A walk through the tufa of Mono Lake is a glimpse into its tumultuous natural and human history. You can get up close and personal with the otherworldly towers on over 2 miles of trails at South Tufa and Navy Beach.
Much like the Great Salt Lake, Mono stands as a remnant of the inland seas that once filled the Great Basin. More saline than the ocean, Mono Lake now covers approximately 65 square miles.
Mono’s delicate ecosystem was jeopardized when, in 1941, Los Angeles began diverting freshwater streams from the lake to fill the city’s coffers 300 miles to the south. With freshwater sources cut off, lake levels dropped and salinity concentrated.
The lower water levels revealed the strange calcium carbonate pillars known as tufa. The ubiquitous limestone structures were formed by calcium rich spring water that mixed with the alkaline water of Mono Lake.
First thought to be a dead sea by early settlers and a notably dour Mark Twain, Mono Lake is actually teeming with life. While it is too salty to harbor fish, algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies are integral to the life of birds and even humans in the Mono Basin.
Historically, the native Kutzadika’a tribe relied on the protein of alkali fly pupae to survive in the sparse high desert. It has been hypothesized that the name Mono is a neighboring tribe’s term meaning “fly eater.”
When visiting Mono Lake, please do not collect or climb on the tufa. An extra half-mile walk to Navy Beach will offer a different perspective of the columns, especially aside humans to give them scale. Mono Lake is seriously popular in the summer. Expect crowds.