Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hike // South Tufa, Mono Lake Tufa SNR

south tufa

great hike!

I'm not a rebel, I'm a natural rule follower. I always have been and always will be. When I was 7 my family went on a road trip with my grandparents who were visiting from Massachusetts. We stopped at South Tufa between visiting Yosemite and Devils Postpile. I was really into rocks at that age (and still am thank you very much!) so South Tufa was a thrill for me. All was going well until we were back in the car and my mother presented to me a small piece of Tufa for my collection. Oooooh no... Had she not seen all the signs that tufa was rare and fragile and specifically not to be collected? Of course she had, but she wanted to make her son happy with an extra special rock. Her offering was not well received.

Sadly for her my love of rule-following trumped my love of rocks. I made it quite clear that I would be insufferable unless we turned the car around (we made it to about June Lake I believe) and went back and return the Tufa. We did and the road trip was allowed to continue.

Hike Summary
Difficulty Very Easy
Distance Less than 1 Mile
Popularity Very Popular
Peak Season Summer
Fees None, $5 Requested Donation

South Tufa is a special place. down by the shores of Mono Lake sit the castles, rock calcium deposits, which rise sometimes 20 feet off the ground. In the distance the peaks of the eastern sierra rise thousands of feet from the dusty volcanic mono basin. All the while the waters of mono lake lap gently at the tufa spires. A walk through the tufa castles in South Tufa at sunrise is a morning well spent, often overlooked because of the mountain splendor of the nearby Sierra Nevada, south tufa is a gem which should not be passed over.

After snoozing the alarm a few times I rolled out of my sleeping bag in our camp in Lee Vining Canyon, nestled in among the aspen groves. The stars were still out as we began to pack up for the day around 5:30am. Not long before our departure from camp though the stars faded to the incandescent blue of the pre dawn hour. Leaving the canyon we could see the colors of sunrise already showing over Mono Lake as we rushed to reach South Tufa.


South Tufa at Dawn.

Shortly after arriving at the South Tufa parking lot the first light peeked out to paint the grey peaks of the sierra a beautiful rose. Moments later as I reached the shore of the lake the sun broke over the mountains to the east of Mono Lake. The sun's rays illuminated the tufa spires highlighting every pit and valley of their porous surfaces. The trail is somewhat difficult to follow, especially when you are darting away from it intentionally every 10 steps to pursue a photo.

A single tower rises out of the largest cove which is hemmed in on all sides in the thickest area of tufa castles. Atop the single tower sat a large heron, perched like a king surveying his kingdom. I had intended to get close and photograph the bird but he flew off before I could do so. Across the water from the cove are 5 or 6 spires all lined up parallel to the cove. The largest in the middle with the smaller spires tapering down to the surface of the lake symmetrically.

south tufa

Morning light pouring through the gaps in the Tufa.

Beylah joined me around here and by now the sun was rising higher in the sky. Several other photographers how now also arrived to photograph sunrise on the tufa so we moved somewhat quickly through the rest of the tufa. After leaving the thickest area we came out to a large beach being patrolled by dozens of birds. We lingered for a few minutes, soaking in the morning light on the spires, the peaks of the sierra, and the lake before departing back through the fields of scrub brush towards the parking lot over a plank walkway.

tufa castle

Tufa "castles" in Mono Lake

crater mountain

Sunrise on Crater Mountain

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