Mono Lake Tufa Towers
Somewhere near the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California lies an out of this world vista worth a visit. We made a detour to Mono Lake last September 2010 while spending a weekend at Mammoth Mountain Resort. Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America and covers 65 square miles. Salts and minerals from the mountain streams have washed into the lake over the years. The freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left all these salt and minerals behind since it has no outlet.
The lake is now about 2.5 times as salty as the ocean. It is highly alkaline so no fish exist here. However, the most unique features here are the “tufa towers”. The magnificient “tufa towers” are calcium-carbonate spires formed as a result of freshwater from the mountain springs and the alkaline lake interacting.
It was located on a turnoff on Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park. The drive to the parking lot was rough and dusty with plenty of bumps. Although, our kids enjoyed the rather bumpy ride. Tickets to enter were $3 per adult and kids 16 and under were free since this was a state natural reserve park.
There was a small station to buy the tickets and to ask for information. The walk to the lake is short on a paved trail set in the midst of yellow wildflowers at the time we were there. The different exhibits along the way helped us understand the tufa origins and the lake’s history. The 1-mile trail took us along the shoreline and among the tufa towers.
Seeing the tufa groves was quite amazing. They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes. We decided to walk amongst the larger ones near the trail. They actually felt like coral when we touched them. Swarms of alkali flies were everywhere here. You may not notice them at first since they look like black ink spots or dirt on the rocks and tufa until they move. Be sure to bring bug spray.
If you have more time to spend at the lake, there were various activities that were available here for the entire family.
- Walks and Tours – Although we didn’t have the chance to participate, these are availabe to see the South Tufa area. During the summertime, naturalists lead walks and talks around the groves. See their schedules here.
- Kayaking and Canoeing – The calm waters make this an inviting way to sightsee and explore the lake. Though the islands are closed from April 1 – August 1 to protect nesting birds. There are a few places to rent canoes and kayaks at nearby towns.
- Photography – The unique scenery with the Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop is a haven for many photogrpahers. We saw many of them with their tripods on the shoreline.
- Bird Watching – This area is a protected bird habitat. There were plenty of birds around and kids will have wonderful time spotting the different varieties. So, be sure to pack the binoculars when visiting.
We spent over an hour here exploring the area and taking in the surroundings. Some have called this place “hauntingly beautiful” and I have to fully agree. There was something out-of-worldly and peaceful about sitting in one spot to admire the unusual scenery.
Has your family explored the Mono Lake Tufa Towers or this part of California before? Do you have other suggestions on activities around here?