Scenic USA - California

Mono Lake

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Mono Lake - Lee Vining, California

Photos by Rick George and Ben Prepelka

     Yosemite National Park visitors, who decide to explore more of the park beyond the valley, may find themselves heading east over a very scenic Tioga Road. After climbing nearly 10,000 feet to Tioga Pass, the road then descends to Owens Valley where a string of attractions line U.S. Route 395. To the north, sightseers will find Bodie State Historic Park and one of California's best ghost towns attractions. To the south, Mammoth Mountain is a skier's paradise, offering winter sport activities the majority of the year. Other intriguing sites include Mammoth Lakes, the Devils Postpile, June Mountain Ski Area and Laws Railroad Museum. One of the biggest surprises here on the dry side of the Sierra Nevada Range is Mono Lake.
     Here in the transition zone between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin Desert is the setting for Mono Lake. Fed by mountain streams, this rather large lake has no outlet (terminal lake). Mountain runoff, laced with minerals, has collected here in Mono Lake for centuries. Initial analysis dates back to the 1940s, even then the lake was saltier than ocean water. Mono Lake tufa - Lee Vining, California The growing city of Los Angeles, needing more water, looked to Mono Lake's feeder streams for another water source. Forty years later the lake had lost 27 square miles of surface area, exposing underwater formations of tufa. Some of these calcite deposits, made of calcium carbonate, reach thirty feet in height, adding a unique look to the shoreline.
     University of California's David Gaines has spent a great deal of time studying Mono Lake, with its low water levels and the extremely high concentrations of salinity. Public awareness has eventually prompted the California State Water Resource Control Board to issue an order to protect the lake. Despite the high levels of salinity, the lake's tiny brine shrimp thrive, feeding as many as two million migratory birds.

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