No road trip along US-395 would be complete without stopping and exploring Mono Lake. Where else can you get a view of one of the oldest lakes in North America?
The history of Mono Lake
Mono Lake is estimated to be between 1 and 3 million years old. The lake is part of the Mono Basin and it was formed by the same geological process as the Sierras. A pulling and pushing of the earth’s surface. The hills on the north, south, and east of the basin are all of the volcanic origins. The Mono Craters erupted 700 years ago creating the youngest volcanic chain in North America. The area remains active. You can see some of this activity yourself in the many hot springs that are in the area and there have been numerous swarms of earthquakes in the basin.
Mono Lake’s Famous Tufas
The alien-looking towers sticking out of the lake are called Tufas. They are basically limestone. The tufa forms when the water from underground hot springs that is rich in calcium meets with the carbonates in the lake water and this creates limestone. The larger Tufas that we see today are a result of the lake level dropping dramatically in the ’70s when Los Angeles diverted water away from the Mono Lake Basin. Lake levels dropped and it endangered the ecosystem of the lake.
Mono Lake is for Bird Lovers
The Mono Lake Basin is home to over 300 species of birds and during certain months there are over 1 million birds hanging out at the lake. These birds make a pit stop at the lake during their migration. The lake provides a buffet of black flies and brine shrimp. The Tufas and the little islands provide ideal nesting grounds for many birds. Most of Southern California Sea Gulls hatch from nests at Mono Lake.
Swimming in Mono Lake
Mono Lake is “salty.” The lake has no outlet and it is estimated that 280 million tons of dissolved salt is in the lake. This makes the lake 2-3 times saltier than the ocean. You can swim in the lake and the water will make you buoyant similar to swimming in the Great Salt Lake or in the ocean. Folklore says that a swim in the lake will cure almost anything. Beware of swimming if you have any cuts on your body because it will sting. If you want to take a dip you should head to Navy Beach for the shortest walk to the water.
Dogs at Mono Lake
Dogs are allowed in most areas of Mono Lake as long as they are on a leash and you clean up after them. They are not allowed on the boardwalks, the county parks or the north shore area.
Visiting Mono Lake
There is an amazing visitor center at Mono Lake that provides some history of the lake and the Mono Lake Basin area. It’s best to check the website before your visit to see if any areas are closed due to mating birds.
Whoa Nellie Deli
After visiting Mono Lake Whoa Nellie Deli is the perfect place to stop and get some lunch or dinner. Whoa Nellie deli is in the Mobil Gas Station parking lot on the corner of US-395 and Tioga Pass (State Route 120) in the city of Lee Vining. One of their specialties is fish tacos. I know fish tacos in a gas station could be risky, but trust me these are delicious. Whoa Nellie also serves pizza, burgers, salads, margaritas, and local beer on tap. If you eat outside at one of their picnic tables you can also enjoy a view of Mono Lake.