts made up of miles of drifting sand. In reality, sandy deposits may represent only a small percentage of the desert area. Although wind is a factor in desert erosion, most geological formations have been created by rapid runoff. Without thick vegetation to slow rainwater, brief, but intense thunderstorms and rapid snowmelt turn ephemeral streams into a raging rivers.
   Here in east-central California, Rattlesnake Gulch lies in the rain-shadow of the towering Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Even though precipitation, mostly snow, totals nearly 40 inches a year, moisture barely exceeds the evaporation rate. Just north of the town of Lee Vining, Rattlesnake Gulch overlooks Mono Lake. In this desert climate, the upper elevations are covered in montane scrub, stunted conifers and Great Basin sagebrush. Bottomlands and arroyos bear willows, cottonwoods, aspen and Jeffery pines. During the last century, the cattle industry and mining were the main sources for the area's economy. Today, tourism tops the list. Easy access to Yosemite National Park, the Devils Postpile, Mammoth Ski Resort, Bodie ghost town and Mono Lake attract millions of tourists throughout the year.

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