Mono Lake is probably one of the most iconic and easily recognized features on the eastern side of California’s Sierra Nevada. It’s a 65 square mile (168 sq km) lake with no natural outlet. So even though it collects water from Lee Vining, Rush, and Mill Creeks (among others), evaporation makes its waters very salty – about 2 times saltier than the Pacific Ocean.

In 1941, the water in its inlet streams was diverted south, to meet the water needs of the City of Los Angeles. This caused the lake’s level to fall precipitously and its salinity to increase mightily. 😥 These changes imperiled both the lake’s native brine shrimp 🍤 and the thousands of migrating waterbirds that depend on these tiny invertebrates for food. Fortunately, in 1994, after years of controversy and legal wrangling, a management plan was established to restore the lake’s level to 6,392 above sea level. It’s still about 12 feet (3.6 m) shy of that goal.

The one feature at Mono Lake (other than the lake itself) that seems to draw the most attention are the tufa towers on its south shore. These striking features are made of calcium carbonate, which precipitates out when the highly mineralized and salty lake water interacts with water from freshwater springs emerging under the lake’s surface. My guess is that millions of photos have been snapped of these towers over the years. Perhaps fewer than there are brine shrimp, but a lot nonetheless.

So after we returned from our hike to Gem Lake, got cleaned-up, and had dinner, we decided to go snap yet more photos of those tufa towers. We’ve taken photos here during the day. But by taking some as night fell and large clouds swelled over the nearby Sierras, it seemed like we might get a different perspective. Or just add a few of our own photos to the millions that have been exposed before. 🙄

Tufa I
Tufa II
Tufa III
Tufa IV
Tufa V
Tufa VI
Tufa VII
Tufa IX
Tufa X
Tufa XI
Tufa XII