There is a place of salt and water, age and algae called Mono Lake in California. It’s a place of strange shapes formed from mixing calcium and carbonate. Over the years, towers formed called tufa. Tan spires of all shapes and sizes bloom under the water’s surface and older ones fill the shoreline.

Listen to the morning sounds of Mono Lake by clicking play above.

Mono Lake

I arrived at the South Tufa, my body aching after a 6 hour detour around mountain passes closed due to snow. Here at the lake it was warm though and a rainstorm had just passed. The shower left the air heavy with the sweet perfume of thousands of sage bushes drifting in the desert breeze. Huge billowing rain clouds still loomed in the distance creating a dramatic sky rolling over the lake. Jack rabbits sauntered slowly across the hiking path from time to time. Their big ears sailed around listening to my feet crunch on the soil.

Mono Lake Mono Lake

I walked through the bizarre landscape and around the shoreline feeling as if I were placed in another world. I had wondered if the drive would be worth it and those thoughts dissolved at my first glimpse of of the knobby shapes rising from the earth. It was unlike anything I had seen and I eagerly explored all of the area before returning to my car a few hours later.

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The next morning, I woke at 4:30am to catch the sunrise at the same location. The previous day’s six hour drive meant nothing as I watched the distant snow-capped mountains turn a bright rose color while the sun lifted above the horizon. The scene shifted from winter shades of pinks and blues to the warm glow of summer gracing the sky and rocks with golden hues.

Mono Lake Mono Lake Mono Lake

The early morning hour brought the desert to life with sound. Birds, insects and other desert life sung a chorus of songs I hadn’t heard the day before. I sat watching the changing sky and heard the hum of life around me realizing this was probably the best sunrise of my life. The mixture of the frost and the fire with nature’s sweet melody made me feel rooted to the earth and alive with my own song. I hope the next lyrics in my life are as bright and beautiful as this trip as been.

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Helpful Information:

Location and Entry – The South Tufa area is a short 15 minute drive from the town of Lee Vining, California. There is a $3 entrance fee that is paid by depositing money into a pay box at the start of the hiking path down to the lake. The park is open 24 hours and the path is an easy one mile loop down to the shore and back.

Nearby – Mono Lake makes a great side trip from Yosemite if you are visiting the park. Make sure to visit when the signs of winter have passed and all mountain roads are open.

BrochureClick here for a full color brochure from the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Where I stayed – There aren’t many options in the area for lodging. I stayed at a small motel in the nearest city of Lee Vining called The Lake View Lodge. It was clean, comfortable and close to everything. There is a restaurant and general store an easy walk away.