Tufa Trails on Mono Lake East of Yosemite
One of the oldest lakes in North America
Located immediately outside of Yosemite’s east entrance is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Mono Lake is at least 760,000 years old. The lake has many tributaries but no outlet. The main way that water leaves the lake is by evaporation which is why the water has such a high mineral content including salt. In fact, Mono Lake is three-times saltier than the ocean.
Although no fish can live in these alkaline waters, Mono Lake is a very productive lake. It supports millions of brine shrimp, alkali flies, and migratory birds which feed on the later. Eighty-five percent of California Gulls migrate and breed on Mono Lake.
What is a Tufu?
The tufa (pronounced too-fah) are tower formations found in many alkaline lakes around the world. Tufa are formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate-rich lake water. The combining of these waters forms a white limestone deposit that builds towers over time.
Tufa’s form under water. The reason you can see Mono Lake’s tufas on ground is that the lake used to be much deeper during the last ice age. In recent times, the tributaries feeding Mono Lake have been harvested for farm irrigation water which has also lowered the lake’s water level.
Mono Lake’s South Tufa Area
Mono Lake’s tufa are most prominent in the South Tufa Area where there is a trail that allows you to walk among these giant spires, some reaching 30-feet tall. We recommend that you tour the Mono Basin Visitor Center on the west side of the lake before heading to the South Tufa Reserve. From the Visitors Center, drive 5-miles south on U.S. 395, turn left on Hwy 120 East and follow the signs to South Tufa. There is a parking lot where you pay a modest fee to access a self-guided trail. The trail is level gravel, boardwalk, and sand. It is less than a mile long and appropriate for all abilities and ages.
For more information visit www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=514