Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Place that Never Ceases to Amaze: The Spring Face of Mono Lake

Mono Lake South Tufa

Date: May 16, 2018
Place: Mono Lake, South Tufa Nature Preserve, Lee Vining, California
Coordinates: 37.938774, -119.027170
Kength: about 1.3 miles
Level: easy

My friend had been to Mono Lake before. And so have I, many, many times, including in the middle of winter. Still, we were traveling by it, and of course we were going to visit again this magical wonderland.
Coming down from Bridgeport where we had enjoyed the Travertine Hot Springs earlier, we first stopped at the Vista Point looking down over the Mono basin. Road 395 stretched like a silver line from below the hill we were on and onward to the lake, appearing to disappear in the water and reemerge on the far side.
I could imagine this lake much bigger, way before the city of Los Angeles claimed its water sources.
View of Mono Lake from the vista point on north
I suppose at some point in the future I might stop at a different location but as nearly every time before we went straight ahead to the South Tufa location.
Boardwalk at the South Tufa Nature Preserve
The tufa are these rock formation that precipitated and exposed as the lake shrunk and its water got more concentrated.
The sad story of Mono Lake I already wrote about in one of my previous posts about this place. Not much has changed since then. The issue is still being disputed.
Tufa Bay

Mono Lake is a fly-by sanctuary for birds migrating through the Eastern Sierra corridor. Around the year we get to see different species in and around the water.
Not having children with us on this visit, we took our time wandering around, giving closer attention to what we saw.
Tufa Bay
Like the light pattern shining in the ripples. It was very windy that day, and the lake was wavier than I usually see it.
Not many plants can live so close to the high-salinity water of Mono Lake. The Nevada bulrush was the closest plant to the water.
Great Basin Bulrush, Amphiscirpus nevadensis
They were there, between the bulrush and the water: the swarms of brine flies that are an essential component of the Mono lake ecosystem.
Brine Flies
The flies formed little waves of their own that rippled each time we approached. Still, it was quiet enough to get fairly close to them.
Brine Flies
Little stonecrop plants grew their pretty rosettes not to far from the bukrush. They too can tolerate the high salinity f the soil.

Some of the Mono Lake birds are year-round residents, like the osprey that also nest there. The osprey fled off site to fish in fresh water lakes and creeks nearby (like Convict Lake, which we visited later that day).
Other birds that make god use of this location are gulls that nest on the island in the midst of the lake. When the water level dropped so much that the island got connected with the mainland, coyotes walked over to the nesting colony and decimated it. Later, as the water rose again after L.A. was made to give up some, the gulls returned to nest on this island.
The gull island 
Other year-round residents of Mono lake are the cowbirds. We saw some, foraging among the bulrush.
Female Cowbird in Bulrush 
Killdeer are also a common sight there, although they are easier heard than seen.
Mallards are found pretty much everywhere, so why not in Mono Lake?
Mallard, female

My friend went ahead of me while I paused to admire each and every tufa formation. They all tell the story of the lake but with good imagination they tell others, more surreal stories as well. The one below, for example, is the thrown of the troll queen. You can see her green hair just below the main pillar.
Tufa thrown

And of course there are the 'remains of the sunken ship' off shore. The image of tufa poking through the water surface is an inspiration for many.
Mono Lake
The entire are is volcanically affected. I turned around and gazed at the volcano cones south of the lake. There are hiking trails there too, but so far I had not hiked a singe one of them. It'll come.
I caught up with my friend. She was sitting by the water, trying to photograph the brine shrimp that live there. They are so tiny and translucent and it's very difficult to see them, so I never even tried to photograph them before. But my friend's focus and determination had inspired me so I sat down too and aimed my camera at the water.
Brine Shrimp
Of all days this was probably one of the harder ones to photograph the shrimp because the wind rippled the water, disturbing the surface and changing the focal point. Still, I got a few decent images of brine shrimp (put of a gazillion I took). In the photo above a small group of shrimp can be seen on the white stone background. Below is an enlarged image of another.
Brine Shrimp
Eventually we had enough shrimp photo shoots and got up, and getting the blood flowing back to our legs that got numb during the long sitting. We waked past the main tufa area and gazed down at the Navy Beach. On the water rested geese and gulls. Behind the lake stretched the wide Great Basin desert all the way to and into Nevada.
Geese and Gulls
The trail curved back toward the parking lot. We took the shorter route because we wanted to hike at Convict Lake that day still. Although we walked as fast as we could we did stop when seeing the two-color phacelia that was blooming in small clusters between the smaller tufa and the sagebrush bushes.
Twocolor Phacelia, Phacelia bicolor
In the parking lot we found the guardian - a mature western gull in breeding colors (the red spots near the eyes and the beak). I've seen him before, hanging by the cars, perhaps hoping for some man food to be left behind. We didn't leave him any.
California Gull
Just before getting into the car I turned around and took a last good look at the lake. The water was very green and ripple-run. Heavy clouds hang in the north where we came from: it was raining there now. Glistening like a gem in the gray-brown desert, Mono Lake did indeed look like unearthly beauty that graces the entire are with its presence. It should not be allowed to vanish.
Mono Lake
We drove away quietly. I had my gps set for Convict Lake and I hoped that the trail would be easy enough to find and follow, because I promised my friend a picnic lunch and a nice and easy afternoon hike. 


  1. it is a magical place. really enchanting and beautiful!
    thank you for taking me there again!
    (I just remembered the knitting-needle fiasco there, with the coins... ;-) LOL)

    1. Oh yeah! I forgot all about that! How funny ...

  2. It is a very beautiful place. I'm happy I managed to visit there once...