Capture the Magic of the Mono Lake Tufas
The serene waters of Mono Lake shimmer along the eastern flank of the legendary Sierra Nevada Range, breaking up the breathtakingly scenic desert landscape hidden by shadows of snow-capped peaks. At first glance, the 65 square-mile lake appears like any other, but a deeper investigation reveals that this is no ordinary large body of water. With a salinity level over three times that of the ocean, this is one unique, inhospitable, albeit beautiful environment that supports a diverse collection of wildlife. Majestic ospreys nest on tufa towers rising from the lake and within the water, trillions of tiny brine shrimp provide nutrition for hundreds of different species of migrating birds.
Mono Lake began to form around 750,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America. Runoff water from the surrounding mountains became trapped in the broad basin, and with no outflow and limited inflow during the summer and fall, dissolved salts and calcium accumulated rapidly. Where freshwater springs met the lake's alkaline waters, a chemical reaction occurred, causing the precipitation of solid calcium carbonate into tall spires. Once the lake's shoreline receded, the iconic Mono Lake tufa towers were revealed and remain popular attractions today.
Mono Lake is a sightseer’s fairy tale, a nature lover's dream and an outdoor adventurer’s mecca. No matter what part of Mono Lake you visit, this one-of-a-kind ecosystem has the potential to amaze and inspire all visitors. Whether launching kayaks through the tufa towers of Navy Beach or meandering along the boardwalks of the South Tufa Area during an evening sunset, there is a way for everyone to explore this unique area.
Before visiting any of the lake’s numerous public access beaches, stop by the modern Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center located just north of the small village of Lee Vining on U.S. Highway 395. The U.S. Forest Service facility houses an incredible collection of interpretive exhibits presenting the ecology, geology, anthropology and management of the Mono Lake Basin. Be certain to check out the bird spotting board, which is maintained daily by on-site rangers and includes listings of currently migrating bird species spotted around the lake. The Visitor Center also has a well-stocked bookstore, restrooms, shaded picnic area and running water. A short interpretive trail begins from the rear of the building and informative signs describe the flora and fauna as the trail winds to the lake's shoreline.
Reaching Mono Lake from Mammoth Lakes requires no more than a 25 to 30 minute drive. From town, travel to the State Route 203 and U.S. Highway 395 intersection and merge left onto the highway. Follow U.S. Highway 395 north for 26 miles to the town of Lee Vining, passing the volcanically active Mono Craters on the right and the Tioga Pass Road to Yosemite National Park on the left. The lake is impossible to miss, and the Mono Basin Visitor Center is located immediately north of Lee Vining on the right-hand side of the highway.