After spending a fabulous morning exploring June and Parker Lake, I made my way to Mono Lake, in the town of Lee Vining which is just North of June Lake and right outside Yosemite National Park (Tioga Pass).
I found a fun coffee shop called Latte Da Coffee where I enjoyed an iced tea to cool down before setting out on another hike. They have FREE Wifi with a purchase.The coffee shop is conjoined with the El Mono Motel, a quaint country-like motel.
After my iced tea, I walked next door to the Lee Vining Visitor Center where I learned more about Mono Lake and local hikes. The helpful visitor center worker mentioned the Parker Lake hike, which I already did that morning, and an easy 1.5 miles (each way) Lee Vining Creek Trail which lead to the Mono Lake Visitor Center. At the Visitor Center I learned more about the “tufa” formations and the history of Mono Lake.
Interesting Fact: A “tufa” formation is the unusual spires and knobs that are formed on top of each other from calcium-bearing freshwater springs, which are welled up through alkaline lake water. The calcium and carbonate combine, precipitating out as limestone.
The Lee Vining Creek Trail follows the creek before making its way to the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center, with an incredible view of Mono Lake and the islands. The trail is south of the city and Lakeview Lodge. I took the trail to the Visitor’s Center and then walked back through the town instead of back tracking.
That evening I decided to watch the sunset at the Mono Lake South Tufa. I exited the 395 at the 120 E towards Mono Lake South Tufa. Note: the 120 W and E are not directly linear. They are about 5 miles apart (why, I do not know). During the summer, there are naturalist guided tours at 10:00am, 1:00pm, and 6:00pm daily. The tours last about an hour and explore the South Tufa. The entrance fee is a$3 for adults and Free for kids under 16 years of age.
Before making my way to the “tufa,” I stopped to hike around the Panum Crater, which is 3 miles East of the 395. The Panum Crater is a young volcano in which you can hike into the center and see some incredible geological formations. I’m no science expert so it was a bit anti-climatic for me. The shiny black rocks were fascinating to see (I’m assuming from the eruption), however I believe taking the hike with someone with geological background would make it more valuable 🙂
Watching the sunset was beautiful at Mono Lake South Tufa. The ‘hike’ takes you to the water via a boardwalk and then along the sand as you explore the tufa formations. It is a very popular place for photographers, as people come from all around the world to photograph the sunset, stars, and birds. You will not be the only one there enjoying the beautiful scenery.
TIP: as it was summer, the sun did not set until 8:15pm. I was tempted to leave shortly afterwards however learned the later you stay, you begin to see more beautiful colors that appear in the sky. Stay at least until 9pm for the various change in the sky.