Another great day geological/naturalist day trip north of Mammoth is an exploration o the extra-terrestrial Mono basin, Mono Lake and ancient volcanic craters. For a full day, start at the Mono Basin National Forest Visitor's Center and then trek out to explore the Lake with its tufa towers, and hike to some of the craters.
Mono Basin National Forest Visitor Center
Our favorite part of our visit, though, was the hike we took down to the river by just stepping out the back door of the Center. Once you exit, you'll see that there is a low stone wall. Beyond the wall are several short trails with explanatory signs dotting the landscape. For busy kids like mine, hiking and stopping occasionally to read a sign is the must-do way to learn. They learn best when their feet are moving. Be aware, though, that if you plan to hike, you should wear closed shoes. Not flip flops. Ask me how I know.
Mono Lake is located about 30 miles North of Mammoth Lakes, just east of the 395, where it stretches eastward from the base of the Sierra Nevada. The salty waters of this ancient inland sea create and sustain a unique biosphere where tiny brine shrimp and brine flies feed billions of migrating birds each year. Native peoples of this area relied on the larvae as their main source of summer protein.
Easiest access to Mono Lake is at South Tufa off Highway 120 East. Once you exit 395, the turnoff is still several miles (some of it unpaved). But it is well-worth the drive to see the tufa towers in person. At the parking lot, be sure to pay the fee either to an attendant or using a self-service envelope. Then meander among the odd shaped tufa towers-- formed by piling mineral deposits beneath the water's surface when mineral rich spring water mixed with salty lake water. A naturalist tour is offered each day at 6pm during the summer and is also worthwhile.
If you don't want to make a full day of the Mono Basin, at least make this your first stop for sunrise pictures as you head on a daytrip into Yosemite or trek home to points north.
For More Information:
Mono Lake Committee
The Mono Lake Committe is a 16,000 member non-profit citizen group dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Mono Basin ecosystem which has been devastated by excessive water diversions by LADWP. The Committee also educates the public, and promotes cooperative solutions to protect Mono Lake.
PO Box 29
Lee Vining, CA 93541