The Many Moods of Mono Lake

Mono Lake is an ancient lake that is over 1 million years old and is one of the oldest lakes in North America.  It covers about 65 square miles and serves as a nesting, feeding and resting grounds for 1 to 2 million birds that feed on the brine shrimp that number in the millions. Tufa towers, are calcium spires formed by the interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Salts and minerals wash into the lake from Eastern Sierra Mountain streams.  The lake is 2-1/2 times as salty as the Ocean.

"looking at mono lake from the vista point

Mono Lake from Overlook

I had a week off over Christmas and New Years, so I decided to take a few days and go on a photo shoot.  I was hearing a lot of stories about the Tioga Pass being open to Yosemite, which hasn’t happened in about 30 years.   It has been so dry that there hasn’t been any snow in the Sierra’s.  So of course I had to see it.  I decided to drive to Lee Vining, home of the ever changing moods of Mono Lake.  I left friday morning December 30th and treated myself to a starbucks on the way out,  for a three hour drive south on hwy 395.  The plan is to stay at the Murphy’s Lodge in Lee Vining for the weekend.  It’s close to everything I plan on doing.   Second day I will drive into Yosemite, and third day spend at the famous Ghost Town of  Bodie California.  The largest preserved ghost town in the United States.  When you come over the hill to Lee Vining, there’s a cool turnout that is famous for this view above, of Mono Lake.  Today, there happened to be a lot of air traffic.

"Dust Storm, Mono Lake, Paoha Island"

Dust Storm, Mono Lake, Paoha Island

It hasn’t been windy for over a month and the second I pulled out of the driveway the wind started blowin’.  I was hoping it would calm down by the time I arrived, but no luck there.  In fact this picture above, the winds were clipping about 50 to 60 mph and creating a dust storm on Paoha Island in Mono Lake.  I read that this is common when the wind blows here.

"Dust Storm-Paoha Island"

Dust Storm-Paoha Island

It was actually pretty cool to see in person.  I stopped at another high spot to take this pic of the dust storm.  The waves were about 2′ and the water was green.  The wind was blowing in sheets across the lake.  It was very dramatic.

"Windy Day at Mono Lake with green water & high waves"

Windy Day at Mono Lake

At first I was really bummed that it was windy because I had to hang on to my camera and tripod for dear life. Then I thought wow, this is awesome!!!!! Go with it Sal!!

"Mono Lake Dust Storm with 60 Mile an Hour Winds and High Waves"

Mono Lake Dust Storm with 60 Mile an Hour Winds and High Waves

At times the waves looked like surf rollers splashing on the tufa and the dust changed the color of the sky.

Mono Lake-Old Marina

Mono Lake- Old Marina

This is the sign when you enter the Old Marina parking lot.

"Mono Lake Dust Storm"

Mono Lake Dust Storm

Here’s an example above of the wind blowing in sheets……the wind would blow so hard that the waves would almost disappear.  Picture me trying to hold on for dear life.  I don’t weigh much.  I was going to take a self portrait of me blowing in the wind but I couldn’t let go of the tripod.

"Dust Storm, Mono Lake"

Dust Storm, Mono Lake

I was just awestruck at mother nature at work.

White Tufa & Dust Storm

White Tufa & Dust Storm

Here the sun peaked out of the dust cloud and lit the white tufa.

"River washed out the road"

Road Ends

When I got into Lee Vining  I stopped at the motel and unloaded a few things.  Then I headed for the history museum but it was closed for the winter.  From the parking lot up above the lake I could see some dirt roads.  So I headed down without a map.  I went a few miles and ended up here.  The Rush River had flooded the road.  It was about 2′ deep with thick chunks of ice.  I probably would have tried to go through it if  I wasnt alone, but woman’s intuition told me to stay put and have my lunch by the river.  My sister Becky can attest to that. I called her on my cell while I was eating lunch( homemade turkey wrap and chips) to check in and let her know that I made it to my first destination.

"Rush Creek washed out the road"

Rush Creek

I parked my truck by the Rush River to eat my lunch.  It was so windy I had to stay in the truck.

"The Beach Near Rush Creek Inlet"

The Beach Near Rush Creek Inlet

After lunch I found a turn off  for the boat launch and drove about a mile.  I ended up at a turn around that had a boat dock and a beach.  Oh , I forgot to mention, aside from it being really windy, it was a balmy 55 degrees, and mostly sunny.  T shirt weather!!!!  Nice Beach eh?  You wouldn’t want to go swimming in it though.

"Driftwood Flower"

Driftwood Flower

I found this beautiful piece of what I think is lake mullien.  It was like driftwood.

Pink and Blue Sunset-Old Marina

Pink and Blue Sunset-Old Marina

I headed back to Old Marina for the sunset.  It was starting to get colder and the wind just wouldn’t stop.  I had to sit on a wooden bench on the boardwalk trail and wrap both my legs around the legs of my tripod to hold it still.   I had to sit because when I stood up to get a pic without the meadow grass in it, I almost blew over.  No kidding!  Right about the time I was asking myself what the heck I was doin out there, this beautiful sunset started to happen and made it all worth it.

"Blue and Pink Sunset- Old Marina Tufa"

Sunset Old Marina Tufa

The pic above is the  New Years Eve 2011 Sunset.  No wind, no waves, no meadow grass.  What a difference a day makes eh?

"Yellow, Orange Sunrise,with silhouette tufa- Old Marina"

Sunrise, Old Marina

HERE COMES THE SUN , do, do, do, doooooo….and I say….Its aright…

Woke up at 5:00 on New Years Eve to catch the sunrise at Old Marina.  Im headed for Yosemite today but first things first…..It was really peaceful.   I was the only one there.

"Sunrise-Old Marina"

Sunrise-Old Marina

It was really cold!  Picture me breathing hot air on my finger tips!  I stood here for over an hour and got some awesome pics.  I learned the day before not to walk too far off the beaten path because you will sink ankle deep in salt muck.  It wasn’t pretty.

"Frost Covered Boardwalk-Old Marina"

Frost Covered Boardwalk-Old Marina

This is the boardwalk you have to take to get to the tufa’s.  I think it’s about a quarter mile.  If you look close you can see the frost sparkling on the wood.

"Frosted Boardwalk"

Frosted Boardwalk

"Tufa Rock Reflections in the water"

Tufa Rock Reflections

Sunday, New Years Day 2012, I awoke at 5:00 again to head to South Tufa for sunrise.  It was about 15 minutes from town and was very dark when I arrived there. Another photographer was there when I pulled up.  I grabbed my gear and flashlight and followed a bit behind her down the path.  I didn’t know where I was going and she looked like she did.  I hung a right at the end of the boardwalk and kept going….I didnt know what I was in for until the sun started to rise. WOW!

"Sunrise South Tufa Silhouette"

Sunrise South Tufa Silhouette

I met this guy yesterday and we were talking about the lake.  He asked me if  I had been to South Tufa yet.  I said no, I have never been there.  He said, go! It will blow you away!  (I was hoping not literally because I had, had enough wind for a while)  He told me it was better than Old Marina for photographing…so I went… and he was right, I was blown away at the beauty!!!

"Sunrise, South Tufa Beach"

Sunrise, South Tufa Beach

Just imagine being able to sit here in perfect silence and watch this sunrise happen.  I was pinching myself to make sure I was awake.

Happy New Year 2012!!!

"Eared Greebe water fowl"

Eared Greebes & Tufa

The Sun had many different colors as it was rising through the clouds.  The water kept changing too.

"Tufa Reflection"

Tufa Reflection

Just an amazing place.

"South Tufa Sunrise"

South Tufa Sunrise

The water was so calm and it was very quiet there.  I could hear a few grebes and birds, but that was it.

"Eastern Sierra's & South Tufa Sunrise"

Eastern Sierra's & South Tufa Sunrise

I turned around and caught the sun rising on the mountains.

"Hot Springs View from the Beach"

Hot Springs from the Beach

As the sun rose I noticed some steam coming up off the lake.  It’s the Hot Springs.  Maybe I’ll take a dip!!!  I decided to hike over there.

"Hot Springs at south tufa"

South Tufa Hot Springs

I don’t know how hot it was because I couldn’t get close enough without sinking.  It looked too hot to get in, thats for sure.   It was Bubbling Hot!!!

"South Tufa Hot Springs

South Tufa Hot Springs

I walked from that tufa area beyond.  There are paths that take you over here but not right up to the springs. You have to find your own way and watch your step!  I kept seeing dead bird carcasses with feathers.  It must be good hunting ground for some animal and I was keeping my eyes open for it.

"Mono Lake Hot Springs"

Mono Lake Hot Springs

What a great Morning it is….It’s starting to warm up!

"south tufa formations"

South Tufa Formations

Well, its time to leave South Tufa and head for Bodie.  I hope you enjoyed  The Mono Lake Journey.

Stay tuned to my blog for the Yosemite and Bodie Adventures.

“The journey that you take is more important than your destination”


About Sally

“All too often, we take for granted the gifts of nature that surround us everyday.” With her camera, Sally Hanrahan captures images that move the spirit and imagination, and marries those images of spiritual, natural, and rugged beauty with the changing of the seasons. Originally from Michigan, Sally’s interest as a photographer came at the early age of fifteen. Her parent’s love of nature influenced her appreciation for the beauty and serenity that Mother Earth created. Her Grandmother’s love of photography and her Mother’s amazing talent with oils and watercolors brought to life the landscapes she yearned to visit. A self trained photographer with a natural talent, Sally has been capturing landscapes for over 30 years. Her pictures were shown at the 2007 Sierra Autumn Photo Exhibit at Bartley Ranch and won the 2nd place People’s Choice Award for ‘Fall at Caughlin Ranch.’ Sally took first place in two categories for the Nevada Magazine’s 2011 Great Nevada Picture Hunt and won Event runner up in 2015. She has shown ‘Fighting Mustangs’, a tribute to the wild horses of Nevada, both at the Artistic Viewpoints Gallery in Gardnerville, NV for the Wild Mustang Exhibit, and at the Truckee River Gallery in Reno for the ‘Art of the Horse’ exhibit. She was among those who showed at the Patagonia outlet for the Winnemucca Ranch fundraiser. In addition, Sally has presented her photo art periodically at the Truckee River Gallery in downtown Reno and for the Nevada Land Trust Fundraisers at Rancho San Rafael Wilbur D. May Museum. Sally moved to Reno in 2006, and devotes her high energy and free time to hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and anything having to do with the outdoors. She has worked as a landscape designer for over 25 years and is especially fond of perennial gardens. The landscape is her pallet and her camera is always hanging from her shoulder ready for the next breathtaking shot. “The journey that you take is more important than your destination” Unknown
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