WWWednesday: September 29, 2021

Tufa Tower, South Shore of Mono Lake, CAAnd now… travelogue.

Mono Lake, Ca.

The calcium carbonate towers, with their knobs and twists, that decorate the water and the shores of Mono Lake in eastern California were (and are) formed by the interaction of freshwater springs below the lake’s surface and the highly mineralized lake water. They’re called tufa. Mono Lake’s salinity is much higher than any ocean; the only things that live in it are brine shrimp and alkaline fly larvae, both of which provide a banquet for many varieties of birds. The lake is currently 65 square miles in area, but it used to be much larger. The Owens Valley project diverted water from the lake to be used by Los Angeles for decades until it was finally stopped only a few years ago. Many of the tufa are now on dry land, surrounded by sagebrush and rabbit brush. (The state’s plan to let the lake’s surface rise back to its 1950s level of 6410 feet above sea level has been stymied by the state’s drought.)

North Shore of Mono Lake with Tufa, image by Marion Deeds

North Shore of Mono Lake with Tufa, image by Marion Deeds

A lot of people, including me, see faces and figures in the gnarled columns. The most numerous tufa are visible at South Tufa, the lake’s south shore, and Navy Beach, less than one mile away, holds the sand tufa, towers that formed in the lake’s sandy bottom and collected sand as a surface layer. They look a bit like fabric, or like ancient cities or temples… and a little like some monster from Doctor Who.

Sand Tufa at Navy Beach, Mono Lake. Image by M. Deeds

Sand Tufa at Navy Beach, Mono Lake. Image by M. Deeds

I have some issues with high altitudes, but at about 6300 feet above sea level I did okay. It was places like The Devil’s Post Pile Monument and Bodie that gave me pause.

The Mono Basin Visitors Center is a beautiful building with a lot of information about the lake and surrounding areas. In the town of Lee Vining, the Mono Lake Committee Information Center has great books, information, and tours during the spring and summer seasons.


The turnoff for Bodie is about twenty miles north of Mono Lake, and about 3,000 feet higher, over 9,000 feet at the high valley that housed California’s best known ghost town. The town is being kept in a state of “arrested decay” where certain buildings are maintained (minimally) by the State Park Service, but and others are allowed to lapse and collapse. Bodie was a mining town with a bad reputation—but it was a boomtown. The Standard Mine Stamping Mill is intact,  and the park service offers tours during the tourist season. They were in the off-season when we were there, with minimal staffing, but the park was open for self-guided tours. The 13-mile drive from the turnoff from Highway 395 is winding, and the last several miles are dirt and badly rutted, creating an effect that can be “washboard” or “magic fingers massage on overdrive.”

Bodie cabin in a state of "arrested decay," Bodie, CA. Image by M. Deeds

Bodie cabin in a state of “arrested decay,” Bodie, CA. Image by M. Deeds

Standard Mine Stamping Mill, where quartz was crushed to extract the gold. Bodie, CA

Standard Mine Stamping Mill, where quartz was crushed to extract the gold. Bodie, CA

Hot Creek Geological Site:

Volcanic Thermal Pools, bright turquoise blue, in Hot Creek, Ca. Image by M. Deeds

Volcanic thermal pools at Hot Creek Geological Site, Hot Creek, CA.

I’m including Hot Creek because I think it gets overlooked in comparison to the majesty of Yosemite Park and the beauty of the Devil’s Post Pile National Monument, which is above the skiing town of Mammoth. Hot Creek is a great example of the forces at work in the eastern Sierra; the volcanic and geologic and well as the glacial, back in the day. (Way back in the day.) The creek runs west-east, south of Mammoth, a left turn off Highway 395. At first it seems like a lovely, average creek, rippling dark green water sparkling in the sun, edged with thick tulles and reeds, until you come on the three thermal pools, which are obvious for their color. The turquoise water, which is steaming, flows into the creek. Those are most obvious hot spots and because they sit over magma vents, the temperature can jump to boiling in a few seconds. Swimming is forbidden (mainly because over the years many people have died there). The rest of the creek is not safe either, because other fumaroles and vents open into the water and they are not as readily visible.

The site is strange and wonderful.

Bodie Victorian Hotel:

By the way, if you have $395,000 lying around you haven’t decided what to do with, you can purchase and run the Bodie Victorian Hotel, which is actually 18 miles away in Bridgeport, Mono County’s county seat. The hotel has ten room and some have ensuites (which is the real estate way of saying some of the rooms have to share a bathroom. There’s also an annex. I’m just saying. Oh, it looks like they might have dropped the price.

That’s it; not much of a roundup and not many links, but next week the column will be back to normal—whatever normal is.

Bodie Victorian is Hotel For Sale.

Bodie Victorian is Hotel For Sale

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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  1. Those are great photos, Marion. I would like to see the tufa someday.

    The tendency to see faces in things is called Pareidolia.

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