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.
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.
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.
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.
Note: This trip was first published in 2004.