We're in Lee Vining, California. It's located on the southwest shore of Mono Lake and is the closest town to the east entrance of Yosemite National Park. Leroy Vining founded the town in 1852 as a mining camp. The unfortunate Mr. Vining accidentally fatally shot himself in the nearby town of Aurora, Nevada. The town was laid out and named "Lakeview" in 1926. When a post office was sought in 1928, it was learned there was another town, Lakeview, California, which already had the name. In 1953, the unique name of Lee Vining was chosen. State Route 120 runs from town, through Lee Vining Canyon, and up to Tioga Pass, a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is the view from the hotel room.
Here's Lake Mono.
In 1984, Congress established the first National Forest Scenic Area. the Scenic Area protects ecological, geological, cultural, and scenic values of the Mono Basin. It is managed by the Inyo National forest-USDA Forest Service.
The Mono Lake Tufa Reserve was established in 1981 to preserve the spectacular tufa formations and other natural features found along the shore of Mono Lake. It is a unit of the California State Park System. Naturalists from the State Park and Forest Service work together to interpret the spectacular features of the Mono Basin.
US 395, east of the Sierra Nevada range, is the main north-south route in California. For much of its route, it has very impressive views of the snow-covered mountains nearby. At the small town of Lee Vining, close to the junction with CA 120 (Tioga Pass, leading to Yosemite) lies Mono Lake.
Mono Lake is a large, shallow, alkaline lake, impressive enough from a distance, but close up has added interest in the form of unusual tufa (calcium carbonate) pinnacles, deposited over thousands of years around underwater springs and now left exposed because of decreased lake levels. Mono Basin, the land surrounding the lake, is generally level, uninhabited, and barren. It contains many ancient volcanic remains in the form of lava fields, craters, rhyolite domes, and cinder cones.
These are the tufa formations. Basically, tufa is limestone. What makes it unusual is the way this limestone forms. Typically, underwater springs rich in calcium mix with lake water rich in carbonates. This results in a chemical reaction producing calcium carbonate or limestone. The calcium carbonate precipitates (settles out of solution as a solid) around the spring, and over the course of many years, a tufa tower will grow. Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater, some growing to heights of 40 feet, but we are able to see so much tufa in Mono Lake today because the lake level fell dramatically after water diversions began in 1941. The LA Department of Water and Power began diverting Mono Lake's tributary streams 350 miles south to meet the growing water demands of LA. The volume of Mono Lake decreased by half due to the deprivation of its freshwater sources, and its salinity doubled. The ecosystem began to collapse since it was unable to adapt to these abruptly changing conditions. The Mono Lake Committee was established in 1978 to protect Mono Lake and to restore the Mono Basin ecosystem. With depletion of the water, islands, which were previously nesting sites, became peninsulas. As such, they were particularly vulnerable to predation by both mammals and reptiles. Algae, at the base of the food chain, were reduced. The reproductive abilities of brine shrimp became impaired. Due to lack of water, stream ecosystems unraveled. The exposed lake bed became the source of air-borne particulate matter, thus decreasing air quality. Mono Lake was destined to become a lifeless chemical sump because of man's interference. This photo was taken in 1962, after the lake had already dropped almost 25 vertical feet. The above photo was taken in 1968. This photo was taken in 1995. The lake level was over 40 feet below the pre-diversion level. Now, back to MY photos:
Mono Lake is a remnant of a much larger body of water that covered much of the surrounding region after glaciers melted over 750,000 years ago. There is no outlet for Mono Lake, so the water can only leave naturally by evaporation. Hence, there is a very high salt content - three times that of the ocean. These are volcanic islands. Negit, the black island, is on the left. Paoha Island is on the right.
This is Negit Island. The black island. It was formed by volcanic eruptions that occurred between 300 and 1700 years ago. Negit once hosted most of the state's nesting California gulls. When the land bridge emerged in 1977, most gulls moved to nearby islets to escape predators, predominantly coyotes.
This is the larger, Paoha Island. It is a volcanic island, but does not look so, because its surface is composed of lake bottom sediments. About 300 years ago, magma rose underneath the lake and pushed these sediments above the water level.