Mono Lake is over a million years old, located in California’s high desert 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park. It’s truly a fascinating place. The arid desert landscape of Mono Lake with the Tufa’s (rock formations) used to be underwater for as far as the eye can see. The lake is millions of years old but California’s drought seasons have changed the landscape over the years. There are a couple beaches, but not like the ones most people are familiar with, as most people don’t swim in the lake. It’s very salty, 2 1/2 times saltier than the ocean! There are also islands in the lake accessible only to migratory and breeding birds, although it’s a continuous battle to keep coyotes from getting to the islands. They have been known to swim over 200 feet through the lake to raid the birds nests. There was a time when a land bridge made it even easier for the coyotes, a time of drought that exposed this bridge to the islands.
Visitors from all over travel to see as this unusual lake. It’s not in an area that’s well traveled, and you have to go off the 395 and travel east 5 miles on Highway 120, that winds around the mountains. This is the South Tufa area. There’s a large parking lot, with restrooms and an Information Kiosk that also collects the nominal fee. The trail to the lake is 1 mile down and a mile back so make sure you take water with you.
The only thing that lives in Mono Lake is Brine Shrimp. You will see fishermen out there collecting the shrimp which is then sold to stores as feed for tropical fish. California Gulls also known as Sea Gulls spend the winter here breeding on Negit Island, one of the islands in the lake. This is the second largest breeding area for gulls in California. They feed off the brine shrimp and get fresh water from streams that flow into Mono Lake. This water source is important to all of the animals in the area.
All the area you see used to be underwater. The lake was cut back to it’s present size over the years.The rock formations at the lake are called Tufa’s. The Tufa’s are calcium-carbonate spires. They were formed because of the interaction from freshwater running off the Sierra’s and the alkaline lake water mixing. The Tufa’s are protected by the California State Natural Reserve.
If you are traveling, camping, or RVing there are campgrounds some first come, first served in the area. Just ask. It’s always a treat to find out of the way places to travel to and Mono Lake is definitely one of those places.
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