Lake Mono and its alien landscape. California. USA
There are many beautiful, amazing, sometimes frightening, sometimes mysterious places on Earth. Some evoke a sense of harmony, others fear. But in any case, they are worthy of attention.
Now we are going to tell you about an interesting relic lake called Mono. It is located in the middle part of California, close to its eastern border with Nevada, between Yosemite National Park on the left and Inyo National Wildlife Refuge on the right.
Lake Mono on a map
- Geographical coordinates 38.004984, -119.000509
- Distance from the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C. About 3,650 kilometers in a straight line
- The nearest small airport, Lee Vining, is located 1.5 kilometers from the shore of the lake in its southwestern part
Mono Lake fills the crater of an ancient volcano and is undrained. Most of the water enters the lake with precipitation, and several small streams flow into the body of water. But no river or stream originates in the lake. Most of the water evaporates naturally from the surface. These factors explain why Mono Lake is salty, with about 2-2.5 times more salt dissolved in the water than in the ocean. The alkalinity of the reservoir exceeds that of the World Ocean by 80 times.
The salinity of the famous Dead Sea on the border of Israel and Jordan increased in the same way. But here it is much higher than in Mono Lake. If you do not already know about the Dead Sea, be sure to read the article about this body of water, in which it is almost impossible to drown.
Lake Mono in numbers
- Maximum length of about 21 kilometers
- Width up to 15 kilometers
- Surface area 18,265 hectares
- Volume of water estimated at 3.66 km3
- Height above sea level 1946 meters
- Average depth 17 and maximum 48 meters
In the water area of the lake there are two large and several small islands. In the middle is the largest island of Paoja, and a little north of it the second largest island of Negit. Both islands appeared as a result of volcanic activity, and geologists believe that in the beginning (about 2000 years ago) came Neguith, and then Paoha (during the earthquake over 350 years ago).
Lake Mono was formed about 760,000 years ago. Geologists have determined from the sediments at the bottom of the body of water that it is very likely part of a much older body of water that covered the states of Utah and Nevada. In ancient times, scientists estimate, the lake was much larger and deeper. Ancient shorelines have been found in the vicinity, with an estimated depth of about 270 meters. Over hundreds of thousands of years, the water level has dropped significantly.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, work began to increase the water supply to the major metropolitan area of the Los Angeles region. Water was diverted to the city from surrounding rivers, so the level of Mono Lake began to drop dramatically. By the middle of the century it had become so shallow that Negeath Island became a peninsula, and lime-tuff pillars emerged from the water. These formations were formed from deposits of calcium carbonate. The scenery is truly alien and has become practically a trademark of Mono Lake.
The national government was not interested in protecting Mono Lake as a natural monument, but the Mono Lake Committee (an environmental organization founded in 1978 to preserve the ecosystem of the lake of the same name) won a lawsuit in 1983 to protect the lake in the California Supreme Court. The court ruling required that water withdrawals from the rivers that feed the lake be reduced. But it wasn’t until 1994 that the water level in the lake began to rise little by little.
The flora and fauna of Mono Lake
Despite the fact that common fish and algae cannot live in the lake, there is still life here. The lake is home to single-celled algae and small crustaceans that have adapted to the harsh environment. These crustaceans have become the main food of numerous migratory and local birds. On the shores of the lake sometimes gathers up to 2 million birds of 35 species. The main species are the lapwing, sandpiper, American pintail, and California gull.
Birds of Mono Lake
A large colony of birds was located on the island of Negit. But when it joined the shore due to the shallowing of the lake, carnivorous predators rushed to the island, which in a short time ruined most of the birds’ nests. It was very important to raise the water level of Mono Lake to preserve the bird population. For now, thanks to the Mono Lake Committee, Negit is once again an island and the birds are not threatened by predators.
- The maximum salinity level was recorded in January 1982, when the lake reached its lowest level, and was 99 g/L (the average salinity of the World Ocean is about 31.5 g/L). Since then, the water level in Mono Lake has been rising little by little. The salinity is now about 69 g/l.
- According to limnology (or lake science – the science that studies lakes) the reservoir contains about 280 million tons of dissolved salts
- In 2009, scientists discovered a unique bacilliform extremophilic bacteria codenamed GFAJ-1 in the lake’s water. This strain has adapted to the lake’s extreme conditions, and is causing increased interest among scientists. According to them, the presence of such bacteria in nature could provide evidence for the existence of life on other planets
Mono Lake photo.
Lake Mono’s lime and tuff pillars
Lake Mono in California – How we went to Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve in the United States
Lake Mono ( Mono Lake ) in the USA is one of the unique landmarks of California, a large salt water basin on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The lake is believed to be over a million years old, making it the oldest lake in North America. While planning our California itinerary, we learned that Mono Lake is very convenient to visit while heading from Yosemite Park toward Death Valley or north to Lake Tahoe. Most of all, Mono Lake is famous for its tufa pillars, which stand in the water and amaze everyone with their bizarre shapes. In this article, I’ll talk about how to come see Mono Lake and our experience with this unique lake.
Mono Lake ( Mono Lake ) in California is a salt lake in the Eastern Sierra located in the high desert at 1945 meters above sea level. Despite its shallow depth (an average of 17 meters) and the lack of resort hotels on its shores, it has become popular among tourists for its unusual composition of water. Lake Mono has twice as much salt as the ocean. And the famous tufa pillars (a type of limestone) give it even more mystery.
Lake Mono is near the border of California and Nevada
The famous tufa pillars became visible as a result of the gradual shallowing of the lake
The high salt levels in Mono Lake are due to the fact that no river flows out of the lake. And many streams from the Sierra Nevada mountains supply it with mineral-rich water. It then gradually evaporates and salt accumulates in the lake.
Surrounding Mono Lake are the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada. They feed the lake with water
Panorama of Lake Mono
Salt Lake Mono and the tufa pillars on the shore
I think Mono Lake is both similar to the Dead Sea in Israel in terms of salt levels, as well as Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia, which also contains salty ocean water and is high in the Andes. But it doesn’t look at all like the nearest large freshwater Lake Tahoe.
We finally arrived at Mono Lake!
I must say that there are quite a few salt lakes in the arid areas of California and Nevada. Such as Salton Sea near Palm Springs or Pyramid Lake. They are all part of an ancient sea that dried up, just as the Aral Sea is drying up now, and left deserts behind. Many national parks are just at the bottom of such lakes, for example Death Valley is the bottom of ancient Lake Manley.
The beautiful landscape resembles a small castle.
The Mono Basin area is the remains of Mono Lake, the way it was in the past. Mono Lake is now shrinking every year and as we walked along its shore we saw the marks of what the boundaries of the lake were in the 40’s when water from the lake was trying to be brought to Los Angeles.
How to get there
Mono Lake is located along Route 395 at its intersection with Routes 167 and 120 (Tioga Pass Rd). We’ve traveled through California several times before and even passed Mono Lake when we left Yosemite Park on the Tioga Road and drove to Death Valley. On another road trip across the US, we did decide to check out Mono Lake, but this time, after three days in Yosemite, we drove north toward Tahoe.
To compare prices from different car rental companies, there’s a good website at www.rentalcars.com
We used it ourselves when we rented a car in New York, and were very happy with it!
Driving directions to Mono Lake
This is what Mono Lake looks like from the south shore (from South Tufa)
Distances to Mono Lake from popular attractions and cities:
- From Yosemite Valley – 80 miles, 2 hours
- From Yosemite border, 6 miles.
- Lake Tahoe: 110 miles, 2 hours
- from Death Valley – 250 miles, 5 hours
- from Sequoia – 390 miles, 7 hours
- from Joshua Tree – 370 miles, 6.5 hours
- to Grand Canyon – 620 miles, 10 hours
- From Lee Vining, 2 miles.
- from Carson City – 105 miles, 2 hours
- From Sacramento, 215 miles, 4 hours.
- from Lone Pine – 125 miles, 2.5 hours
- From Bishop, 70 miles, 1.5 hours.
- From Las Vegas, 330 miles, 6 hours.
- San Francisco, 300 miles, 6 hours.
- From Los Angeles – 340 miles, 6 hours
Mono Lake photo.
Where to sleep overnight
If you’re going to spend the night near Mono Lake, it’s worth choosing a hotel in the nearby town of Lee Vining ( link ). This place is great for travelers who have already seen Yosemite, or just going to enter it via Tayoga Pass. And of course, it’s very convenient after visiting California’s most famous national park to watch the sunset on Lake Mono and spend the night here in Lee Vining.
- We recommend a hotel with good reviews – Lake View Lodge
But our trip across the United States took us farther north, to Lake Tahoe. So after sunset at Mono Lake, we drove on and stopped in Carson City, the capital of Nevada. We took a cheap discounted room at the Motel 6 ($43, no breakfast) just to spend the night and continue our U.S. trip early in the morning.
If you need to go south, there are a few towns with hotels – Lone Pine, Bishop, Independence, and the nearby towns of Death Valley – Olancha and Ridgecrest.
Visitor Center and Cost of Attendance
When planning a trip to Mono Lake, it’s worth knowing that this lake is quite large, and you need to choose where to go beforehand. Because there are several points where you can drive up close to it, and they are pretty far apart.
- The Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center is located in the town of Lee Vining on Route 395.
Important to know: Mono Lake is a California State Natural Park – Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve . However, the lake itself is in the larger Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, which includes both the lake itself and the volcanic field nearby. Thus, Mono Lake is managed by two entities, the state of California and the state represented by the national forest staff.
Convenient trail to Mono Lake
Information kiosk where you can buy a brochure about the lake and pay to visit
- There is only one pay zone within Mono Lake National Park – South Tufa Area . This is the place where you can see the pillars and the entire tufa forts; it is the most popular part of the park. The cost of the visit is $3. You can pay for your visit yourself at the entrance to the trail to the lake.
- However, with an Annaul Pass annual pass to all U.S. national parks, you can see Mono Lake for free. In this, it’s similar to Redwood National Park, which includes three California state parks whose visit must be paid for separately. But if you already have an annual pass (an annual pass to all U.S. national parks), admission is free.
We had the annual pass just right, since we usually visit a lot more than 4-5 parks in one trip. And it is under these conditions that the pass fully pays for itself and saves well on admission fees, as it costs $80 .
Against the backdrop of the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada
What to see in Mono Lake
Mono Lake will be of interest to all nature lovers who like to travel by car in the United States. The closest equipped access to the lake is the Old Marina . There is a small collection of tuffs at the marina, as well as a spectacular view of the marshes. The drive from Lee Vining is not far at all, only 1 mile. There is also a 1.2 mile trail.
Map of Mono Lake.
A little further north is the State Reserve Boardwalk , which you can walk over the marsh to the lake shore.
It’s nice when there is no wind on the lake. Then the reflections of the tuffs in the water are most beautiful
We took Route 395 a little south from Lee Vining and turned onto Route 120, which leads to the largest collection of tuffs on Mono Lake, the South Tufa Area. As I said, it’s a fee area. But we had our annual pass, so we didn’t have to spend extra.
The road is 120 well paved, but at the end you have to take a dusty dirt road to get to the parking lot by the lake. The Toyota Camry sedan we rented at LAX was easy to drive. The other dirt roads in the park are intended – only for four-wheel drive vehicles.
A diagram of the roads around Mono Lake.
Time permitting, it would be worth stopping by Panum Crater, the youngest crater in the Mono volcanic chain. You can climb to the top of the crater via a trail. But we were in a hurry to get to the lake at sunset, so we drove straight to the tuffs.
In the background are the cones of the volcano chain
The tuffs grow not only out of water, but also out of the ground. More precisely, once it was the bottom of the lake. And they are being exposed more and more, while the shores of the lake are shrinking
As we wandered past the amazing geological formations of Mono Lake, the sun gradually set. We saw several markers that marked the lake shoreline in different years: it should be noted that the lake is indeed rapidly disappearing.
All these little white tufa towers used to be underwater geysers, but now just stand as salt columns on the shore or above the water. Some are grouped into general story lines, some stand alone above the lake surface.
Ensemble over the water.
There are bushes growing among the tuffs.
California’s fall colors.
Even in lifeless deserts there is beauty
Closer to sunset, the shores of Lake Mono were crowded with tourists from Korea with photo booths. We came with our own tripods, but compared to these short and frail girls, we seemed like mere amateurs.
They were all rushing around looking for the best spot to take pictures of the sunset, and we just admired how the lake and the sky was turning purple and the tuff poles sticking out of the water turned from sugar heads to marshmallow crème brûlée.
The tuffs can be big, and they can also be quite small.
Like ruined walls.
We didn’t wait for the very moment of sunset at Mono Lake, but hurried to our hotel (it was about a two-hour drive). Its fading rays illuminated the surface of the lake very beautifully, and for the last time we could not resist and took a picture.
And then, as we drove down the road on highway 395 north, I realized that we were wrong after all, and we had to wait until dark: the sky turned bright red, and the lake itself turned blue-blue, almost dark purple. The sight was stunning.
Dusk descends over Mono Lake
Reflection of the limestone castle
Mountains and pillars of tuff.
But we were in a hurry to Nevada, where we were beginning a new phase of our U.S. adventure. We drove to the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, which is in Nevada, and then to that state’s only national park, Great Basin.