Mono Lake (California, United States)

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Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda lake in Mono County, California, formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline.

The lake is not generally suitable for swimming or paddling as the water is somewhat smelly, sub-surface rocks are sharp and in summer at least there are vast swarms of tiny black alkali flies living close to the shore, often making the land appear quite dark. These are curious in that they will not settle on people - one can walk along disturbing great clouds of them yet remain untouched. There are no fish in Mono Lake, and the only creature that can survive in the alkaline water is the brine shrimp; these, and the whole lake, are now protected as the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve. Besides the tufa formations, this helps to safeguard the large and varied population of birds that nest in the area - over 300 species have been spotted here, the most numerous being the western sandpiper, California gull, eared grebe, Wilson's phalarope and red-necked phalarope.

Mono Lake is a noted bird-watching destination. Brine shrimp and brine fly larva in the water and brine flies on the shorelines provide abundant food for hungry migrants that stopover to refuel before moving on. Additionally, despite the fact that Negit Island has become land-bridged (and thus accessible to predators) due to lake level decrease, the area's islands remain important breeding areas for birds. Approximately 85% of the state's population of California gulls cross the Sierras each year to breed here, as well as a significant portion of the state's snowy plovers. In addition, between 1.5 to 2 million eared grebes use the lake during migration each year, as well as 80,000 Wilson's phalaropes, 60,000 red-necked phalaropes, and nearly 80 other species of waterbirds.

Spring (April-May) is a beautiful time of year at Mono Lake. The area is still quiet through mid June and all the creeks flowing into the lake are full from the recent snow melts. The shores of the lake are green and speckled with the first wild flowers of the season. The weather can be changeable; layered clothing is recommended and a late snow storm is never a surprise. A ranger-guided walk is scheduled at 1 pm on Saturdays and Sundays at South Tufa.

Winter (December-March) at Mono Lake is a particularly beautiful time to visit. The crowds are gone, a quiet stillness prevails, and snow sparkles on the tufa towers, a photographers dream. The road to South Tufa is kept plowed, allowing year-round access except immediately after large storms. South Tufa, Old Marina, and the County Park boardwalk are all wonderful places to cross-country ski when snow conditions permit. A ranger-guided walk is scheduled at 1 pm on Saturdays and Sundays at South Tufa.

Mono County, California

Mono Lake Tufa Towers

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Columns of Mono Lake

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