Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mono Lake

Mono Lake is a saline lake and wildlife habitat, located at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, bordering the Great Basin in Nevada. The Mono Lake Committee, a non-profit citizen's group dedicated to the protection and restoration of Mono Lake, is located in Lee Vining, CA. Mono Lake's current state is a result of it's tributary streams being diverted (starting in 1941) to feed the growing need for water in Los Angeles. As a result, the water levels in Mono Lake continued to drop as the salinity of the lake continued to increase. There are no fish that live in Mono Lake, only brine shrimp. Mono Lake is a nesting ground for the California Gull and is a stop for millions of migratory birds. Embracing 14 different ecological zones, over 1000 plant species, and roughly 400 recorded vertebrate species within its watershed, Mono Lake and its surrounding basin encompass one of California's richest natural areas (source: Mono Lake Committee.)

Tufa formations in Mono Lake.

One of the unique features of Mono Lake is the tufa formations exposed when the lake levels decreased. The tufas are calcium carbonate deposits which formed in Mono Lake from alcium-bearing spring water flowing into the alkaline lake. These are quite an odd looking sight and are also noticeable wheny flying over Mono Lake. There are also other ways the tufas have formed in Mono Lake, but the tufa towers are, essentially, limestone deposits. In 1981, the California legislature established the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, part of the California State Parks. The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center is located off Highway 395, at the north end of Lee Vining. The visitor center features a variety of exhibits about the natural and human history of the area. Lee Vining also offers the Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore, as well as the Mono Basin Historical Society Museum. A great place to explore is the Mono Lake County Park, 5 miles north of Lee Vining. The park offers trails and a boardwalk so you can easily explore the flora and fauna of Mono Lake.

Lee Vining is a good place to make your base in order to explore Mono Lake, the nearby ghost town of Bodie, and Yosemite National Park. Lee Vining is dubbed as the "Gateway to Yosemite" as it is near the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite. I will share more details about Lee Vining in a future post.


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