Looking for an outdoor summer adventure in one of California’s most arresting and unusual places? Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve’s famously Doctor Seussian tufa formations, coupled with the region’s volcanic cinder cones and craters, make for an otherworldly experience (Read my previous blog about Mono Lake, the setting for one of my stories from Cover This Country Like Snow).
But to see the wonders of the lake’s tufa towers up close and on the water means renting a kayak or canoe. Canoe tours begin June 28th through the terrific and effective nonprofit organization Mono Lake Committee. Prefer to kayak? Equipment and experienced guides are also available through Caldera Kayaks. Paddlers may spot ospreys nesting atop the tufa towers or an abundance of water birds dipping their beaks into the water to feed.
Indeed, Mono Lake is a birder’s paradise where more than 100 species can be seen breeding in the summertime, such as phalaropes, grebes, loons, pelicans, cormorants, stilts, avocets and gulls. Migrating birds rely on Mono Lake’s plentiful food, which includes inky black clouds of alkali flies and light pink-colored miniature brine shrimp. The tufa towers and islands in the lake are also critical resting areas for birds on their long Pacific Flyway migrations.
But the lake is more than just a natural wonder, it’s also important for people. Freshwater tributaries that feed into the lake help supply the city of Los Angeles with a portion of its drinking water. In fact, local citizens from the Mono Basin, working in partnership with the city, can claim an environmental victory – though Los Angeles has grown by one million people since the 1970s, residents still use the same amount of water.
While more like the moon than Earth, (even NASA conducts research on primitive life forms in the lake’s saline waters) Mono Lake offers a wide array of exciting itineraries that can be tailored to birders, amateur volcanologists, geologists, plein air painters and mountain bikers, among many others.
How to get there: located off of Highway 395 on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains east of Yosemite National Park, Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve is a family friendly destination. Be sure to peruse the exhibits at the Visitors Center and take an easy walk to look at the tufa towers from the shore.