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    Mono Lake: tuff castles in a lunar landscape

    Who I am
    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    Of my journey through the cities, parks and landscapes of the West Coast, among the many memories, one remains indelible: the distant vision of monkey lake. I would use the very word "vision", because it happened in a totally unexpected way, and it had an alienating effect on me, as if all of a sudden a dreamlike spectacle out of my understanding had appeared before my eyes: a surreal, ideal and sacred place at the same time, surrounded by an aura that had something esoteric, an unattainable and superhuman beauty.

    But let's go in order. As I told in the chapter of my travel diary entitled From San Francisco to Las Vegas, I was walking the last stretch of the Tioga Road after a morning visiting Yosemite National Park: I was still bewildered by the wonders I had encountered along the way and moreover I was very hungry. The last stretch of the road was downhill and, after a series of curves, my wife and I appeared in front of - albeit in the distance - the cold expanse of gray-blue waters of monkey lake. We were astonished, having become accustomed to very different views in the previous hours (you know, in America the landscapes change continuously) and, to mitigate the bewilderment, we stopped to eat a spectacular hamburger at the nearby restaurant. Whoa Nellie Deli, at the petrol station where we refueled.

    From the petrol station we reached the Vista Point, located on a small hill that allows you to better observe the spectacle of the lake. However, our schedule was very tight: we still had about an hour to travel to reach the ghost town of Bodie, and so we set off again almost immediately. The road that, passing through the heart of the small town of Lee Vining, led us towards bodie it skirted the lake for about three miles, and we made some stops to observe the strange limestone formations that emerge on the surface of the lake: the sun was setting, and the play of light that was created was something incredible.

    This is my travel experience: now it's time to give you some more information on what it is monkey lake and how to visit it.


    • What is Mono Lake? History and geology
    • How to visit Mono Lake?
    • Organized tours in Mono Lake: how to do it?
    • Where to sleep in Mono Lake?
    • Video of Mono Lake in Spanish

    What is Mono Lake? History and geology

    monkey lake (which we had already quickly talked about in our West Coast article what to see), is an alkaline lake of volcanic origin, the second oldest in all of North America. The saline concentration of the water is very high, due to the presence of carbonate ions which, meeting the calcium present in the waters arising from the springs, have given rise to some strange saline concretions, which are by far the most fascinating interest of the lake. : the tuff towers that rise vertically on the shores and in the islands in the center of the lake (Pahoa Island e Negit Island) can evoke the fascination and atmosphere of Friedrich's painting "Sea of ​​ice".

    In general, the whole area around the lake is rich in bizarre limestone formations which contribute to giving the landscape a vaguely lunar air: i must have thought this Pink Floyd (who knew about the moon…), when they chose this panorama for the artwork of Wish You Were Here.

    In 1941, through the construction of a reservoir (Mono Basin), the Los Angeles Department of Waters diverted the course of the main tributaries of Mono Lake to the new aqueduct of the city. This operation has raised the salinity rate of the lake depriving it of the fresh waters of the tributaries and endangering the delicate ecosystem of the lake; but on the other hand, thanks to the lowering of the water level, the splendid ones miraculously emerged fortified citadels of tuff that still make Mono Lake unique today.

    After this environmental shock, in order to preserve the volatile fauna (especially the California gull and the phalarope) that proliferate in this delicate ecosystem, it was necessary to create the Mono Lake Committee, a territorial defense committee that aims to safeguard Mono Lake, dedicating itself to research and organizing guided tours.

    How to visit Mono Lake?

    Objectively, due to its intermediate position between Yosemite and Death Valley, monkey lake it is not a common stop on West Coast tours: usually we are content to observe the spectacle from afar, perhaps stopping at a nice elevated point of view to enjoy the view. However, it is not uncommon for travelers to find accommodation in Yosemite when choosing where to stay in Yosemite. Lee Vining (or Mammoth Lakes), in order to visit Bodie and then leave for one of the major parks.


    In this case, find some time for visit Mono Lake it could turn out to be a very good choice. Here's how to reach the most beautiful observation points:

    • after passing Lee Vining, turn right at the sign Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area. From here there are some paths and it is possible to reach the shore of the lake to closely observe some of the salt formations present;
    • travel on US-395 for another 5 miles in a northerly direction and go to the named area Mono Lake County Park. Here too it is possible to follow a short path surrounded by greenery, on a walkway that arrives very close to the shore of the lake, among absurd salt statues of all shapes. There are also areas equipped for picnics;
    • traveling on the US-395 instead a sud di Lee Vining for 8 miles, you will come to a crossroads with Mono Lake Basin Road: take it and continue to the South Tufa Area, recognizable by the presence of a parking lot, from which a short loop trail starts (admission: $ 3) that reaches the shore of the lake: in this area you can probably see the most beautiful tuff towers of all Mono Lake, in a landscape to say the least surreal.

    Organized tours in Mono Lake: how to do it?

    The active Mono Lake Committee organizes a series of guided tours along the routes illustrated so far and, above all, in the summer months it offers the possibility of taking a canoe or kayak ride to get closer to the two islands and see the most beautiful tuff castles of the whole lake up close.

    For more information on the tour activity period and times, visit the official website page.

    Where to sleep in Mono Lake?

    As we have already mentioned, the most strategic city to stay for visiting Mono Lake (and Bodie) is Lee Vining, where, however, there is also the Mono Lake Committee Information Center & Bookstore: here those interested can find informative material and learn more about the history, geology and fauna of the lake.

    All accommodations available in Lee Vining

    Video of Mono Lake in Spanish

    Video by Fabio (FEB Productions)

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