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Mono Lake in California
By:James Barnett

As the city of Los Angeles grew in population after World War II, the need for water required the city to access the resources of the Owens Valley, which borders the eastern Sierra Nevada. The intention was to drain the Mono Basin, north of Owens, an endeavor that prompted a statewide and even nationwide protest to save Mono Lake. The lake is unique, generally characterized as otherworldly, mainly because of the protruding spires, called tufa, that seem to float upon from the surface of the water. Mono Lake is located just east of Yosemite but can only be reached from Yosemite in the summer when the Tioga Pass Road is open. Otherwise, the lake is accessible from the Reno/Tahoe area to the north or from Los Angeles to the south.

Make reservations early in either Lee Vining, California, or nearby Bishop. Though Yosemite to the west and Lake Tahoe to the north draw many more visitors, the nearby town of Mammoth Lakes is very active in the summer and Mono Lake has become quite a buzz over its oddness. Therefore, the motels in these two towns tend to fill up, especially on the weekends.

Drive to Lee Vining, over 300 miles north of Los Angeles. From Los Angeles, take State Highway 14 off Interstate 5. Highway 14 becomes U.S. Highway 395 to Lee Vining and Mono Lake.

Plan to watch the eastern sunrise over the lake. The shapes of the tufa and their extended shadows upon the water seem to justify the established characterization. One particular visit was greeted by someone playing the recorder. A lone visitor, in ritualistic fashion, welcomed the day and paid homage to the lake with beautifully haunting sounds.

Watch the birds. Mono Lake is also known for its abundance of migratory birds. The early morning sounds from the waterfowl in this sanctuary is quite amazing.

Visit the Forest Service Visitor Center located on the southwest shore of the lake. Check online about their summer hours. The center displays geological and environmental evidence as to why the lake needs protected. Political issues regarding the lake are also addressed.

Hike the Lee Vining Creek Trail. Follow the trail from the Visitor Center south along the shaded creek and toward the town. The trail is just over three miles round trip and ends at the highway.

Hike the Parker Lake Trail. Access State Highway 158 west and follow the Parker Lake and then the Parker Trailhead directional signs. The trail is part of a loop covering various lakes so, depending on time and stamina, you could devote the day to hiking here. After a moderate hike along creeks and through forests, you can sense the urgency of an area in need of saving.

Explore the Mono by canoe or kayak, which allows the visitor to discover areas of the lake difficult to access by land. You can rent watercraft as well. Avoid Paoha and Negit Islands, as they are summer nesting areas.

End the day by taking a sunset tour of the south tufa area. These famous protrusions are plentiful in this area as the bird species. Seeing the sun set on the lake behind the snowcapped Sierra Nevada is almost mandatory. Smell the freshness of the air. There is a nominal charge for the tour, but it's well worth the cost.

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