The wondrously and eerily beautiful Mono Lake

During my recent Great Basin collecting trip, we stopped briefly at one of my favorite places in the world—Mono Lake in eastern California. My last visit was almost 20 years ago, so it was a thrill for me to see the strange tufa moonscape once again after so many years.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake has no eventual outlet to the ocean. As a result dissolved salts in runoff from the surrounding landscape have accumulated in the lake, resulting in water with high pH levels.

Mono Lake

The late day shadows created a black/white tufa landscape.

Mono Lake

Conservation actions have raised lake levels from their historical lows resulting from diversion of water to Los Angeles, but they have still not recovered to their former levels.

Mono Lake

I held the camera barely above the water’s surface to get this shot. It took several tries to get just a thin sliver of perfectly horizontal water. Yes, it would have been easier to hold the camera higher, look through the viewfinder and then crop, but I wanted the widest view possible (besides, doing that would seem like “cheating”).

Mono Lake

Tufa forms when calcium from underwater springs comes into contact with carbonates in the lake water, causing a chemical reaction that produces calcium carbonate (limestone). The calcium carbonate settles around the underwater spring and over time builds a tufa tower. This happens only underwater, and the tufa towers seen here are visible only because of the lowered lake level resulting from water diversion. Unless the lake level is restored completely, these towers are “dead” and will eventually erode away.

Mono Lake

Smoke and haze from the Rim Fire burning near Yosemite boils over the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake supports the second largest nesting population of California gulls after Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

Mono Lake

The water level at Mono Lake has dropped not only in recent years because of humans, but over several thousand years. At the end of the last ice age the water level was hundreds of feet higher than today and the lake 5 times its present size.

Mono Lake

Late day shadows, wildfire haze, and perfectly still waters create a surreal scene.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013