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Posted by on Aug 26, 2015 | 64 comments

The Tufa Towers of Mono Lake

We almost missed it.

After reaching US-395, we drove straight to the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center. I was able to appreciate the grandness of the lake while waiting in line to talk to one of the rangers.

“The Tufa Reserve is about 5 miles from here,” the ranger said while marking with a yellow pen the route on the map.

We got into the car again as quickly as possible.  We felt thin raindrops falling over our faces before we were able to enter our vehicle.  During the entire day, the sun kept playing hide and seek with the clouds.

Later during the day, a thick layer of haze was covering the entire sky.  We aimed to make it to our destination before the downpour.

But, the Eastern Sierra is full of scenic sights. After driving only one mile south, I saw the signs pointing to June Lake.

“Uh,” I said to myself, “I have never been to June Lake.”  One second after that thought, I asked my husband to turn right.

Well, we stopped at all the lakes in the loop and got out of the car to eat in the small town which bears the name of the area.

It was obvious that my husband was done for the day. I kept mentioning Mono Lake but he consciously, or unconsciously, decided to ignore me.

To make things more frustrating, I couldn’t find any information about closing hours.  A quick search on my phone’s browser revealed zero information. Rain kept threatening the entire experience.

Finally, we made it to the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve at 5:00 p.m. (don’t asked me how I convinced my husband to move!)

There is nobody monitoring the reserve, so, I guess it is open from sunrise to sunset.

What I saw left me speechless.  There was a reason (a hunch) why I wanted to stop by this place so badly.

A Story of Survival

Mono Lake is ancient. It was formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake on a basin that allows no outflow to other external bodies of water. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline.

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp that thrive in its waters, and provides critical nesting habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and blackflies (that also feed on the shrimp).

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

Even with all the unique characteristics that describe the lake, the City of Los Angeles started to divert its water in the ‘40s. So much water was diverted that evaporation soon exceeded inflow and the surface level of Mono Lake fell rapidly.

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

In 1974, graduate student David Gaines studied the Mono Lake ecosystem, and he became instrumental in alerting the public of the effects of the lower water level. Gaines formed the Mono Lake Committee in 1978. He and Sally Judy, another student, led the committee and pursued an informational tour of California.

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

In was not until 1994, that the California State Water Resources Control Board issued an order to protect Mono Lake and its tributary streams.  Other lakes in the area have dried up after years of water diversion.

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

That is why in my opening statement I said that we almost missed the lake.

Tufa Towers

Tufa forms under Mono Lake’s waters. When freshwater springs rich in calcium bubble up through the carbonate-rich lake water, the calcium and carbonates react to form a salt deposit, which is called a tufa.  This solid, limestone-like material continues to develop, eventually forming towers.

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

A lot of the formations we see nowadays were uncovered when the water level dropped due to the water diversion the lake experienced.

The tufa creation process continues under the surface and, sometimes, it can be appreciated from the shoreline.  The fresh water will look like oil over the salty water.  When the lake is calm, new crystals can be observed close to the areas where the springs are located.

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

Those clouds that felt so threatening during the entire day proved to be the perfect complement to the tufa formation.  Just take a look at the photos.

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

I was impressed at how tall some of the formations were.  The lake was still like a mirror.  That made the reflections on the surface crisp and clear.

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

I find funny that my husband was very impressed with the surroundings.  He kept repeating:  “I can’t believe we almost passed by.”

Importance to Birds

Mono Lake is a vital resting and eating stop for migratory shorebirds. Nearly 2,000,000 water birds, including 35 species of shorebirds, use Mono Lake to rest and eat for at least part of the year.

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

 

Tufa formations at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

Do not miss it

This is a highly recommended place.  Do not miss it if you are in the area.  By the way, the Eastern Sierra is full of treasures.  The different visitor’s center in the area provided information on what to do and where to go.  You can always search for information about Mono and Inyo counties.

Details

  • The State Reserve can be visited during day hours.
  • It is difficult to find exact directions to the Reserve using a GPS.  The GPS will direct you to the Visitor’s Center but that is not where you want to go.  To go to the reserve, you need to take CA-120 West (sometimes called Mono Lake Basin Rd, located south of the 395 / CA-120 East junction). Then, turn left at Test Station Rd (you are going to see signs).  Be careful since you are going to be driving on unpaved roads.
  • You can ask for exact directions at the Visitor’s Center.
  • Nobody seems to monitor the entrance of vehicles and people.  Therefore, you can visit late if the sun is still up.
  • Payment is on the honor system ($3) per person.  You put your money on an envelop and deposit on a box. I urge you to pay your fees.  This fragile ecosystem depends a lot on us.
  • RESPECT the environment.  It is obvious that the tufa formations should not be climbed or damaged.  There are signs all over the place instructing visitors what NOT to do.  However, some people do not understand that they are visiting an unique place.  I saw teenagers rupturing the formations and playing with the pieces.  Their mom watched them in action and didn’t say anything.  You have no idea of how angry I felt.
  • Authorities and protecting organizations take note.  Maybe specialized personnel should be on site taking care of the area.

What do you think of the Tufa Towers? 

Pin it for later?

The magnificent Tufa Towers of Mono Lake, Lee Vining, California

 

 

64 Comments

  1. You know what’s amazing in all these photos – the sky. The amount the colour changes, and then changes back is incredible. I did not know any of that about the limestone, but I realise now I’ve seen it (but just thought it was weird rocks…)
    Lydia C. Lee recently posted..Sisterhood of the World Travelling BloggersMy Profile

    • I think a lot of us have seen this type of rock in one way or another. They are related to karst (which are big limestone formations) which can be found in places like Halong Bay. Another name given to them is travertine. These can be found in rivers or hot springs. In this case, it just happens that the formations look like spires and other cool structures.

    • Lyndall, that is exactly why this place is so unique. I will even say there is no other place in the world like it.

    • I know. The place is totally cool!

    • I am so happy this lake was saved. I can’t imagine a place like this lost. Sadly, other places around didn’t share the same fate.

    • A great find indeed. I want to go back already. I want to see if I can visit during a part of the day with more light. Or, I may want to catch a more dramatic sunset.

  2. Thanks Ruth for sharing your wonderful photos of Mono Lake, another place I haven’t heard of but now want to visit! I’m glad that even after a few wrong turnings you managed to find it. What a special place and it looks like it’s out of this world! Thanks for sharing on #MondayEscapes
    Ting at My Travel Monkey recently posted..Holiday Snapshots #38 MunichMy Profile

  3. I grew up in CA and never have heard of that lake! The formations look fascinating, and it doesn’t look like there are too many tourists to contend with?
    lana recently posted..Doodling with Gemma CorrellMy Profile

    • You will agree that California has the power to surprise. There are so many wonders in the state. Yeah, the place was almost ours. Few people here and there scattered around.

    • That is a good way to describe it. What we are going to do with our husbands? I like your idea of leaving him doing his thing while you go away to explore.

    • Thanks for stopping by Stephanie! Glad you liked the photos.

    • The clouds that threaten the activities of the day ended up being our best allies at the time of taking pictures.

  4. What a fascinating place – I enjoyed the facts and information in your blog, and the pictures of the rock formations are stunning.
    Ruth recently posted..Sydney Harbour BridgeMy Profile

    • Thanks Ruth! It is always a pleasure to share awesome places like this.

  5. Stunning captures Ruth! The rock formations are amazing and the reflections on the water are so pretty. Lovely set of photos! – Tasha
    Natasha recently posted..Photo Friday: Capturing LightMy Profile

    • Thanks Tasha! The reflections really stunned me. I could have stayed there for the rest of the day.

    • I have to admit the clouds add a different feeling to the scene. I will like to see how every thing looks on a sunny day.

    • Oh wow! That is another good way to describe the place. I guess Star Trek or The Planet of the Apes could have been filmed here.

  6. I can still remember my first glimpses of Mono Lake – it really is an other-worldly place, isn’t it? Actually, all of the Eastern Sierra – I miss it all terribly. We have got to get back there again soon.

    Thank you for joining us again this week for Photo Friday!
    Jen recently posted..Photo Friday – Hurricane KatrinaMy Profile

    • Jen, I know the feeling. I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of the Sierra. I want to visit next month to see the fall colors.

  7. The Tufa Towers are such unique structures and the way they were formed is quite unique as well. It looks like a nice place to explore! Thanks for sharing!
    Constance – Foreign Sanctuary recently posted..Back to the GrindstoneMy Profile

    • Great! I know you guys will love Mono Lake. It is truly a special place.

  8. I’ve never heard of this place but it should be on the cover of all travel magazines! What a unique place. I think I’d have to be dragged away–all the while, still snapping shots!
    bettyl – NZ recently posted..happy frolicking lambsMy Profile

    • Betty, I know. It is just so pretty. Agree that California’s Eastern Sierra should be featured more often in travel magazines.

  9. These photos are stunning! Looks like a wonderful place. I love all the facts and history.
    Christen Tyre recently posted..CurrentlyMy Profile

    • The photos are great but I couldn’t leave the story behind. It was a place that was almost lost. It feels good to celebrate that we still have it.

    • I think everything looks in a good state since it was underwater for a long period of time. I hope it remains in a good condition for many more years.

  10. Interesting post, Ruth! Growing up in California, I had heard of Mono Lake, but I didn’t know about the tufa towers. Very cool. I agree with you that there should be personnel dedicated to conservation at this place.
    Karen recently posted..Historic Macau Part 1: Churches and TemplesMy Profile

    • The tufa towers are the crown of the lake. Even though they are amazing, the lake can be enjoyed in other forms. There are several parks surrounding it. Plus, there are opportunities to kayak around the formations.

  11. So, those tufa towers were once underwater? You weren’t kidding when you said the lake was drying up. Those towers are cool looking, and I like the science behind how they were created. Thanks for linking up with #WkendTravelInspiration.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Great Day in the BadlandsMy Profile

    • Yes, they were once underwater. Actually, signs on the site describe them as petrified springs. The science behind the formations is definitely cool.

    • Thanks Gunilla. I think i am in love with every single photo in here.

  12. Wow…those are some unbelievable rock formations! Gorgeous photos! Oh and I hate it when people don’t respect the environment…we see it often in national parks here too where people just leave their rubbish around in spite of so many signs telling them not to.
    Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life recently posted..Book Review: The Fictional WomanMy Profile

  13. Ha – don’t you love those ‘I told you so moments’ 🙂 It must have been annoying to be racing the rain but those clouds have really made these shots interesting!
    Thanks for linking up for #wednesdaywanderlust
    Malinda @mybrownpaperpackages recently posted..Friday Favourite The Art of JoyMy Profile

    • I kept saying: “I told you were going to like it.” It was funny to see my husband taking tons of photos (that is king of rare).

    • Yes, I have never been in a place like these. I am happy about having follow my hunch.

  14. That is a neat lake and great formations.

    • Glad you liked it Abrianna. Thanks for stopping by!

    • I guess it was my lucky day. There are other times when the sunset is clearer and the sky turn into pink and orange colors.

  15. Ruth, I have been to Mono Lake, and the day we were there looked very similar to your day with threatening clouds. We didn’t stay long, but I would love to go back and photograph the sunset. So pretty!
    Corinne recently posted..Weekend Travel Inspiration – Moslih Eddin SaadiMy Profile

    • Good to know you have visited! Seems like nobody knows about this lake. I also want to go back.

    • I know! At least, we agreed that the last moment push to make it there was worthwhile. I think magical is the correct way to describe the setting.

  16. Hi Ruth,
    You have some exceptionally beautiful photos of this strange lake. I’ve been there last year in February, when it was cold and snowy, and the place looks totally different.

    • I am sure the views on the lake depend on the season and on the time of the day it is visited. I will like to stop by several more times. It is a place that deserves more than one visit.
      Ruth recently posted..A Tour of the Yosemite ValleyMy Profile

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