Field Notes on an Adventure

August 17, 2016
South Tufa Trail at Mono Lake
Roundtrip distance:  .08 mile

Thirteen miles from the eastern entrance of Yosemite lies the tiny town of Lee Vining in the Mono Basin area.  After a three hour drive Chris and I spent the day there sightseeing.  We stopped at Whoa Nellie Deli for lunch, had soft serve ice cream at Mono Cone, dipped our feet in June Lake, and toured the Scenic Area Visitor Center.

Notice the desert-like beauty on the trail behind the Visitor Center.

I was fascinated with what we learned about the geology and history of Mono Lake.  It is one of the oldest lakes in North America and the second largest lake in California.

Mono Lake in the background.

It is fed by a natural flow of freshwater streams and has no outlet other than evaporation.  This creates a very salty lake.  Currently it is ten percent salt; comparatively, the ocean is three percent salt.  There are no fish in the lake, but there are brine shrimp.  Commercial fisherman collect the brine shrimp to make tropical fish food.


We wanted to taste the water, but flies coated the surface and it smelled like sulfur, so we decided against it.

Mounds of black flies.

The black alkali flies feed on the green algae that grows in the lake.  When we touched the water, they buzzed around, not concerned at all with us, then quickly settled back down to eat.  Birds including California gulls and black birds eat the flies.

If you happen to see a gull at a beach in California, quite likely it was born at Mono Lake.

The following morning we visited the State Natural Reserve on the southern end of the lake to see the tufa.  Though it was early, the heat of the day was beginning to set in.

Beginning the loop trail at South Tufa.

Tufa are limestone formations that were created underwater when calcium-rich spring water mixed with carbonate-rich lake water.  We were able to see spring water bubbling up into the lake, maybe a future tufa in the making.

The first up-close look at tufa.

In 1941, the lake level reached an elevation of 6,417 feet. At that time the Los Angeles water department began diverting the creeks that fed the lake causing a significant drop in water level.  That is why so many of the tufa are now above ground.


Looking over a tufa wall at the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

In 1994, the California water board ordered that the lake be protected and refilled.  Currently, Los Angeles is not diverting water from the streams which is allowing the lake to slowly increase in volume.

Tufa spires and knobs.


Walking through the eerie grove of twisted tufa columns was like walking on another planet.  The scent of sulfur and sage brush that hung in the air added to the surreal feeling.


Maybe someday the tufa will be underwater again, but probably not for a long time.


We followed the sandy trail back to the car and headed home.  There is so much more to see in the Mono Basin area, that we will have to return for another adventure.


18 thoughts on “Field Notes on an Adventure

  1. Hi Janet, wonderful pictures and an informative and enjoyable read. Just discovered your blog, and will make sure I pay attention in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Janet, we were just there over Labor Day and caught a sunrise on the lake. We stayed in Lee Vining. Mono Lake is an interesting place with its’ own ecosystem. Enjoyed your pics and history of the lake. One of these days, we may cross paths! Of course we went into Yosemite and did some day hikes on this trip. Been too busy to blog but hope to put up a couple soon. – John

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi John. I often wonder, when I see other hikers, if they might be bloggers as well. Looking forward to reading about your Yosemite hikes. Where did you go? Janet


      2. I’ve never been to Sunrise Lakes. The parking area is always full for that area. I’ll have to get up early one day and hike out there.


  2. Spectacular photos and great sense of your adventure, but I’m full of curiosity to know what you had for lunch at the Woah Nellie Deli. We visited there repeatedly upon one hiking sojourn so very many years ago and loved the astonishing food, having the appetites to actually eat everything on those huge plates.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Robin. I had an Asian chicken salad and Chris had fish tacos. We wanted to go back again, but decided to try somewhere else for dinner–we should have gone back to the deli. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Again, we love it that you do the hiking for us and provide “life-like” photography to make the experience real! Thank you! We, too, love Whoa Noah Deli..who doesn’t? It is a “diamond-in-the-rough”!..Sheelah and Erich

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sheelah and Erich. I had heard a lot about the deli, but didn’t really know what to expect. I was better than I imagined. Thanks for the comment.


  4. Janet, I loved that you shared this adventure. Now you are closer to my stomping grounds. Have spent a ton of time in the area, eaten at Whoa Nellie Deli and loved it when the chef was there that created the Lobster enchilada’s. He has since moved on down to Mammoth. If you ever get the chance, book a canoe experience on the lake, it is fascinating. As you walk around the tufa, did you feel as though you were on another planet? How fun for you and Chris, sounds like a fabulous day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Terri. A canoe ride sounds fun! I think you hit the nail on the head, I even mentioned that in the blog. It sure did feel like being on another planet.


  5. Great look at Mono Lake. It is a great destination that I have visited a couple times, but not recently. I think I need to get back there again. Thanks, as usual, for letting me tag along on your adventure.


  6. Hi Patti. I wondered, with all the traveling you do, if you had been to Mono Lake. It’s an interesting place to visit. Thanks for the comment.


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