Mono Lake, California

After living in California for 23 years, I can’t believe that it took living in Arizona to finally visit Mammoth Lakes & Mono Lake – back in California! We’ve been to Yosemite, but that park takes a few days of exploring to do it justice, so we never had time to drive the extra hour or so over to check out Mammoth. Most people seem to head there in the winter for skiing or snowboarding, but we’ve hung up our boots about 10 years ago, after coming to terms with the fact that we can’t stand the cold. So we headed to Mammoth in June instead, when most of the snow has melted and we were able to frolic outdoors without 50 layers of clothes on us.

When coming from out of state, flying into Reno, NV was the closest option since we wanted to see Mono Lake first – which was about a 2.5 hour drive south.

Our first stop with a vista from afar that didn’t warrant a photo, but this rail full of bumper stickers sure did! I love the red one that says “Keep Exploring”. Right on.


Not knowing any better, we stopped in at the first sign we saw for Mono Lake. There were a few tufas towers, but nothing like what I had seen in photos before. So we got this one great image of the entrance to the lake. (Drew will be so happy to see that I threw this image in!)


Not sure if this was sodium or calcium, but I wasn’t about to lick it to find out.

Driving south a bit further, we found the South Tufa entrance, and hallelujah! A lot more interesting tufa structures here. What are tufas you ask? They’re made of limestone, and grow underwater. The towers at Mono Lake used to all be underwater, but water diversion that happened in the 40’s caused the lake level to lower, thus exposing the tufas.




The lake is saline based, so not much can survive in its waters except for brine shrimp and alkali flies. Tons of birds flock here yearly to feed on the shrimp, while the native Kutzadika’a people used to feed on the fly larvae. Sometimes I fantasize about being a Native American back in the day, living off the land. And then I read things like this and think, nah, I like having a refrigerator.


On the inside sleeve of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album is an image called The Diver by Storm Thorgerson. It was taken here at Mono Lake.




Mono Lake was formed about 760,000 years ago and it sits along a volcanic chain called the Mono-Inyo Craters. The last eruption was about 350 years ago, forming Paoha Island in the middle of the lake.

We lucked out with a full moon rising that evening.



There were signs that said not to climb on the tufa towers, since it can cause erosion. But did these guys care? Guess not. I love landscape photography, but I can’t say that I would do anything to get that perfect shot. There are so many beautiful shots to be had already without having to contribute to the destruction of the very thing you want to photograph. But on the bright side, having these people up on the structures made for some great silhouette shots!


Mammoth Lakes to come in the next post! In the meantime, think about adding a day to your Yosemite trip to visit Mono Lake. It’s about a 30 minute drive, depending on where you are in the park. Get out there and keep exploring my friends!