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Posts Tagged ‘June Lake’

Highway 395 View of Mono Lake

Back when modern life swallowed me up with bills, paperwork, pick-ups, drop-offs—a life regulated by a busy schedule and commitments with work, family and friends— hitting the highway for an extended ride was a challenge.

But, on occasion the simplicity of traveling (route, food and shelter) replaced the intensity of modern living and one such adventure was a ride to Yosemite National Park and Mono Lake

Yosemite is approximately 1,200 square miles, but most visitors seem to always congregate near the Half Dome and El Capitan monoliths in Yosemite Valley.

Tufa Towers at Mono Lake

I learned that the beauty stretches far beyond the over crowded seven-mile Yosemite Valley. I especially liked the east-side, with wild Tuolumne Meadows, Lembert Dome, Cathedral Lakes, and Tioga Pass (CA. highest vehicle crossing) which is a great motorcycle riding experience – without the crowds.

On the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park you’ll also find Mono Lake. The 70 square-mile lake is located 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park on Highway 395, near the town of Lee Vining, California.  It’s known for its salty waters, mineral deposits and being one of the oldest lakes in North America.

Tioga Lake

It’s a beautiful landscape with the lake reflecting the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in its blue waters. The lake has many tributaries but no outlet. The main way that water leaves the lake is by evaporation which is why the water has such a high mineral content including salt. In fact, Mono Lake is three-times saltier than the ocean.

One of the Lake’s most prominent geographical items is the tufa (too-fah).  These are tower formations found in many alkaline lakes around the world. In the South Tufa Area there is a trail that allows you to walk right up to and among these giant spires, some reaching 30-feet tall.

Tioga Pass Road (Hwy 120)

To get to the South Tufa Reserve from the Visitors Center, you drive 5-miles south on U.S. 395, turn left on Hwy 120 East and follow the signs to South Tufa. Of course the Yosemite National Park pass is not valid at this location.  There is a parking lot where you pay a modest fee to access a self-guided trail. The trail is level gravel, boardwalk, and sand. It is less than a mile long.

I did a bit of research to learn that the tufa is limestone that forms when calcium-enriched springs flow up into and react with the lake water – in other words, they only form underwater. The limestone towers are above the waterline now because the city of Los Angeles began diverting the streams that feed the lake in 1941, lowering the lake’s level by more than 40 feet. Since a Water Board ruling in 1994, the lake has been gradually refilling to its 1963 levels; when it’s done, part of this trail will be underwater again. So visit sooner than later.

Unless you plan to camp, the closest lodging to Yosemite (from the east side) is in Lee Vining and June Lake. Bridgeport, to the north on US 395, and Mammoth Lakes, to the south, are each about 40 miles from the Park’s east entrance.

NOTE: Currently, Yosemite is open, but reservations are required to enter the park and use Tioga Road due to COVID-19.

Photos courtesy of author.

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