Lake Tahoe and Tufas

Just when I think I’m nearly caught up sharing stories here on our travel blog about our exciting life on the road as full-timers, we go and pack more fun and adventure into a short amount of time, giving me more to share.

Lake Tahoe
Stunningly beautiful, this is Lake Tahoe, California

 I get so caught up in experiencing new and wonderful things, but anything but caught up in writing about them.  So such it is, a week has now gone by and I’m getting further behind.  I either need to slow my pace down or write faster!

Carson Valley, Nevada
Carson Valley on the California / Nevada border

So last Sunday, the 24th, when we left friends, Mark and Simone, they had suggested a drive we might enjoy taking us through more of California — go further north and east from their place in Grass Valley, cut south down to Lake Tahoe on the Nevada border, then come down through the back (east) side of the mountains – that’s over Kingsbury Pass where a spectacular view of Carson Valley opens up, then down U.S. 395 where California is on the west side of the road and Nevada is on the east side of the road.  Well what terrific advice that was!  This drive was SOOOOO beautiful!!  If you’ve been on it, you know what I’m talking about; it is stunning!  We followed US-395 down to a little town named Lee Vining, California, where we planned to spend the night. 

Tufas in Mono Lake
Tufas on Mono Lake

Lee Vining was selected for two reasons: 1) it’s the eastern terminus of Yosemite’s Tioga Pass over which we wanted to travel and approach Yosemite National Park from the east, and 2) Mark showed us his photos of tufas in nearby Mono Lake and we knew we just had to see these geological gems.

What is a tufa, you ask?  A tufa is formed when calcium-rich springs flow up through the bottom of a lake.  The calcium bonds with carbonates in the lake water, forming calcium carbonate, a type of limestone.  The solid material builds up on itself, gradually forming a tufa tower.  When the lake level drops, the exposed tufa stops growing.  

Tufas on the shoreline at Mono Lake
Tufas along the banks of the lake – these used to be beneath the water

While Mono Lake appears to be a really lovely body of water out of which these limestone towers protrude, the story about the lake isn’t a happy one, and the lake is a far cry from what it used to be.  Fresh water streams that had once fed this lake began to be diverted by the city of Los Angeles beginning in 1941 for the city’s increasing water needs.  The volume of the lake dropped in half while its salinity doubled.  Unable to adapt to these changing conditions fast enough, the ecosystem began to collapse.  Through the efforts of tens of thousands of concerned citizens, litigation, and legislation, awareness was raised about the value of this lake, and efforts to reverse the damage caused in the past are now well underway.  Meanwhile, visitors to these natural wonders pay a nominal fee to visit them, and all proceeds go to furthering recovery plans for this oasis in the otherwise arid Great Basin area.

Mono Lake