Tufa Formations and a Beaver Pond

Lee Vining, CA

One of the most interesting things to do in the Lee Vining area is to visit the tufa formations along Mono Lake.  When we arrived here on Monday, we drove down to the lake and looked at the sand tofa near Navy Beach, but since it was a cloudy day we decided to wait to visit the main area of tufa formations.

Tufa is essentially common limestone. What is uncommon about this limestone is the way it forms. Typically, underwater springs rich in calcium (the stuff in your bones) mix with lakewater rich in carbonates (the stuff in baking soda). As the calcium comes in contact with carbonates in the lake, a chemical reaction occurs resulting in calcium carbonate–limestone. The calcium carbonate precipitates (settles out of solution as a solid) around the spring, and over the course of decades to centuries, a tufa tower will grow.

Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater, and some grow to heights of over 30 feet. The reason visitors see so much tufa around Mono Lake today is because the lake level fell dramatically after water began to be diverted to the Los Angeles area in 1941.

When  Los Angeles diverted water from the lake, it lowered the lake level, which imperiled the migratory birds and dried the area around the tufa formations. The Mono Lake Committee formed in response and won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially restore the lake level.  A state court ruling has established a minimum lake level just below the 1941 level.  No water diversion can take place until that level is reached.  When the minimum level is reached, the path through the tufa area will be under water.  But that time is years away, especially with the current drought.

After our visit to the tufa area we drove about seven miles north of Lee Vining, then turned west on Lundy Lake Road.  We had read that the ride up Lundy Lake Road was very scenic with the leaves turning and a beaver pond located along the road up in the canyon.

Lundy Lake

Lundy Lake is a reservoir that is showing the effects of the long drought in this area.  Once past the lake the road narrows and becomes dirt.  The high mountains and the changing leaves make for a colorful drive.


The beaver pond

Another view of the beaver pond


Well, that wraps up an exciting week in Lee Vining.  Tomorrow we fire up the engine and head south along with Dave and Sue (Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) for a visit to Bishop, CA.  The sixty-three mile trip is one of the shortest moves we have ever made, but just the kind of move we like.

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30 Responses to Tufa Formations and a Beaver Pond

  1. The forth picture down looks like a dragon! Nice shots!

  2. Laurel says:

    Lots of beautiful fall color! That makes me happy. We’ll be there in just a few days! You guys have done such a great job of exploring the area around Lee Vining. It’s been a few years since we’ve been there, and we’re looking forward to seeing some old favorites as well as finding new favorites. Thanks for providing us with some new ideas. 🙂

  3. anroworld says:

    What an interesting place and gorgeous shots!

  4. explorvistas says:

    How long ago did Mono Lake win that battle? Hopefully the weather patterns shift and they get a lot of snow in the mountains this year!

  5. pmbweaver says:

    I still can’t get over how beautiful those tofa look. The big city does it again!
    How lovely the Lundy Lake Road is. The fall colors are amazing.
    Geesh…63 miles…y’all can sleep in till noon and still get there in plenty of time for a hike…hehe

    • placestheygo says:

      Haha! Yes, these short drives are really spoiling us. Our next one is even less at 59 miles!

      I’ve been waiting to get to Mono Lake and see the tufa for myself. Finally, we got to wander among them. So neat!

  6. Too bad you didn’t get to hike up to Lundy Falls. It was a beautiful trail.
    It’s a sad story about LA taking water out of Mono Lake, but we would never have seen the tufa formations had they remained covered. That is such an interesting area.

    • placestheygo says:

      That’s how we felt, Jim and Gayle. While the allowing the lake to rise again is wonderful for the water fowl, we will miss seeing the tufa in all their splender.

      I’m sure the hike out to the falls would have been nice. There was a beautiful fall as we were driving back to the lake that had quite a bit of water. But I believe this hike would have been crowded any day since it was in all the brochures, rather easy, and the leaves were very nice.

  7. Mary says:

    Those formations are so interesting.

  8. Suzanne says:

    Beautiful photos! Glad to see you didn’t fall into the tufa like I did! I still haven’t gotten all the mud off my camera case. That’s what I get for getting off the boardwalk, I got to take a little tufa with me. 😮

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Suzanne!
      Yes, I’m glad I didn’t fall over the tufa:) I am known to fall is strange places! The mud around there is pretty gross and slick! Some people will do anything to take a little tufa with them:)

  9. I love seeing beaver ponds but have yet to knowingly observe an actual beaver. I’ve seen something swimming across the water from a distance that was possibly a beaver, but heck it could have been a muskrat for all I know. SOME DAY…

    • placestheygo says:

      I’ve only seen a beaver once in a beaver pond and it was on a hike we did on one of the islands in northern NY at my mother’s! I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough for a photo…darn!

  10. Jodee Gravel says:

    Really incredible pics – definitely worth waiting for a sunny day!! Looks like we have a few more ahead so hoping we can catch the lake like that 🙂 Looks like we’re going to hang out at Lake Crowley from the 16th to the 23rd (reeeeally taking our time), but we’ll catch up this winter some where! Love the Indian rock – very cool!!

  11. Sherry says:

    Great explanation of the formations. Easy on us not so science oriented types to understand, thanks. They really are beautiful. Your pictures are fabulous. Glad to hear the LA was not allowed to ruin the entire area permanently although with the water shortage as it is are they sticking to the rules? Sure would be nice to see the area as it would be naturally without man’s intervention.

    • placestheygo says:

      The tufa explanation reminds me of the development of the cave formations. Same minerals. As far as we read, they aren’t drawing any water from the lake. But between the drought and the evaporation, it is hard to get ahead.

  12. Karen says:

    This is one of my favorite spots. I love the reflections on the lake when it’s still. we’re California people, just bought our first RV and though we’ve been to many of these places, we’ve never taken the time to see them properly. Thank you for your posts, not only have you given me ideas on new places to see but you’ve reminded me of familiar places that need to be re-experienced!

  13. LuAnn says:

    Mono Lake is one of my favorite areas along the 395, such interesting formations. Too bad you didn’t get to Lundy Falls, but there is always next time.

  14. Nancy says:

    The Tufa Towers are magnificent. And this place is even more gorgeous then the other!

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