Sunday, December 5, 2010

Magnificence at Mono Lake

Set in the heart of the dry Great Basin in the Eastern Sierra of California, the incredible Mono Lake is home to a vast community of flora and fauna. Despite its incredible beauty, the lake is in danger. Over the past few decades people from all over the area have been rallying together to protect Mono Lake’s natural environment from further destruction.

The Geography of Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake, at well over 750,000 years old, is amongst the oldest lakes in North America. With depths ranging anywhere from 57 to 159 feet, the lake currently sits 6,382 feet above sea level, though stream diversions, evaporation, and the level of precipitation each year may cause that number to gradually change.

Mono Lake Morning

Despite its location, Mono Lake is one of the saltiest lakes in California – with salt levels two to three times more potent than the ocean itself. The basin itself was formed millions of years ago as the earth’s crust warped. It now houses an incredible ecosystem consisting of brine shrimp, algae, and even alkali flies. Thousands of nesting birds call Mono Lake home, including California Gulls and Snowy Plovers. Dozens of other species, including birds such as Eared Grebes, Wilson’s Phalaropes, and Red-necked Phalaropes migrate to the area each year as well.

Ecological Restoration at Mono Lake

Mono Tufa Lake Edge

Back in the early 1940’s, the LA Department of Water and Power (DWP) began using Mono Lake as a source of urban water. Over the next 50 years the water level at the lake dropped more than 40 feet and the salt content nearly doubled. An incredible number of freshwater species left the lake and some of the nearby cottonwood forests and floodplains died off as well.

Mono Lake Sunrise

In the early 1980’s the California Audubon and Mono Lake Committee took action. They filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles DWP in order to ensure that Mono Lake was protected. Their actions had a significant impact not only on the Mono Basin, but on the City of Los Angeles as well. The waters in the lake are higher than they have been in almost three decades while the city of Los Angeles is wasting less water than ever before.

Mono Lake Tufa Window

Now, scientists and conservationists are working hard to preserve what is left of the Mono Basin as well as restore what was lost. While the amount of water that was taken from Mono Lake will never be 100% restored, we can help bring Mono Lake back to a naturally functioning level by conserving water, reopening channels, and recreating river and stream flows that once existed. This process will, of course, take time; some vegetative life has begun to reappear but cottonwood plants will take 50 years or more to mature to fruition.

Visiting Mono Lake

Mono Lake Tufa

Despite its problems, Mono Lake (pronounced Maw-no, not mah-no) is still an incredible place to visit. The Lee Vining Chamber of Congress lies approximately 13 miles outside of Yosemite National Park and is an excellent source of information when it comes to visiting the area. It is here that you’ll find a comprehensive information center with details on where to find the best places to stay, swim, or eat.

Mono Lake Towers

While you’re at the information center you’ll be invited to learn more about the lake itself as well. You’ll find a comprehensive Mono Lake slideshow, and information about special programs offered throughout the surrounding national parks.

Activities at Mono Lake

Mono Lake Shoreline

There are tons activities available year around throughout the entire Mono Basin. Walking tours of South Tufa provide a glimpse at the grove at sunset while Lee Vining Creek Tours give naturalists a chance to understand what is being done to restore the basin. During the summer months there are dozens of boat tours, field seminars, fishing spots, and bird watching expeditions to keep outdoor enthusiasts occupied.

Mono Lake Overview

Because of the vast number of bird species in the area, a guided bird walk is one of the best ways to explore the Mono Lake area. These walks run multiple times per day from late June through early September each year. During the months of September and October you can still find regular South Tufa Walks, though they decrease in frequency the later it gets in the year.

Mono Lake Winter

Mono Lake is a great destination no matter what time of the year you visit. In the fall you’ll enjoy exploring the gold, red, and orange color changes. In the winter you’ll appreciate trails designed for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and even ice climbing. Photographers at all levels of experience will never run out of sights to take shots of!

Don’t leave the Great Basin without stopping at Mono Lake, even if only for an hour or two. The distinct beautify of an area that was once in danger of disappearing will leave your breathless.