“strange and marvelous tufa sculptures”
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!) 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. 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.
They say that often the best surprises are the places that jump out of nowhere, and Mono Lake is definitely one of those... It’s only when you’re halfway past the lake does the beauty and majesty of the location hit you. You’ll soon find yourself pulling over and spending an hour taking in the scenery... it really is stunning, and one of the those places that will leave you telling stories about it for year to some.
Next time we will definitely be stopping over for a night... and a swim! Added to my bucket list!
Have you ever seen natural mountains of rocky salt? We hadn't until we visited Mono Lake.
With the help of our camera's zoom lens we were able to see birds nesting at the tall salt rocks of the lake. This place is specified for bird watching.
The hike is very easy if you follow the trails, and there were many visitors around.
If you visit then take in mind you will need water because there isn't any shop at the surrounding area.
I would recommend binoculars to the wildlife lovers!
Mono Lake is breath taking. The flies are pretty gross but you get over it. Even Mark Twain commented on them. No body can take a bad photo of mono and when I went we were the only people brave enough to take a dip or a float as it were. Bring a jug of water with you. Some people are sensitive to all the salt in the water so just rinse yourself off when you are done!
Pretty enough. Worth the stop if you're going right by, but otherwise there are more interesting places nearby.
Pretty cool place. Worth a stop as you drive by.
What an amazing place, never seen anything like it. The alkaline flies are disgusting, yet so interesting. Seems like a place that belongs in another country.
This place is a hidden treasure. Been there a couple times now and each time better than the last.
Worth the drive.
South Lake Tufa's had the best photo opps, though it was a few bucks to park there.
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