Mono Lake: Tufas, Alkali Flies and Shorebirds

Mono Lake is a unique body of water located at the bottom of a basin that has allowed water to collect for thousands of years but has no exit to let that water back out. Because of this, high levels of salt have accumulated, and the water is only able to sustain a specific type of life, brine shrimp. The brine shrimp thrive in the water and are a natural food source for the millions of birds that migrate through here every year. Mono Lake is an incredible stop off Highway 395, and the things you will notice at this lake are the Tufas, flies, and the birds. All of these contribute to the thriving and unique ecosystem that is Mono Lake. Here is all the information on this stop.


  • Cost: $10 if you do not have a national parks pass
  • Multiple ways to access the lake, but the best way is on the southern side
  • You can kayak on the lake as well, more on that here
  • Google Map link to the main tufa area here


The most unusual thing about this lake are the tufas that are located at the south end and are described as “a soft porous rock consisting of calcium carbonate deposited from springs rich in lime.”

If you want to see them, you will need to proceed down Highway 395 (from Lee Vining) to Highway 120. Driving east, you will want to watch for signs that lead to the small parking lot for the trailhead. After a half mile trip down a dirt road, you can park in the lot that has a bathroom, and walk about a half mile to the water and the diverse collection of tufas.

The hike from here is pretty much at your own pace. You can spend as much time as you like looking at these unique natural formations. Some even reach heights of around 15 to 20 feet. Here are some of my favorite pictures.

This area is also incredible at sunset as well, and if you have the chance to visit during that time, be sure to do it.

Alkali Flies

Something to note is that there are an insane amount of alkali flies. These are not the type of flies that bug you and buzz around, but the kind that collected on the ground by the water. Check out the black part near the water of the below picture, yes those are all flies. Crazy right?

One of the reasons why Native Americans settled here was because of the flies. They were able to harvest the larva for food. This is also one of the reasons why so many birds come through here as there are a lot of flies that can be eaten. Check out this video that shows how many flies there were as we were walking.


Birds are another reason why Mono Lake is a popular stop. I am not much of a bird watcher myself, but every time I visit there are always people with binoculars and big zoom lenses to look at the birds. I got to see an Osprey there last time I visited. You can see it in the photo above.


You can kayak on Mono Lake as well. For more information on that, check out this post.

I spent a good hour here walking around, and I could have easily spent longer, it was a crazy unique place. There are also a ton of great photo opportunities for photographers here as there is a lot to look at. Mono Lake is located right at the end of Tioga Pass Road, so it is an excellent way to complete a summer road trip or begin a drive over the pass. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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