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The Mono-logue » Blog Archive » Guided canoe tours: The best way to experience Mono Lake

Guided canoe tours: The best way to experience Mono Lake

July 23rd, 2015 by Mono Lake Committee Staff
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This post was written by Sara Matthews, 2015 & 2016 Mono Lake Intern.

If you’re a Mono Lake Intern, mornings start early on the weekends. Six-thirty finds three sleepy interns and the Canoe Coordinator all making their way, eyes half-closed, through the crisp morning air in Lee Vining to meet at the back door of the Mono Lake Committee. Despite the early hour and memories of warm and cozy beds, spirits are high. It’s canoe tour day!

Caption caption. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Canoe tour days involve a sunrise wake-up call for Mono Lake Interns. Luckily, sunrise is one of Mono Lake’s best times of day. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Every Saturday and Sunday the ritual repeats. Canoe days are hard work. It takes a lot of energy to load and unload the fleet of shiny silver canoes from the canoe truck, to spend the entire day paddling Mono Lake’s (hopefully!) glassy waters, and all the while maintain the excitement of sharing the wonders of the Mono Basin with a fresh group of visitors—three times in a row. Yet there isn’t one among us who would even think about trading a canoe tour shift. On days like this, we all feel like we have the best job in the world.

Photo by Erv Nichols.

When you get to Navy Beach, look for the silver truck and canoe trailer. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Launch site. Photo by Sandra Noll.

The Navy Beach launch site, looking high and dry after four years of drought. Photo by Sandra Noll.

The tours set off from Navy Beach on the south shore of Mono Lake. Our once-luxurious launch site has changed a bit in recent years. Four years of drought has lowered the lake level several feet, revealing a shallow obstacle course of barely submerged tufa. This allows visitors and guides alike a chance to get up close and personal with Mono Lake’s alkaline water as we wade in calf-deep and load into the canoes. Once free and clear of the tufa-lined shore, each canoe takes its own path westward towards the South Tufa grove.

The canoe journey begins. Photo by Sara Matthews.

The canoe journey begins. Photo by Sara Matthews.

The next hour is spent revealing Mono Lake’s phenomena, one by one. It’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin—the unique water chemistry that’s been brewing in the lake for at least 760,000 years, the very recently dormant volcanic landscape, the otherworldly tufa towers rising up out of the blue-green depths, or the trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies that seem to be the teeming, living pulse of the lake. Suddenly, an Osprey flies by carrying a wriggling fish to provide breakfast to its recently hatched chicks and the tour takes a turn towards the millions of birds that visit Mono Lake on an annual basis. That’s the beauty of an exploratory tour such as this; you never know what you’re going to see and what will spark someone’s interest. With a place like Mono Lake, the possibilities really are endless.

Photo by Erv Nichols.

Early morning is the best time to paddle Mono Lake. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Photo by Sandra Noll.

Your Mono Lake Committee canoe guide will steer the boat through tufa groves at the South Tufa area. Photo by Sandra Noll.

Although the possible canoeing paths vary, along the journey all visitors learn about the natural and human history of Mono Lake, the current issues that the lake is facing, and even have the chance to spy on our endemic species of brine shrimp—Artemia monica! Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the hour however, is the return paddle back to Navy Beach. At this point, with heads full of Mono Lake facts, we navigate the waters quietly, allowing visitors time to soak in the tranquility of lake from the unique perspective that the canoes allow.

Everyone gets a chance to catch Mono Lake's endemic brine shrimp to get a close look. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Everyone gets a chance to catch Mono Lake’s endemic brine shrimp to get a close look. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Photo by Sandra Noll.

Gliding along Mono Lake’s glassy surface. Photo by Sandra Noll.

At the end of the day—with sore arms, sun-soaked skin, and a thin layer of salt and alkali dust covering everything—we couldn’t be happier. There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes with hard work and sharing this magnificent place with others. Tours are still available for this coming weekend, so it’s not too late to come get a little salty with us and get to know Mono Lake on a more intimate level.

Sailing across the glittering waters of Mono Lake. Photo by Sandra Noll.

Sailing across the glittering waters of Mono Lake. Photo by Sandra Noll.

Mono Lake Committee canoe tours take place every Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00am. The cost is $25 per person and all participants must be over the age of four. When booking a canoe tour online, it’s helpful to remember that you’ll need to arrive 45 minutes early to allow time for the walk from the South Tufa parking lot to Navy Beach, getting signed in with the canoe coordinator, and getting fitted with life jackets. It’s also important to remember that your feet will get wet on this tour and shoes are never quite the same after being in Mono Lake water, so be sure to wear appropriate footwear (flip-flops and water shoes are recommended).

Arrive early to get fitted for life jackets! Photo by Erv Nichols.

Arrive early to get fitted for life jackets! Photo by Erv Nichols.

We hope to see you out there this weekend!

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