Winters are hard in the rugged Eastern Sierras, and with the spring thaw Mother Nature always leaves a few surprises in her wake. With that in mind I made a weekend visit to one of my favorite Eastern Sierra haunts — Mono Lake — to check out how the accessible features had survived the winter.
My first stop was the Mono Lake Visitor Center, just north of Lee Vining, off of Highway 395. There’s plenty of accessible parking, and level access to the building. The visitor center houses a ranger information desk, a number of interpretive exhibits and a back deck that has a great view of the lake. Missing this season are the restrooms though. The signs are removed and they are locked — presumably a water conservation measure. Hopefully they will at least replace them with some porta-potties later in the season, but for now plan ahead. The Who Nellie Deli and Tioga Gas Mart, located at the intersection of Highway 395 and Tioga Pass Road is the best alternative, as they have nice accessible restrooms there.
My next stop was just up Highway 395 at Picnic Grounds Road, where an accessible crushed gravel trail leads out to the equally accessible David Goines Boardwalk. Unfortunately I arrived to find the accessible trail closed and a pile of gravel in the accessible parking space. According to the state, due to severe weather the trail may be impassable to wheelchair-users and others with a mobility disability. There is no timeline for completion of the repair, so check with the state access department at email@example.com or (916) 445-8949 before you visit.
There’s better news on the north shore of the lake at the State Reserve Boardwalk in Mono Lake Park. Although there’s no accessible parking, there is fairly level access from the parking area to a crushed gravel trail which leads to the boardwalk. From there it’s a short walk over a marsh to a nice vantage point near the lake shore. Along the way you’ll get a close-up look at the calcium carbonate tufa towers which rise from the receded section of the lake bed. These towers were formed when the freshwater springs mixed with alkaline lake water. And once you get to the viewing platform you’ll catch a glimpse of these eerie looking spires and knobs poking up out of the lake. As an added bonus the shaded picnic area survived the winter nicely. and there is level access to several tables on a grassy area.
Last but not least I stopped at the South Tufa Area, just off of Highway 120, on the other side of the lake. And I’m happy to report that all was in order there too. There’s accessible parking near a boardwalk trail which leads out to the tufa-filled beach. The boardwalk is well maintained, and it offers one of my favorite views of Mono Lake.
So outside of a few little hiccups, things look good at Mono lake this summer. And with a little advance planning, you can have a perfectly accessible day exploring this very photogenic and somewhat unusual mountain lake. For more information about Mono Lake visit http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=514.