Mono Lake, California

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Day 6 probably should have been devoted completely to Yosemite, but I didn’t have that kind of time, and there were a couple of attractions worth visiting, before crossing back over Tioga Pass.  One was Mono Lake.

I re-visited the Mono Lake area in 2009 during my Loneliest Trip — including a stop at the South Tufa Area, one of the best places to see Mono Lake’s Tufa.

Mono Lake is famous for the odd shaped limestone formations that spike up from below the water’s surface.  They’re called Tufa, and they actually grow  while under water.  When Los Angeles started diverting water to the city in the 1940’s, the water level at Mono Lake dropped, exposing the strange Tufa formations.

Mono Lake is far too salty for most living things (only brine shrimp and alkali flies thrive here).

There are several great places to view Tufa.  I stopped at one of the boardwalks along US 395, but the best Tufa display is at the South Tufa Area.  To get there, take US 395 south from Lee Vining, then turn east on CA Hwy. 120.  The area will be well marked on your left.

After my quick visit to Mono Lake, I continued north on US 395, then turned right on CA Hwy. 270, which leads to the ghost town of Bodie.

If you’re fascinated by Tufa, check out Monolake.org, an excellent site that explains in plain English everything you could ever want to know about Tufa.  The site also has more helpful information on the Lee Vining area.  And, it keeps close tabs on Mono Lake’s water level, just to make sure LA doesn’t take too much.

Mono Lake Overlook


Enjoy this panoramic shot of Mono Lake, taken from a pull-off along US 395.

US 395 provides a much more scenic alternative for the return trip to Los Angeles.  The route passes through the Owens Valley, in between the Sierra Nevadas and White Mountains.  You’ll drive past Death Valley, the Alabama Mountains, and the Bristlecone Pine Forest (home to the oldest living trees on earth) if you choose this route.  Because of time limitations, I had to select a faster route (from Yosemite, Hwy. 41 south to Hwy. 99, then I-5 into Los Angeles), but I hope to someday soon return to this area, to make the trip down US 395.

Once back in Lee Vining, our route takes us back up through Tioga Pass, into Yosemite again.

If you feel the need to lose a few bucks, or a few hundred, in a casino, this is the closest you’re going to get to Nevada on this trip.  Consider taking 395 North to Lake Tahoe and Reno, or heading east from Bridgeport, to Hawthorne, NV.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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