"Mono" means flies in the language of the Yokuts, the Native Americans who live to the south of this region. The Native Americans who lived in the Mono Basin, the Kuzedika or the Mono Lake Pauite, collected the abundant alkali fly pupae and used them as one of their main food sources. They also used the kutsavi (alkali fly pupae) to trade with the Yokuts for acorns. The U.S. Cavalry obtained the name for the area from their Yokut scouts.
Mono Lake's Water
During Mono Lake's approximately one million years of existence, it has never had an outlet. During the last Ice Age, however, it overflowed once. The Ice Age Mono Lake was about 700 feet higher than the present level. For thousands of years, minerals and sediments have washed into the lake from Sierran streams and fresh water has evaporated from its surface. Such a great deal of evaporation has produced a very alkaline and saline lake. Because of the high concentrations of dissolved salts, the lake creates a delightfully buoyant swimming experience.
Although no fish can live in Mono's waters, the lake abounds with life. Brine shrimp and alkali flies have adapted to the salty and alkaline water and reproduce by the trillions. They provide food for millions of migratory birds and waterfowl that visit the lake each year.
The tufa (pronounced too-fah) tower formations exemplify what nature can do with a few basic elements. The unearthly spires and knobs are formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate rich lake water. The mixture of these waters produces calcium carbonate, a white limestone deposit that forms the tufa structures.
Mono Basin has an impressive history of volcanic activity. The Lake is surrounded by volcanoes on three sides. Both the Bodie Hills to the north and the Anchorite Hills to the east are old (millions of years) volcanic formations. To the south, the Mono Craters form the youngest mountain range in North America. Panum Crater, the northernmost of these craters, erupted about 600 years ago. Panum Crater is easily reached from Hwy. 120, three miles east of Hwy. 395.
In addition to the volcanoes surrounding Mono Lake, both of its islands are volcanic. Paoha Island is a mere 230 years old. Hot springs and steam vents in the basin and around the lake show that it is still volcanicly active.
The most visible insect at Mono Lake is the alkali fly (Ephedra hyans). Although related to the annoying kelp flies on ocean beaches, these flies will never bite or even land on humans, they prefer the algae that lines the wet shoreline and floats on the water.
The brine shrimp (Artemia monica), another animal that lives in the waters of Mono Lake, numbers in the trillions. Perhaps in the distant past these brine shrimp were identical to others, but over thousands of years of evolution and adaptation they have become unique to Mono Lake.
The next step in Mono Lake's food chain is the birds. Mono Basin supports about 80 species of birds and waterfowl during a full year, and over 300 species have been catalogued. Although not all of these birds depend on the shrimp and the flies, the birds that arrive here in the largest numbers, such as the California Gull, the Eared Grebe and the Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes, do depend on them.
Getting ThereMono Lake
located on Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California.
The Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center is located on Highway 395, just north of Lee Vining. A variety of activities and exhibits introduce the natural and human history of the Mono Basin; enjoy a twenty minute film, an interactive exhibit hall, two art galleries, and a book store. The center's staff can help you plan your explorations of Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra. Open daily in the summer; hours vary during winter months, (619) 647-3044.
External LinksMono Lake
Info about lake
There are no campgrounds in the Scenic Area, but the Forest Service and Mono County maintain campgrounds nearby in Lee Vining Canyon, in Lundy Canyon, and in the June Lake Loop. Dispersed camping is permitted in some areas. Ask for more information at the Ranger Station or Scenic Area Visitor Center.