Mono Lake Location Facts California USA

Mono Lake Location Facts California USA

Weird pinnacles of rock seem to float like a mirage on the brilliant blue waters of Mono lake, which gleams like of jewel in a setting of sand flats and sagebrush ringed by mountains. ‘ A country of wonderful contrasts, hot deserts bordered by snow-laden mountains,’ was how the area was described by John Muir, the 19th-century American naturalist.

Nearly three times saltier than the sea, Mono Lake takes its name from a Native American word for brine flies, which it supports by the million – it is too salty for fish. Local people who ate the fly larvae were known in the Shoshone language as Monachi, or fly eaters. The water has a soapy feel and is very buoyant to swim in. After visiting Mono Lake, the 19th-century American writer Mark Twain said the water was so strong with alkali that even a hopelessly soiled garment could be washed clean.

A party of fur-trappers led by Captain Joseph Walker, who was a well-known mountain man of the time, were the first Europeans to describe the lake. They were heading west for the mountains from Wyoming, and according to Zenas Leonard, one of the party, they came upon it in October 1833 as they stood on a high ridge so they could survey the ‘frightening grandeur of the Sierras.


Below them was a vast blue bowl of water sitting in the middle of a desert; they went down for a closer inspection and found the water bitter. There was no sign of life except for millions of worm-like creatures wriggling about in the water and the drifts of flies along the shore. Rafts of hard but sponge-like rock floated on the surface, and there were strange spired columns of a different soft rock, which had a Swiss cheese appearance, underneath the water and rising just above it. Hot water springs arose along the shore, and there were blackened, pitted rocks from volcanic action to the south.

Mono Lake is some 60sq miles (155sq km) in extent and more than 700, 000 years old. Its basin was formed by earth movements and volcanic action during the birth of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The steam vents and hot springs in the lake basin show that there is still some volcanic activity. Paoha Island in the middle of the lake was formed by volcanic action about 200 years ago.


Freshwater springs and melting snow feed the lake with water. It has no natural outlets, and its saltiness results from the salts and minerals washed in over thousands of years. The pinnacles jutting from the lake surface area of tufa (pronounced Toofah), a type of limestone. It slowly builds up columns above the freshwater springs in the lake bottom as calcium from the spring water combines with carbonate in the alkaline lake water. The tufa columns stop growing when the water level drops and they become exposed.

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