MONO LAKE

­On the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, the haunting Mono Lake, a 60-square-mile desert salt lake with strangely beautiful limestone tufa spires, is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Set at the eastern foot of the craggy Sierra Nevada and ringed with fragile limestone tufa spires, this hauntingly beautiful 60-square-mile desert salt lake is a stopover for millions of migratory birds that arrive each year to feed on the lake’s trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies (mono means “flies” in the language of the Yokuts, the Native Americans who live just south of this region).

While numerous streams empty into Mono (pronounced “MOE-no”) Lake, there is no outlet. Instead, the lake water evaporates, leaving behind minerals washed down from the surrounding mountains. The result is an alkaline and saline content that is too high for fish but ideal for shrimp, flies, and swimmers (the brackish water is three times saltier than the sea).

Right off Highway 395 is the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitors Center, a modern, high-tech edifice that would make any taxpayer proud. The center offers scheduled walks and talks, and it has an outstanding environmental and historical display with hands-on exhibits that will even entertain the kids.

After touring the visitors center, head for the South Tufa Area at the southern end of the lake and get a closer look at the tufa formations and briny water.

If you have the time, take the lonely 12-mile detour to the magical mining town of Bodie. You’ll swear this road doesn’t go anywhere, but then you go over a rise and you’re transported back in time to 1920: Bodie is the most eerily authentic ghost town in California, kept in a state of “arrested decay” by park rangers.

~ Matthew Poole

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  • Submitted On : 30 Mar 2016

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