Mono Lake is not the place to find ski boats or water sports. It is a unique body of water sitting at the base of Yosemite National Park. To the north is the historic ghost town of Bodie and to the south, the high desert town of Bishop, the gateway to Mammoth Lakes.
Mono Lake is unique because it is one of North America's oldest lakes. It has no outlet so as water runs into it; the mineral content raises creating alkaline water. It is too alkaline for fish to survive but supports it own ecosystem for migrating birds. It also has a population of brine shrimp unequaled by no other body of water. It is an active volcanic area with hot springs and steam vents. While all that is impressive, its claim to fame is the tufa.
Tufa is a Latin word for porous rock. Tufa is formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate rich lake water. As the springs bubble up, it creates deposits that grow upward under water. The lake level has dropped significantly since 1941 when the rivers that feed the lake were diverted for drinking water in Southern California. As the water receded, the tufa was it was exposed leaving towering columns of rock. It has been mandated that the water level of the lake be restored to the level it was in 1951. This will take time as a quick influx of water will change the chemical consistency of the lake, putting the brine shrimp, the alkali fly population and the migratory birds in danger of extinction.
There is a Visitor's Center in the town of Lee Vining. It not only describes the tufa but explains the history of the lake and the species that inhabit it. The museum is free. The lake is managed by the National Park Service and they are very willing to answer any and all questions. There is also a separate site on the south side of the lake known as South Tufa. Here visitors are allowed to walk through the tufa beds. It is a loop trail most people can navigate easily although it is not wheel chair accessible. However, there is a boardwalk reaching almost to the shore so no one is denied a close-up view of the tufa itself.
Swimming is allowed in the lake at designated beaches. The National Park Service states swimming in the lake “offers a delightfully buoyant swimming experience”. The high salt concentration makes it almost to sink. They do point out that because of the alkaline content, it is important to keep it out of your eyes.
Camping is not permitted at the lake but there are many campgrounds in the general area. There are several picnic areas and restrooms around the lake itself. Each provides a spectacular view of the lake and the volcanic activity. The island in the center of the lake is closed to the public from April 1st through August 1st to protect the seagulls nesting there. Some boating is allowed and permits must be obtained at the Visitor Center.
Visitors come from around the world to visit this unique lake. The lake is flanked by the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Sierra Nevada's to the west. The views are spectacular from any direction. Mono Lake should not be missed. It is an impressive demonstration of nature at its best.