Explore the natural mysteries of Mono Lake

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Mono Lake, located in California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, resembles an alien world created by Hollywood movie-makers.

The lake is famous for its graceful tufa towers (calcium carbonate deposits) that were once submerged under the surface. Rising out of the water like rocky aquatic stalagmites, the dramatic tufa towers beg to be photographed, with barren desert and mountains as their backdrop. The South Tufa area is a great place to begin a walking tour of the lake and launch a canoe or kayak.

Tufa Towers at Mont Lake, California
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Mono Lake is 2.5 times as salty and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean, so no fish live in the lake. However, it is famous for the Mono Lake brine shrimp, which measure no longer than a thumbnail and live nowhere else in the world.

NASA scientists recently discovered a lake organism that can grow and live on arsenic, a poison, raising hopes that other creatures far from Earth could live in similar hostile environments.

Mono Lake plays a vital role to migratory birds every year. About two million birds stop to feed, sit atop tufa towers, and build their nests annually. Mono Lake also provides an unusual swimming experience; the salinity creates buoyancy so that you float in the water without sinking!

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How big is Mono Lake?

Mono Lake, California, with Sierra Nevada Mountains
Pawel Gaul via canva

Mono Lake is 6,382 feet above sea level and covers about 44,700 acres. The lake is fed from melting runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains with no outlet, filling its depths with salt and raising pH levels.

Mono Lake used to cover almost 55,000 acres, until Los Angeles County began diverting the lake’s water sources in the 1940s. Conservation efforts since 1978 have reversed declining water levels.

Mono Lake is about 15 miles east of Yosemite National Park, which covers more than 761,000 acres and hosts an incredible 4 million visitors every year. As a World Heritage Site, Yosemite basks in international recognition with its towering giant sequoias, spectacular granite cliffs (Half Dome, El Capitan), great tumbling waterfalls, and intense biodiversity.

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