Mono Lake - US 395 is the main north-south route in California east of the Sierra Nevada range, and for much of its length has very impressive views of the snow-covered mountains nearby. At the small town of Lee Vining, close to the junction with CA 120 (the Tioga Pass road, leading to Yosemite National Park) lies Mono Lake, a large, shallow, alkaline lake that is not particularly interesting at first sight but does have some unusual features. The surrounding land is flat and quite barren with remains of ancient volcanoes and lava plateaus.
Water: Mono Lake is a remnant of a much larger body of water that covered much of the surrounding region after melting of glaciers 700,000 years ago. Water levels have been decreasing steadily since 1941 due to water removal from its tributary streams to supply cities in Southern California, principally Los Angeles, although they have now stabilised.
Approach: The most spectacular approach to Mono Lake is from the north - US 395 circles around the top of a ridge (Conway Summit) at 8,200 feet, from which a great vista stretches for a long way south, including the deep blue lake surrounded by stark white rocks, 1,800 feet below and 5 miles distant. The main road follows part of the lakeside and has several access points although most of the shoreline is inaccessible.
Camping: There are a few campgrounds near Lee Vining, although no free sites. One good nearby location is along state road 270, 12 miles north; this leads to Bodie State Historic Park, an authentic, well-preserved ghost town, and has several places alongside a pleasant stream (Clearwater Creek) on BLM land, suitable for overnight stays.
The Lake: The lake is 3 times as salty as the sea, but is not generally suitable for swimming or paddling as the water is somewhat smelly, rocks are sharp and in summer at least there are vast swarms of tiny black flies living close to the shore, often making the land appear quite dark. These are curious in that they will not settle on people - one can walk along disturbing great clouds of them yet remain untouched. There are no fish in Mono Lake, and the only creature that can survive in the alkaline water is a species of shrimp. The most famous features of the lake are the towers of Tufa (calcium carbonate) concentrated along the southwestern edge, formed by action of freshwater streams on the alkaline lake waters; the lake is protected as part of the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve. Besides the formations, this helps to safeguard the large and varied population of birds that nest in the area.