Mono Lake in Winter: 8 Spectacular Scenes

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A foot of snow blankets the Sierra just west of Mono Lake (January 8)

“Over the summer, when I gave tours at South Tufa, visitors often asked me, ‘What does it look like here in the winter?'” This was a comment by Andrew Youssef, a Project Specialist for Mono Lake Committee. South Tufa is arguably the most scenic part of Mono Lake State Natural Reserve in eastern California. Since he had only spent summers in the Sierra, he honestly wasn’t sure what the winters were like at Mono Lake. He knew the Sierra crest would probably be snow-covered, and possibly the Mono Craters, but he couldn’t say anything for certain.

This season, he has been fortunate enough to spend his first winter in the Mono Basin. “And what an amazing season it has been so far — from frozen streams to snow-covered tufa to all the animal tracks which are suddenly visible after a snow shower!”

Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda (or alkaline) lake in Mono County, California, formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts are what make the lake water alkaline.

This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp that thrive in its waters, and provides critical nesting habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp.

In 1941, the city of Los Angeles diverted water from the lake which lowered the lake level and imperiled the migratory birds. The lake had dropped 45 vertical feet by 1991 and lost half its volume. As a result, alkaline sands and formerly submerged tufa towers became exposed, the water salinity doubled, nests of seagulls were exposed to predators (such as coyotes), and migratory birds were forced to abandon this site.

The Mono Lake Committee formed in response and won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially restore the lake level. Due to Mono Lake Committee’s continued successful work, Andrew Youssef has been able to capture these amazing winter scenes for you to enjoy:

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The Dana Plateau rises high above a quiet Tioga Road, which is currently closed for the winter (January 8).

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The Mono Craters were covered with 8-10 inches of lake-effect snow after a Thanksgiving storm (November 28)

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Snow in the high desert. (December 17)

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Mono Lake’s snowy shorline (November 27)

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Lesser Goldfinches gathered atop a snowy tree in Lee Vining next to Mono Lake (January 5)

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View from Conway Summit as poconip fog fills the Mono Basin (December 17)

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More poconip fog and snowy peaks above Mono Lake (December 17)

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