One of the great things about the Eastern Sierra is that they are part of the buffer between the central valley of California and the deserts of the Great Basin, including the Mojave and Death Valley. Because of this you can pretty quickly move from alpine lakes (see previous post) to arid desertscapes — in fact, Inyo County contains both the highest and the lowest points in the continental US (Mount Whitney and Death Valley) – located only ~100 miles apart.
On Sunday, we took part of our day to explore the area around Mono Lake – which is a large alkaline lake that is pretty similar in many respects to the Great Salt Lake. The lake is a major stopping point in the migration pattern of many shorebirds and (oddly enough) the breeding ground for the majority of California Gulls.
But what makes Mono Lake pretty interesting to me is the formation of outcroppings of tufa. The tufa columns and “castles” are formed from precipitation of calcium carbonate from supersaturated upswells.
There is a short trail that leads along the edge of the very still lake and through some spectacular tufa formations. The area is pretty barren, its overly saline environment (and pretty intense heat) permits only a few hearty grasses and shrubs to live along the shoreline.
After the pristine alpine beauty of the mountain forests and lakes a few miles away, the starkness and desolation of Mono Lake is somewhat jarring – but beautiful in its own otherworldly fashion.