Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve

Well this is my 100th post, apparently. Quite fitting that I’m going to be sharing our trip to what might be one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited – Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve.

Mono Lake is the largest natural lake completely within California – it’s in the town of Lee Vining, the region near the east entrance to Yosemite National Park – I’d spotted some photos of it in our guide book, so on the day that we drove across the Tioga Road Pass, we decided to head on over to Mono Lake when we reached the east side of the park.

It certainly wasn’t a disappointment.

This place is a geologist’s dream, with an abundance of tufa towers scattered along its shores.

You’ll find the majority of them at the South Tufa Grove, just off of Hwy 120 East, at the south end of Mono Lake.

They’re basically limestone towers that form underwater. Calcium-rich underwater springs mix with carbonates in the lakewater, producing calcium carbonate that precipitates out around the spring. Over the course of many years – centuries even – these tufa towers develop. Reportedly they can grow to 30 feet high or even greater.

Apparently the reason we can see so many of them these days, is because of water diversions back in 1941 that caused the water level to fall.

They were just amazing to see, and we were really the only two people there that day – being Christmas, the town was mostly closed as it usually is in the winter season, so there was minimal tourist activity going on! The only reason we happened to be there was due to the bizarrely warm weather that allowed Tioga Road Pass to remain open.

Just a word of warning, though. Unless you’re looking for a decent walk down to the shores of the lake, don’t park at the Visitor Center. Instead, continue along Hwy 395, heading closer toward the lake – about a mile further on, there’s a sharp right turn that takes you to a tiny parking area (I think it was the first right turn off 395, beyond the visitor center). You can walk to the shore from here – it’s only a couple of hundred feet. If you park at the visitor center, it’s about 3/4 mile down to the shore – you can walk it, and 3/4 mile isn’t long, but this is quite an adventure since you’re wandering between bushes (as we discovered). It’s not a nice pathway! So take the other option if you want an easier route, or if you’re strapped for time.

But if you’re in the region, please don’t miss out on checking the lake out. It’s definitely worth the trip – whether or not you’re wandering amongst the bushes!


9 responses to “Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve

  1. I was so excited to see the post on Mono Lake because it was always one of my favorite places. But I haven’t been there since 1986 and was aghast to see how little is left. Erosion has significantly diminished the tufa towers. Thanks for the photos, though.

    • Thanks for stopping by! Glad I was able to revive some memories – sad to hear that the towers are so eroded though. They must have looked quite spectacular back when you last saw them. Still an impressive sight, and I’m glad we were able to catch a visit.

  2. Beautiful pics.
    And I’d never heard of the limestone towers before. Very neat!
    Is there any life in the lake?

  3. Beautiful–and right in my backyard. California has so many beautiful natural areas. I love taking road trips around.

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