We stumbled upon Mono Lake after our trip to Yosemite National Park and I found myself absolutely in awe of the place. It had such an unusual beauty it drew me in and enveloped me in its spell.
When Mark Twain visited Mono Lake in the 1860s he called it a “lifeless, treeless, hideous desert… the loneliest place on earth.” Yes it probably lacks classic majestic beauty however many people failed to notice the extremely complex and productive ecosystem that Mono Lake has.
Here is my impression of this strange Californian wonder…
Nestled at the edge of the arid Great Basin and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in California, you’ll find Mono Lake. Eerie, weird and strange.
An ancient saline lake that covers over 70 square miles and supports a unique and productive ecosystem.
The lake has no fish; instead it is home to trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies.
Along the lakeshore, scenic limestone formations known as tufa towers rise from the water’s surface.
Millions of migratory birds visit the lake each year.
Its 700,000 years old
One of the oldest continuously existing lakes on the US continent
It’s naturally salty and alkaline because it has no outlet
A geologist’s paradise.
It’s ringed by volcanoes, new and old.
Upon first glance, it would seem that Mono Lake is lifeless.
Far from it, Mono supports a simple but amazingly productive food chain.
At the bottom of that chain are microscopic, single-celled algae. The algae serves as food for two other species–brine shrimp and brine flies which, in turn, serve as the major food source for literally millions of water birds.
There then are the intriguing tufa towers. Some of which are up to 30 ft. high
We found this lake by the off chance as we were driving over the Tioga pass towards Death Valley and decided to go see it. I am so glad we did. It has a lot of interesting history and the views are unlike any other.
The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Centre is a great place to start your visit to this area. The centre is located just off Highway 395, north of Lee Vining and includes exhibits about both the natural and human history of the Mono Basin. The phone number for the visitor centre is 760.647.6331.
Just off Highway 395 … 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, you will find Mono Lake, California. It is well worth the drive to see this strange place. Access to 395 from the park is easiest via Highway 120 over the Tioga Pass, which is also worth driving through. A reminder though, Tioga Pass is closed during the winter and, usually, most of the spring.
For more on nearby Yosemite and the best hikes in the area – Check out: The 8 Greatest Hikes in Yosemite.