Mono Lake Tufa State Preserve

Mono Lake, North Americas's second-oldest lake, spreads across the white-hot desert landscape. Though the basin and lake are ice age remnants, formed more than 700'000 years ago, the areas most interesting features come from volcanic-related activity. Appearing like dripped sand castles on and near the lake shore, Mono's tufa towers form when calcium-bearing freshwater springs bubble up through alkaline water. The best concentration of tufa towers is at the South Tufa Reserve. A mile-long interpretive trail explains the tower's formation.

In 1941, the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) bought most of the Mono Basin and diverted four of the five streams feeding Mono Lake to the California Aqueduct to provide water to Los Angeles. Over time, the lake level dropped 40 feet and doubled in salinity. In 1994, a landmark ruling required (after numerous campaigns and court battles) the lake level to rise to 6377 feet above sea level (which will take an estimated 15 years) before the DWP can take water from the lake or its tributaries. A glimpse on a map shows that the direct distance from the Lake to L.A. is more than 700km...

Just south of the lake are some craters that offer interesting hikes: Panum Crater is the youngest (about 640 years old) and smallest of the Mono Craters which string south to Mammoth Mountain. There is a nice trail around the crater rim (about 30 to 45 minutes), and a short but steep 'plug trail' that puts you at the crater's center among rock formations in shiny black obsidian and pumice stone.

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