“near Yosemite National Park”
Upon first glance at the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve, it's not hard to imagine that you've left Earth entirely and have landed on a different planet. The shallow saline lake, located right in the middle of the desert, is surrounded by strange, towering formations known as "tufa" that give the whole area and "otherworldly" feel-- or, if you're Mark Twain, Mono Lake is more of a "lifeless, treeless, hideous desert... the loneliest place on earth." It's all about your attitude, I suppose. Mono Lake is actually a remnant of one of America's oldest lakes, formed 760,000 years ago in a very volcanic and geologically active part of California. Because the lake doesn't drain into an ocean, it's highly saline and alkaline. That means when you go for a swim in Mono Lake, you'll feel extra buoyant in the water-- it also means that the water will sting your eyes and any cuts you have as well! It's also the cause of the signature tufa towers-- the tufa, which are basically made of common limestone, formed when the area was underwater. Chemical reactions built up the limestone, and when the level of water in the lake dropped, the towers were revealed. The lake's delicate ecosystem was disrupted when, in the 1940's, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began diverting water from the lake's basin to their aqueduct. Within 50 years, the lake's level dropped an astonishing 45 vertical feet. More tufa towers were exposed, islands were formed in the middle of the lake and the salinity of the water doubled. After a decade-long legal battle that began in the 80's, the California State Water Resources Control Board finally voted to protect Mono Lake. Now, they're trying to raise the water level and get the lake back to a healthy and stable condition. You can still visit, swim in the lake, and hike around the trails that take you past impressive tufa towers (pro tip: the light at sunrise and sunset is especially striking!) -Roadtrippers The reserve was established to preserve the spectacular "tufa towers," calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. It also protects the lake surface itself as well as the wetlands and other sensitive habitat for the 1 – 2 million birds that feed and rest at Mono Lake each year. Mono Lake is a majestic body of water covering about 65 square miles. It is an ancient lake, over 1 million years old -- one of the oldest lakes in North America. It has no outlet. Throughout its long existence, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now about 2 1/2 times as salty as the ocean and very alkaline. Hiking, photography, bird watching, swimming, boating, and cross-country skiing are just a few of the many activities you can enjoy at this unusual lake. Photographers come from all over the world to capture the interplay of light on the mountains, desert, and water. The natural history of the lake is described and explained in a one-mile self-guided nature trail at South Tufa. This is the best place to visit if you have time for only one stop. A boardwalk (ADA) trail below the Mono Lake County Park allows access to the north shore tufa area and wetland. A new trail links the Scenic Area Visitor Center near Lee Vining with the Old Marina area at the shore. A trail at Panum Crater leads to the dome and crater rim. A swim in Mono Lake is a memorable experience. The lake''s salty water is denser than ocean water, and provides a delightfully buoyant swim. Old timers claim that a soak in the lake will cure almost anything. Keep the water out of your eyes or any cuts, as it will sting. Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California. Winter is a particularly beautiful time at Mono Lake. The crowds are gone, a quiet stillness prevails, and snow crystals sparkle on the tufa towers. The road to South Tufa is kept plowed, when staffing permits, allowing year round access except immediately after large storms. South Tufa, Navy Beach, and the Old Marina area are all wonderful places to cross-country ski when snow conditions permit.
This was a great stop on our road trip. We visited South Tufa Trail which is where the tufa towers are located. There is a short trail marked from the parking lot to the shoreline. We spent a leisurely hour wandering through towers and along the shoreline. There are many gnat-like bugs along the water in this area and the shoreline is rocky/rough so we didn’t venture in. However there were people kayaking. There are pit toilets in the parking lot, so be sure to bring your hand sanitizer.
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Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve
- Sun - Sat: 12:00 am - 11:59 pm
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Good for bird watching, boating, and 3 more activities.
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