Ancient Tufa Warriors

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Ancient Tufa Warriors

Mono Lake is a majestic saline body of water covering about 65 square miles located at the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park near the small town of Lee Vining. It is an ancient lake – over a million years old – and one of the oldest lakes in North America. It is also a closed lake, meaning that it has no outlet. Throughout its existence, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now 2.5 times as salty as the ocean and very alkaline.

The Mono Lake tufas are picturesque limestone towers. When calcium-rich fresh spring water comes up from the ground and mixes with the water of Mono Lake (which contains carbonates) calcium carbonate is formed. The calcium carbonate then settles into a solid around the mouth of the spring, and over years and years of solids being deposited, a tufa tower very gradually takes shape underwater. Over time, tufa towers can grow upwards of 30 feet tall under the surface of the water.

Tufas stop growing once they are exposed, and they become fragile and liable to erosion. At Mono Lake, tufa towers became exposed when the lake level drastically fell due to massive quantities of water being diverted from the streams feeding the lake to southern California starting in 1941. Water diversions from Mono Lake are now controlled.

Hundreds of tufa towers still stand tall and proud in Mono Lake as reminders of the respect that the Lake deserved then and still deserves today. The Mono Lake Reserve was established to preserve the spectacular “tufa towers,” calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by the interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. It also protects the lake surface itself as well as the wetlands and other sensitive habitats for the 1 to 2 million birds that feed and rest at Mono Lake each year.

Location: Mono Lake; Lee Vining, California.