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Tufa Towers of Mono Lake in California

Weird limestone creations that emerge from the lake surface attract naturalists and curious tourists. Are they natural, or is it another art installation?

Best time: June–mid-September

Tufa Towers of Mono Lake
Tufa Towers of Mono Lake
Tufa Towers of Mono Lake
Tufa Towers of Mono Lake

Mono Lake lays on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in California. As the lake has no outlet and the only inflow is from precipitation and a few spring, the level of water is getting lower, and salt concentration is relatively high.

The most popular and interesting feature of the lake are its amazing tufa towers. These are free standing calcite towers, knobs, and spires that may look like some kind of art installations. They are mainly pale grey and ivory in colour. The towers are formed with the help of underwater springs rich in calcium and the carbonate-rich waters of the lake. This mixture creates limestone that formed the tufa towers.

The tufa towers emerged from the surface due to the water level drop after the streams that fed Mono Lake were diverted by the city of Los Angeles in 1941. At that time the lake surface level dropped by 13 metres. In 1982 Mono Lake lost 31% of its surface area.

During the summer season, every visitor can join free hour-long tours led by naturalists. Besides that, late June to early September is the time when lake canoe tours are offered. During these months, you can also join stargazing with stories in the evening, just make sure to bring a blanket and warm clothes.

Practical info

When should tourists visit the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Information Center to see the tufa towers?

The tufa towers in Mono Lake can be seen throughout the year, but the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Information Center, which provides access to the tufa towers, is open only from June to mid-September, a period when visitors can experience warm and dry weather. During this time, canoe tours and stargazing activities are also available to tourists. Show more

What process gave rise to Mono Lake's tufa towers, and what are they made of?

Mono Lake's distinctive tufa towers are freestanding spires, knobs, and calcite towers formed over eons from limestone. These towers emerged through the interaction of carbonated-rich waters and underwater rich springs that are rich in calcium. The limestone dissolved in the water, forming tufa towers. Mono Lake is the only place globally where large scale tufa towers can be found. Show more

What unique features contribute to the formation of Mono Lake's tufa towers, and where is the lake located?

Mono Lake is situated in California on the east slope of Sierra Nevada Mountains. Its exceptional water source comes from precipitation and some springs, as the lake has no outlet. Low water levels and increased salt concentration created by this feature have led to the formation of the incredible tufa towers that draw both nature enthusiasts and tourists seeking an awe-inspiring experience. Show more

What led to the emergence of Mono Lake's tufa towers, and what are the consequences of these changes to the lake's ecosystem?

In 1941, the city of Los Angeles directed streams that fed Mono Lake. As a result, water levels dropped by 13 meters, leading to the emergence of Mono Lake's tufa towers. In the long term, however, these diversions have affected the lake's ecosystem and water quality. Since 1982, Mono Lake has shrunk by 31%, and its acidity has increased to an extent so high that the lake can no longer support aquatic life - this dire situation will continue if restoration efforts are not made. Show more

Can tourists participate in any activities when they visit Mono Lake during summer, and are there any guided tours available?

Tourists who visit Mono Lake in summer can participate in several exciting activities such as taking hour-long nature tours that help in exploring the lake's unique features. They can also paddle through Mono Lake's serene waters and come up to the fantastic tufa towers to marvel at their beauty. Besides these activities, tourists are also invited to enjoy moonlit evenings, listening to the stories that lead to the lake's incredible geological features. Show more

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Authors: Olha Savych