Lake Mono, situated close to the CA 395, is about 14mi/23km southeast of the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park and about the same distance south of Bodie. This salt-water lake, 6,240ft/1,900m above sea level, is 13mi/21km wide and 8mi/13km long. Although several rivers flow into Lake Mono, it has no outlets, and is one of the oldest lakes in the world, having been formed perhaps 700,000 years ago.
In the water, which has a higher salt content than most lakes, only a few life forms can exist, mainly single-cell algae; these provide food for the salt-water flies and brine shrimp, which in turn are eaten by 70 kinds of migratory birds which reside on Lake Mono in spring and summer. These are mainly phalaropes (wading birds), grebes and Californian gulls. It is estimated that each year a million of these three species migrate through Lake Mono at various times. About 90% of all Californian born gulls are hatched on Lake Mono - especially on its volcanic island of Paoha and Negit Island.
Limestone turrets / Tufa Towers
Phenomena of a special kind are the limestone turrets known as tufa towers, most of which are to be found on the south bank. They are formed when the chalky spring water from the bed of the lake mixes with the very alkaline lake water. This forms limestone, and over the course of centuries curiously shaped turrets are formed where the springs enter the salt-water. This chemical process takes place only in the lake itself; when the water level falls and the turrets poke out of the water they cease to grow. Limestone turrets can be seen high above the present bank, and their age has been estimated at up to 13,000 years.
Fall in water-level
In the last 50 years the water-level of the lake has fallen by over 40ft/12m since Los Angeles began to tap four of the seven rivers which flow into Lake Mono. At the same time the salt content has doubled. In order to put a stop to any further danger of emptying the lake and completely changing the ecological system, legal steps have been taken after the city of Los Angeles had refused to listen to all compromise proposals. The effects of the struggle for water here in California can be seen at first hand.
The Visitor Center of the committee which is active in preserving the lake is in the neighboring town of Lee Vining.
Box 429, Lee Vining, CA 93541-0429, United States
Apr 15 to Sep 7: 8am-5:30pm
Useful tips: The scenic area is open 24 hours per day. Operating hours refer to the visitor center 1 mile north of Lee Vining.