Mono Lake has long been the canary in the coal mine when it comes to California’s ecological health. Since the early 1940s, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) launched excessive water diversions from the surrounding basin’s streams and elsewhere throughout the Owens Valley. The result was that Mono Lake’s levels cratered 45 feet and doubled in salinity by the late 1970s.

The environmental awareness that kindled in the 1970s in part led to the creation of the Mono Lake Committee, an NGO based in the lakeshore hamlet of Lee Vining. This scrappy group of activists has been able to work with the LADWP to decrease those water diversions, allowing Mono Lake to slowly rebound while preserving this beautifully odd corner of California.

This winter’s rains have helped Mono Lake recover, but there is still much work that needs to be done. Five years of drought made it more challenging to preserve this unique body of water, while dust storms have had a severe impact on the region’s water quality. Receding waters affected the nesting ground of the California gull and other migratory birds; then this year’s heavy rains and snow wreaked their own havoc on what was already a very delicate ecosystem.

Visiting the Eastern Sierras and Owens Valley is one of the highlights of travel through California, and Mono Lake must be on your itinerary. The mesmerizing columns of limestone and tufa will keep you occupied for a couple hours – be sure to visit the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve on the southeastern shore of the lake. Other parks, including a county park just north of Lee Vining, surrounding the lake offer suburb views of the lake and different visuals of the environmental challenges this corner of California faces.

In any event, your visit to Mono Lake should start in Lee Vining, where the Mono Lake Committee maintains its office and visitors center on I-395 (on the corner of 3rd Street) in Lee Vining – you can’t miss it. The staff here is friendly, engaging, and will suggest an itinerary based on the amount of time you have, who is in your traveling party – or in my case, if you traveled with your dog, as they are permitted in some parks and not in others.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

The Eastern Sierras offer a spectacular backdrop

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

Whiskey loved the formations - just be respectful

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

Over the years the lake's shoreline receded drastically, but it's making a comeback

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

The weather can change quickly, so dress in layers

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

The tufa and limestone columns are awe-inspiring

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

These islands are also an important nesting ground for countless migratory birds

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

Mono Lake's landscape never bores, that's for sure

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

The columns contrast nicely with the cloud formations above

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

Give yourself a couple hours to explore the Mono Lake Tufa reserve

Drought, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, drought, California, travel, Leon Kaye, LADWP

No, it's not a movie set - it's a spectacular remote region of California

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.