Only a mere twenty minutes from Mammoth Lakes sits the fascinating Mono Lake. Unlike some of the alpine lakes we visited while in the area, Mono is the largest and spreads out for 695 square miles.
At 6,378 feet in elevation, Mono Lake can be seen from Highway 395 and is a neighbor to the nearby Sierras. In the distance the mountain range can be seen with small patches of snow at the tips.
The lake was formed 760,000 years ago and sits in a basin with no outlet. Because of this, high levels of salt accumulate making the water alkaline.
I was surprised to read later that they allow swimming and boats although on this day, I didn’t see any swimmers or boaters.
A Little Salt Please
Because the salt is almost three times the density of ocean water, they say that when you swim, you are more buoyant. Floating is much easier than in sea water and is an unusual sensation reported by those who have actually swam there.
Navy Beach, just south of the city of Lee Vining is one of the swimming areas where you can also launch your kayaks and SUP’s. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars as bird watching is prime here.
This desert lake has a productive ecosystem and although there are no fish, it does have a huge population of brine shrimp. Over two million migratory birds arrive annually to feed on them as well as the alkali flies.
On the Lake
We followed the signs from Highway 395 and arrived in a parking lot where a series of trails takes you down to the shore. We saw a few guides/docents along the way available to answer any questions and one was even leading a tour of about twenty people.
These towers, unique to Mono Lake are mineral structures created when fresh-water springs bubble up through the alkaline waters. They have become exposed because the water level has fallen. With these strange pillars, it makes Mono Lake one of the most photographed and visited places in California.
There is a small $3 fee to use the area but children are free.
Since Mono Lake is such a short trip from Highway 395, I think it is worth it to take the time to view one of the oldest lakes in North America.
Our next story will be about Highway 395 where we stop in the nearby town of Lee Vining, visit an old internment camp, see a ghost town, walk along a lava pit, and finally make our way to the coast.
Story and photos: Debbie Colwell