Friday, September 23, 2016

The Lake at the End of the World: Tule Lake in Northern California

Tule Lake is situated at the end of the world. It's not that it's so big that the world seems to end beyond its margins, but something more like how it is the place that worlds ended. The lake is located in Northern California near the Oregon Border south of Klamath Falls. It fills a fault graben, a basin that formed when the crust stretched and cracked, with large valleys that sank hundreds or thousands of feet. The Tulelake graben sank enough to disrupt the flow of regional streams, and became a huge, but shallow lake. In this semiarid climate water is precious, especially to birds on the migratory flyway from the arctic to the tropics. It's one of the places where plentiful food allowed millions of birds to rest and fatten themselves to continue their journeys.

But it nearly ended for the birds. Settlers in the late 1800s found that streams could be diverted, and that levees and dikes could be constructed, so that vast portions of the lake dried up and disappeared. The nutrient rich sediments of the lakebed became pastures and rich soils for growing alfalfa or potatoes. In 1928, though, a wildlife refuge was established that preserves the remaining lake area for the birds and other animals. The present lake, as big as it seems in the photo above, is but 10% the area it once was.

The lake was the end of the world for a people as well. The Modoc people lived along the shores of the lake for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, but were forcibly removed in the 1870s. Many elements of their culture were lost as their community was shattered. I wrote more extensively on this sad history in a previous post. The story is compelling...check it out!

This is a dispatch from the road, some short descriptions of our ongoing field class on the geology of California's volcanoes.
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