Mono Lake and Environs
August 25, 2009
Filed under Destinations
They rise from the water like dimpled stalagmites, reminiscent of dollops of wet sand one upon the other dropped by a child playing at the seashore. These eerie tufa towers, which create a setting both beautiful and mysterious here at Mono Lake, in Central California, are actually formed by layers upon layers of minerals as the underground freshwater streams bubble up through the alkaline waters of the lake. The porous structures dot the glistening water of the lake, which is actually an ancient inland sea 695 square miles in size, and one of the oldest bodies of water in the Western Hemisphere. RVers will be mesmerized by the haunting lake, and whether they choose to sit and meditate at its shore or sample the calm and soothing water via a canoe or kayak, they should reserve a few days to appreciate not only Mono Lake but the surrounding attractions, historic venues and variety of campgrounds in this stunning area of the Eastern Sierra.
Birdwatchers, in particular, will thrill to Mono Lake. The lake’s saltwater ecosystem is home to millions of tiny brine shrimp and alkali flies, which in turn provide nourishment for thousands of migrating birds. Before feeding the birds, the alkali flies are said to have fed the Native American Paiute tribe, the Kuzedika; this tribe’s neighbors, the Yokuts, witnessed the “fly people” or monachie, and so the lake was named. For the best viewing of this phenomenal landscape, visitors should go to South Tufa where a self-guided tour is outlined, or they should consider a 90-minute naturalist-guided tour, available three times a day during summer months. County Park also offers bird walks; a trail and boardwalk are available.
For those who want to get up-close-and-personal to the lake, Navy Beach is the place to go for kayaking and canoeing, while the Old Marina, just off Highway 395, provides amazing views of the lake and its haunting formations. Also off the major highway about 3 miles east visitors should consider the detour to Panum, home of Panum and Mono craters. Both craters are considered quite young ranging from 600 to 40,000 years in age. Naturalist guided tours are also available here.
Some of the mystery of Mono Lake captured the imagination of one of our most beloved writers: Mark Twain. In his book, Roughing It, the prolific author devotes two chapters to the lake and mentions the strange little brine and alkali flies, although he could not identify them. “No living thing exists under the surface, except a white feathery sort of worm, one half an inch long, which looks like a bit of white thread frayed out at the sides.” And later Twain puts his colorful spin on the area’s waters: “Half a dozen little mountain brooks flow into Mono Lake, but not a stream of any kind flows out of it. It neither rises nor falls, apparently, and what it does with its surplus water is a dark and bloody mystery.” The book is a treasure trove of wanderings through the Eastern Sierra and would make a good addition to any RVer’s library.
North of Mono Lake, situated in a sagebrush-covered valley, the wonderful ghost town of Bodie sprawls across acres of land that once produced more than $35 million in gold and silver in the late 1800s. The town is a California State Historic Park and commands a visit and respect for its weathered buildings and Western ambiance. This infamous town was once considered the wildest in the West with its abundance of saloons and bordellos; today guests can peek into the windows of cabins, stores, a barbershop and a church for a glimpse of yesteryear. Step inside the Visitors Center and the museum for a better understanding of what transpired here. Restrooms and water are available, and a nominal fee is required.
A handful of towns such as Bridgeport, Coleville and Lee Vining also deserve a stopover, if time permits. Check road conditions and make certain your vehicle is in good shape; always tell someone if you are venturing into isolated areas.
Bodie State Historic Park, www.parks.ca.gov.
Lee Vining, www.leevining.com.
Mammoth Lakes, www.visitmammoth.com.
Stay a While
Consult your current edition of the Trailer Life RV Parks, Campgrounds & Services Directory for a list of campgrounds, but to get you started, see those listed here:
Bridgeport Reservoir RV Park and Marina, located in northern Mono County one hour north of Mammoth Lakes, boasts excellent fishing including trophy German brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout. Open from mid-April until October 31. For more information, go to www.bridgeportreservoir.com.
Mammoth Mountain RV Park in the town of Mammoth Lakes sits at an elevation of 7,800 feet – and yet is open year-round. Close to outstanding fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding and sightseeing in the spring, summer and fall, the park is also a favorite with winter enthusiasts. For more information, go to www.mammothrv.com.
Brown’s Campgrounds stretch along the Eastern Sierra from Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes, providing the necessities to take advantage of the area. Check individual campgrounds carefully for months of operation. For more information, go to www.thesierraweb.com/recreation/browns.
Boulder Creek RV Resort in Lone Pine is a Good Sam Park, and although not right around the corner from Mono Lake, it is well worth the drive. In addition, the park offers several amenities including a camp store, free morning coffee, homemade muffins and it provides easy access to the town of Lone Pine and its many opportunities. For more information, go to www.bouldercreekrvresort.com.