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It’s a 2 hours and 20 minuets drive down to Mono Lake from South Lake Tahoe, California. While scenice drive with vistas of the snow-capped landscapes of the Sierras, we also seized the opportunity to top off the tank in the State of Nevada, where gas is much cheaper.

It was sunny until we began approaching Lee Vining, the nearest town to Mono Lake. It seemed like vapor was trapped in the valley forming thick clouds over the lake. At over 1 million years old, Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in America. It is famous with modern visitors for it’s tufas or towers. These uniquely shaped structures are a type of limestone and made from years of calcium buildup underwater.

Our first stop was a nice county park that included the short “Mono Lake Boardwalk Trail”, a 10 minute jaunt through the marshy north shore of the lake.

Our second stop really should have been our last as it offers the least: The Old Marina. This is the default, 10 minute road-trip stop for those pressed for time as they are buzz up the 395 from Vegas or LA to Reno or Tahoe. You can get a glimpse of the lake and a few impressive “Tufas” but you won’t get the full experience. For us, it was a perfect place to stroll around as we waited for the sun to break the clouds.

As the weather broke, we made the drive over to the South Tufa Beach. This required driving 15 minutes on the dirt road called Rush Creek Rd to the parking area where it is a short walk to an impressive set of Tufas.

It is important to realize that these Lord of the Ring-ish limestone structures were not always visible. In the past, they were unnoticed as they were hiding underwater. However, since the 1930s, Mono Lake has lost about half of its volume as rivers and streams which feed this ancient body of water were diverted to the LA Aqueduct to quench the thirst of the residents of the sprawling Los Angeles Metropolitan area.

LA people have since made up for their sins by buying Priuses and Teslas and making movies which preach about how important it is to conserve our natural resources. As part of their penance, they also require their Hollywoo representatives to lecture the rest of America about social justice, morality and the environment at annual awards ceremonies like the Oscars.

Panda Chills out on one of the 'Beaches'. Remember all this land used to be underwater

The sign said do not climb on the tufa, it didn't say do not lean on them...

This wasn’t really a “hiking” trip for us but there is an interesting hike nearby. Panum Crater has a great view of the lake as well as other craters in the surrounding area. There is a trail which circles the crater rim in addition to a steep, sandy trail that climbs up to the “plug”.

This crater is only about 700 years old and is part of a chain of craters in the area called the “Mono–Inyo Craters”. They all have the potential to produce explosive eruptions however they only erupt once every 500 or 600 years.

We would have loved to explore this area but we were a little short on time so we climbed to the highest point, took a short break and head back.

Panda makes his way around the Panum Crater rim trail. The nearby Sierras aren't too much of an eyesore to him :)

Penguin grabs one last glimpse of the jewel of Mono County, CA