Tucked away in the Eastern Sierra mountains of central California lies an ancient lake called Mono Lake. At around one million years of age, it is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Its pristine water reflects the ever changing colors of the sky by day, and the soft moonlight by night. However, there is something different, something quite unique and unusual that immediately catches your attention. Strange-looking pointy rock formations protrude out of the water in random places throughout the lake. They too, reflect in the mirror-like surface, creating an almost alien landscape.
It was by pure chance that I got to visit and enjoy the beauty of this unbelievable place!
Our Amazingly Long Short Stop at Mono Lake CA
My hubby and I were on our way to Yosemite National Park when I spotted Mono Lake on the map. I often do this! I look at maps, and I find things. Then, I try to figure out how to see everything along the road in the amount of time we have!
I approached hubby with my spontaneously brilliant idea to make a short stop at Mono Lake. It was on the way to Yosemite, and I figured it would be fun to take a quick look. Hubby grumbled a little, reminding me we had other plans, but in the end, he reluctantly agreed.
Little that we knew, our short stop would turn into a two-hour walk along the shore. The stunning appearance of Mono Lake with its pointy rock formations made us completely forget where we were headed!
The Wondrous Tufa
So, what exactly were these odd-looking structures sticking out of the lake? They reminded us of cave stalagmites that had somehow ended up in the wrong place. We found out that in fact, they are limestone formations called tufa towers, and just like stalagmites, they took many thousands of years to form. Scientists estimate that some of them are as old as 13,000 years, which is a little younger than stalagmites, but still, they are remarkable! It is these tufa towers that draw tourists from all over, and make Mono Lake CA truly a fascinating place to visit.
We couldn’t help but wonder how in the world these limestone structures formed here. What was so different and unique about this particular lake?
The Magic Ingredients of Mono Lake CA
After reading the nearby information boards, we discovered that there are fresh water streams that flow into the lake, constantly bringing different kinds of minerals and salts. Mono Lake, however, has no outflowing channels, so all the minerals and salts that come through the streams remain in it, and accumulate over time. Furthermore, as the water evaporates into the atmosphere, we get a lake that has very high concentrations of minerals and salts. Interestingly, Mono Lake CA is about 3 times saltier than the ocean, and about 80 times more alkaline.
When fresh spring water flows into the lake, it mixes and chemically reacts with its mineral-rich water. The product of this reaction is calcium carbonate deposits that grow slowly to form the tufa towers we see today. The only life forms that thrive in this environment and call Mono Lake home are brine shrimp and algae. Naturally, these provide a rich food source for various birds that live in the area.
The Lower the Water the More the Tufa
The magical beauty of Mono Lake and the tufa is truly remarkable. Some of these towers stand as tall as 30 feet! We were curious to find out how they rose so far above the water.
It turns out that the water level of Mono Lake CA dropped significantly when in 1941 the city of Los Angeles decided to divert some of the streams that filled it. This in turn exposed more tufa towers. While these formations are stunning to look at, the ecosystem of the lake was significantly affected by this drop in water level.
In 1978 a man named David Gaines formed a special Mono Lake Committee with the sole purpose to protect and restore the ancient lake. The efforts of this committee did not go in vain.
See Mono Lake CA Before the Tufa are Gone
Today, thanks to the citizens of California and the California State Water Resources Control Board, a law has been put in place to protect Mono Lake. So over 20 years, its water level is expected to rise about 17 feet. This will cover many of the tufa towers once again . Therefore, if you are interested in seeing these unique formations, go to Mono Lake CA soon! Pack your camera, and enjoy the experience before the landscape changes significantly.
In the end, even though the tufa towers of Mono Lake delayed our arrival to Yosemite National Park by a couple of hours, we were thrilled we made this worthwhile stop!
Additional Resources about the Area
- Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve Website (Check out this website, and find out about camping, boating, swimming, and other fun activities at Mono Lake CA.)
- Mono Lake Committee Website (Here, you can see the current water level of the lake, and read about the future plans.)
- Tioga Road and Sentinel Dome (Discover what you can see further down Tioga Road, which will take you from Mono Lake to the northern part of Yosemite National Park.)
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all pictures in this post were taken by me, Vessy, with my Nikon D60 camera. I always shoot on Manual Mode, and the only edits I do at times are: cropping, increasing the saturation, and sharpening the images if needed.
If you like this post, pin it!