Mono Lake Tufa National State Reserve
Lee Vining, Lee Vining, CA, USA
www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=514 - (760) 647-6331
Mono Lake Tufa National State Reserve Lee Vining Reviews
protruding dramatic tufa towers, only @ Mono Lake! Aug 13, 2014
The first time I saw a photo of Mono Lake's towering objects, I thought they were snow because of their glistening white color in the pictures. I found out later; these were not pile of snow, but one of geological features called “tufa.” But wait, aren’t these kinds of limestone supposed to be under the sea? My curiosity led us to visit this amazing state reserve!
Driving through CA 395 at the majestic slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains this is one destination I must say one should not miss. For travelers seeking Sierra Nevada’s quiet and peaceful refuge, Mono Lake is a nature haven. Mono Lake is best for children and adults alike.
There are two interesting characteristics of Mono Lake; the alkaline content and the immerging out tufa like rocky aquatic stalagmites, around its shore or seemingly islands in the middle of the lake.
Mono Lake, considered to be one of the oldest (like million year old) inland sea in California (if not in the entire U.S.) is a body of salty water! With no outlet, this lake waters is even saltier than the ocean with salt getting higher so does its pH level.
The good news is the high concentration of saline waters in Mono Lake sustain generous food for a flock of birds – both migratory and resident. Growing algae in the lake provide nutrients to billions of brine shrimp and alkali flies, which results in ample food supplies for water birds. However, no fish can live in Mono Lake's salty, alkaline waters.
A pleasant family activity here is bird-watching, and I would say around the Fall Season is the best time because this is the peak season for migration of one million water birds like ducks, geese, gulls, and many more. Trivia: About 47% of the world migratory birds’ population flocked at Mono Lake every Fall Season.
Another interesting feature of Mono Lake is the geological formation of limestone tufa towers that rise out of a shrinking lake. Minor features are volcanic islands, glaciated canyons and the youngest volcanic chain in North America.
Viewing the lake at the viewpoint or on the boardwalk, one cannot stop wondering why under the sea object like a tufa is seemingly parading either in the middle of the lake or by the lakeshore.
Here is a brief explanation: There was a time when Los Angeles County start to divert water (via huge water pipes of course) from Mono Lake to use as the city’s source of water. Before a water diversion took place Mono Lake’s natural shoreline used to be at 6,417 feet above sea level. Over time, the lake fell to only 6,372 feet, its lowest point, and that’s in the ‘80s. One of the worst effects of the lake’s fall is the immerging of tufa on surface! Affected too were microscopic algae, brine shrimp and the migratory birds as well.
In late 70s, a concerted effort from environmentalist and naturalist groups to conserve water levels. The process went very dramatic with court-hearing and all. Luckily, the effort went into effect and since then water levels have continuously risen to today’s 6,382 feet, but it might take more decades for the lake to return to its pre-diversion size or water level.
In the meantime, let us enjoy the fascinating and almost mysterious, protruding, dramatic tufa towers.
I recommend taking a free walking tour which we did a couple of times on three different viewing shores. A stop at the visitor's center brushed up my children’s lake knowledge about the tufa and Mono Lake's ecosystem. Free brochures are available at the information center.
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