Mono Lake California
Mono lake is a 70 square mile lake in a dry, high altitude, basin on the East side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The lake is in a very geologically active area with several recently active volcanos nearby especially to the south and east. The most famous features of Mono Lake are the tufa towers (pictured). These formed around underwater geothermal hot springs when the lake level was much higher. Minerals precipitated around the mouths of the springs, hardening into the towers. Trona Pinnacles are similar but larger and older features. The Los Angles Department of Water and Power began diverting water from the streams that feed Mono Lake in 1941. Since these diversions started the lake level has dropped 37 feet (level as of 5/1/2014). The lake's water level had fallen even lower but active efforts have been made to save this unique lake. Led by the Mono Lake Committee, these efforts have been somewhat successful in forcing the LADP to return some water flows to the lake. Mono Lake's water is very salty and very alkaline. This has given Mono Lake a unique ecosystem, seemingly dominated by flies, brine shrimp and birds.
There are two major access points to the lake shore and tufa formations. The South tufa area has the greatest concentration of tufa towers and the most developed trails. The North area is also very interesting and less crowded. The South area: Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, is owned by the state of California but managed by the US forest service. There was a nominal parking fee of $4 or so at the South area. Access to the South area is via highway 120 about 5 miles east of highway 395. There is a visitor center on Highway 395 and Mono Lake access also but there are no tufa formations along 395. The North tufa area can be accessed from the Mono county, Mono Lake Park. This park is free and there is a nice boardwalk leading out to the formations and lake shore. There are signs along the boardwalk indicating the previous lake levels in recent years. The county park is just off highway 395 on Cemetery road. Bodie ghost town is about an hour from Mono lake via Cotton Wood Canyon Road off of highway 167.