Mono Lake, California, Eastern Sierra, Sunrise

Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda lake in Mono County, California, in the Eastern Sierras. The lake formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline.

Mono Lake has two major islands, Negit Island and Paoha Island, plus numerous minor outcroppings.  Among the most iconic features of Mono Lake are the columns of limestone that tower over the water surface. These limestone towers consist primarily of calcium carbonate minerals such as calcite (CaCO3). This type of limestone rock is referred to as tufa, which is a term used for limestone that forms in low to moderate temperatures.

This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp that thrive in its waters, and provides critical habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and alkali flies. Historically, the native Kutzadika’a people derived nutrition from the Ephydra hians pupae, which live in the shallow waters around the edge of the lake.

When the city of Los Angeles diverted water from the freshwater streams flowing into the lake, it lowered the lake level, which imperiled the migratory birds. The Mono Lake Committee formed in response and won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially replenish the lake level.

Tufa Types

  • Lithoid tufa – massive and porous with a rock-like appearance
  • Dendritic tufa – branching structures that look similar to small shrubs
  • Thinolitic tufa – large well-formed crystals of several centimeters

The tufa types vary interchangeably both between individual tufa towers but also within individual tufa towers. There can be multiple transitions between tufa morphologies within a single tufa tower.

The above is pieced together from Wikipedia.

Feature Image Details

The feature image was taken at sunrise.

I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens at 16mm, ISO 640 for 2 seconds. It is a panorama blend of 5 vertical images stitched together. I often stitch vertical images to make a horizontal composite.  The resultant detail is amazing, as is the file size.

The feature image shows my favorite morning composition, but one thing is missing: clouds. Here are some additional images that were taken on other days.

Mono Lake Sunrise Images

The above clouds were nice, but they were not where I wanted them. I like strong foregrounds and would have loved some clouds in the feature image.

In the above shot, the clouds were in the correct direction, but the foreground is lacking compared to the panorama. In both of the above shots, I should have and would have used neutral density filters to smooth the water. For inexplicable reasons, I did not have my neutral density filters on this trip.

We visited Mono Lake 10 times, 5 at sunrise and 5 at sunset over 10 days, not necessarily on the same days.

Please also see Mono Lake, California, Eastern Sierra, Sunset for my favorite Mono Lake image of the trip.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock