The Great Basin Desert: Mono Lake

The Great Basin Desert is one of four deserts in the United States. While the Sonoran, Mojave, and Chihuahan deserts are referred to as “Hot” deserts, the Great Basin, spanning from the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California to the Rockies in Colorado, is the only “cold” desert in the USA.

Mono Lake at the Base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Photo Credit: Michelle Matus

Located on Highway 395, Mono Lake is located on the Western Margin of the Great Basin Desert. Often shrouded in fog, you’ll know it by it’s famous “tufa” that dot its perimeter. These tall white columns are a form of limestone that are created by the chemical reaction of the lake water, high in carbonates (think Baking Soda), with calcium. Tufa are formed exclusively underwater and can grow to over 30 feet.

A tufa (Too-Fa) towers over the landscape. Photo Credit: Michelle Matus

Due to water diversions in 1941 by Los Angeles Water and Power, the tufa formations are exposed on the shore. The water diversion halved the lake in size, doubled its salinity, and the lake’s ecosystem began to collapse. With efforts from organizations such as the Mono Lake committee, restoration and rehabilitation of the lake and its ecosystem are slowly bringing the lake back to its original brilliance.

Mono Lake currently has over 10,000 acres of exposed lakebed. Photo Credit: Michelle Matus

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Originally published at on January 17, 2014.

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