Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

Lee Vining community member Don Banta has passed

This morning we received the sad news that Don Banta has passed away. Because he knew so many people we felt compelled to post this short note and to offer our condolences to the three generations of the Banta family in our community. Don Banta was a beloved fixture in Lee Vining—a dedicated family and community member, avid birder and photographer, wild storyteller, the unofficial Mayor, town historian, and a friend to anyone who knew him for more than 10 seconds.

There is so much to say and know about Don and his life here at Mono Lake that we will be compiling a more complete tribute to him in the near future. In the meantime, we wanted to leave you with this transcript of an oral history interview with Don, and this fun little video too.

Don Banta seen here leading a field trip at the 2007 Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua. Photo by Elin Ljung.


  1. I made the acquaintance of Don Banta a few years ago (still have his business card) sitting on a bench in front of Mono Market. He told me many stories of basin life and his ranch childhood, including the one about his childhood encounter with blasting caps that left him with a bad eye. He could reliably be found soaking up the sun in Lee Vining on Summer mornings and I made it a point to chat with him. Sorry to hear he passed, but we all do each in our own time, eh?
    I’ll miss seeing him next Summer.

  2. That youTube video is a treasure. Don is sitting in front of shelves full of video HE took over the years, documenting just about everything that happened in Lee Vining and the Mono Basin. His office and home became a personal museum of local history.

  3. Don Banta and I go back to 1953. I was working for Fish & Game and was asked to do a deer migration study which meant I had to move to Lee Vining. I rented a small house from Don’s father Bill. The entire family of Banta’s opened their arms to me and my family. Bill Banta was the County Supervisor of Mono County at the time and he spent many days with me in my travels of Mono County that required long hikes. He was older than me by several years. Don also would go with me during my time in Lee Vining. They really knew the area and some of the deer migration travels. The area lost a good man with Don’s passing, as did I.

    Doug Garton
    Lincoln, CA