Mono Lake – Eastern Sierra

The unique nature of Mono Lake makes it one of the best places in California to learn about migration, species diversity and the political role of water in the most populous state in the Union.

Mono Lake - Eastern Sierra
Mono Lake is the centerpiece for our eastern sierra trip.

A shuttle vehicle tends to be the way to make the most of all the significant places to visit and learn about.  Mono Lake is located just off Highway 395 … 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California. Access to 395 from the park is easiest via Highway 120 over the Tioga Pass. A reminder though, Tioga Pass is closed during the winter and, usually, most of the spring.

Area Overview

Mono Lake is unique. For starters, it’s old–at least 700,000 years old and one of the oldest continuously existing lakes on the continent. Fed by huge glaciers during the last Ice Age, Mono Lake was 60 times larger than the 66 square miles it covers today.

The lake is naturally salty and alkaline because it has no outlet. The only way water leaves is via evaporation. The Sierra streams that flow into Mono contain only trace amounts of minerals and salts but those minerals and salts stay and their concentrations, over the years, grow.

Trips to this area are base camped at Lundy Canyon Campground.

Shuttle day trips to sites around the lake is a geologist’s paradise. It is ringed by volcanoes–new and old. Two of the islands on the lake are volcanic domes. Perhaps the most intriguing of Mono Lake’s phenomena are the tufa (pronounced “toofah”) towers visible along much of the shoreline. Tufa are made from calcium carbonate which makes its way into the lake from underground springs. The calcium and carbonate combine to form limestone which builds up over time around the lake bottom spring openings. Declining lake levels have exposed the tufa towers we see today. Some of these tufa towers are up to 30 feet high.

Thirty miles away you can visit Bodie State Park for a visit to an authentic, well preserved mining town.

Educational Overview
  • Plate Tectonics, Vulcanism, and Earth Processes.
  • A day of wild life of the Mono Lake area and Eastern Sierra.
  • An introduction to Mono Lake’s natural history.
  • Mono Lake hydrology and California water issues.
  • Native Cultures and the study of Paiute tribes of the region.