From a distance that oval of dark blue at the base of the Eastern Sierra looks much like what Mark Twain dubbed it--"the Dead Sea of California." So why would anyone put a "Save Mono Lake" sticker on a car? You have only to detour to the water's edge to discover that Mono Lake is not dead but decidedly alive and vital. A good place to get acquainted is at the new reserve on the south shore that protects the odd minarets made from mineral deposits called tufa.
The road to the reserve is noiseless, just tires rolling over a cushion of this soft stuff, an eerie prelude. The tufa towers seem bizarre at first. But wander among them and the bizarre becomes the beautiful as you grow aware of the quiet and the big sky overhead. Only at the very edge of the water is this calm interrupted.
There the tufa is crowded with flies, swarms so thick that they cover the rocks with a blanket of black. Uninterested in you or your picnic lunch, these are brine flies that live and breed in the salty water of Mono Lake. They were considered a delicacy by early residents, who took their tribal name from the creatures--Mono apparently meaning fly people .