Fur trappers were the first non-Indians to discover the blue expanse of Mono Lake east of Yosemite, cradled by mountains and volcanoes in the parched region between the Sierra Nevada and Wasatch Mountains, an area named the Great Basin in 1844 by Army explorer John C. Fremont. Formed in the Ice Age, Mono Lake is a “triple-water” lake, containing high levels of saline, soda, and sulfurous elements–making the water slick, slippery, and bitter-tasting. After the 1848 gold discovery, routes across the Sierra wound north or south of the lake and few fortune hunters came, but pioneers who settled in the region ten years afterward discovered that the water was well suited to washing clothes without soap. In such an environment neither fish nor worm can survive, but abundant brine shrimp nourish millions of sea birds who seasonally migrate there to breed. Today Mono Lake is part of a vast, protected recreational area where sightseers can marvel at tall spires of strange but delicate mineral formations called tufa, described as “great towers of cemented cauliflower,” and swim in the lake’s buoyant water.