There is that feeling one gets near the end of a long trip when something familiar comes into view. It may be a freeway exit, a large building near home or in my case the Bay Bridge. There is that moment when you pass through the tunnel on Yerba Buena Island and there it is, San Francisco. It always looks extra special from that view. On the way back to San Francisco there is another familiar sign that you’re almost home — Mono Lake.
After one of those long flights across the continent, I love when Mono Lake appears out the window thousands of feet below. As soon as we pass over the lake I know I am back home in California. From there it’s a quick zip across Yosemite, head towards San Jose, turn right at Mount Hamilton and before you can say turn off your electronic devices you’re back at SFO.
Then there is the other approach to Mono Lake. It’s about 235 miles of driving and, if you do it right, it takes most of the day after poking around the Tioga Pass and Toulumne Meadows in Yosemite. You descend down the back of the Sierra into a hot dry landscape, and there is the blue shimmer of Mono Lake.
Mono Lake has gotten smaller over the years. The 60 year old map I used in this piece shows a lake that was much bigger. Los Angeles started tapping the water and the lake level dropped. There is one advantage of the lower water level. It has exposed the tufa formations created by geothermal heated springs under the lakebed. The lakeshore has a wonderful what-planet-is-this look about it. I’ve been photographing and painting the lake over the years.
Now might be the time to hurry and see the lake up close. The Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve is on the list of 70 state parks that California is threatening to close due to budget problems. I still can’t get my mind around the idea of closing a state park. It’s nice to see the lake as I fly home, but even better up close and personal.