Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my mom flew to northern California for a week of mother-daughter adventures. Our home base was in North Lake Tahoe, however we also ventured out and spent a day on scenic Route 395, visiting the Wild West ghost town of Bodie and gorgeous Mono Lake. (View all the posts about our holiday adventures here.)
After settling in to our rental on the north side of Lake Tahoe, we decided to venture out on a one-day road trip. First up was Carson City (for a tire replacement), then Bodie State Historic Park - a deserted ghost town that is eerily preserved, so you can get a feel for what the town was like when the last remaining residents hit the road (more on that stop here).
By mid-afternoon we were back on the highway (and racing the clock) to make sure there would be some daylight left when we arrived at Mono Lake.
Mono Lake is a different kind of lake. One of the oldest lakes in North America (more than a million years old) the saline lake is surrounded by giant "tufa towers" - these super funky formations of limestone, created by interactions between the alkaline lake and freshwater springs.
The lake is a fairly short walk from the park entrance, with a paved trail, tufa towers, and interesting vegetation along the way. Even before you hit the shoreline, it seriously feels like you're walking on another planet.
In addition to it's ancient beginnings and formations, Mono Lake has an interesting recent history as well. In the 1940s, water was diverted from the lake's freshwater springs and sent to the City of Los Angeles - and as a result, the lake dropped 45 vertical feet and lost half its volume; millions of migratory birds were also threatened.
In response, the Mono Lake Committee was formed. The group successfully fought a decade-long legal battle that is helping to restore the lake's level; the Committee is also responsible for protection, restoration, and education efforts.
The Mono Lake Committee operates a volunteer program, in partnership with the US Forest Service, California State Parks, and the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association. We were lucky enough to meet and chat with one of the volunteers during our visit (he's in the blue "Mono Lake Volunteer" t-shirt above), who had a ton of knowledge about Mono Lake and the surrounding area, and shared some life stories and wisdom as well.
It was bright and sunny when we arrived, and we explored the lake's shoreline through the afternoon and on into the golden hour, which made for some dramatic views.
In addition to the tufa towers and other-worldly shoreline, Mono Lake nestled near the Eastern Sierra, which provide a pretty spectacular backdrop and lovely mountain views.
As the sun started to set, we knew it was time to start the trek back to Tahoe - but with the colors constantly changing, we couldn't tear ourselves away from the spot just yet. (Like mother, like daughter).
In the end, it was worth fighting off wind and dropping temperatures to experience the GORGEOUS glow of dusk over Mono Lake. The colors - even at the beginning of the sunset - we absolutely ridiculous.
Thinking of heading to Mono Lake? Check out these sites for info:
Have some extra time to spare? The Travertine Hot Springs are on the way from Mono Lake to Tahoe (or vice versa), and they look AWESOME. (This stop was originally on our itinerary, but after a morning tire replacement in Carson City, we ran out of time. It's definitely on my list to visit.)