I heard the call of the Tufa.

After our first visit to Mono Lake, about three years ago, I have wanted to return. I think most anywhere I photograph I have the desire to return. Can I get a better photo? Will the weather be more accommodating? Will there be less photographers to get in my way? In the hopes that these questions are answered in the affirmative, I put places like Mono Lake on the list of, “I will return.” All of a sudden, without any warning, Mono Lake moved to the top of this list. I wasn’t sure why but in the recesses of my mind, I needed to return soon.  I heard the call of the Tufa.

We planned a trip for the summer where the temperature should be 30-40 degrees cooler than our home in Scottsdale, AZ.  A break from the relentless heat of the Arizona desert summer was much needed. Everywhere you went, your skin would feel like it was burning, en fuego. Cooler temperatures were just a nine hour drive away. Was this all that I needed, cooler temps? There are other cooler places to visit. I heard the call of the Tufa.

We set the alarm for 4:00am. We wanted to make sure we arrived at Mono Lake well before sunrise. On our way we noticed a huge wildfire. We flew by hoping to avoid its head and flanks. Nothing would keep me from our photo shoot. I heard the call of the Tufa.

The wildfire near Mono Lake, not too far from the Tufas. Photograph by Kathryn.
The smoke from the nearby wildfire provides for an interesting sky, looking very much lie a tornado. The tufas in the foreground seem huddled together, hiding behind the flowers, worried the fires are closing in.

Before we look at some more tufas, let me remind you what they are. A tufa is common limestone formed in an interesting way resulting in a photogenic tower. These towers grow completely under water in springs rich in calcium that mix with lake water rich in carbonates, thus a chemical reaction occurs creating calcium carbonate–limestone that settles and grows over time (hundreds of years) to heights of 30 feet. You might be thinking, how do we see the tufa towers if they are under water? Back in 1941 the government performed water diversions lowering Mono lake by over 30 feet. Thus we now can see tufas.

We arrived well before sunrise as the tufas are more photogenic in the blue and golden hour, sweet light. As we trekked from the parking lot it became apparent the lake had risen many feet since our previous visit. I guess the water runoff from the copious amount of snow this winter cause the lake to rise significantly. Although some of the smaller tufas are now submerged, most are still visible, many still on land. The early morning provided for slightly lower winds allowing us to capture the tufas with their reflections.

Family of tufas just before sunrise. For only a couple of moments, we had some clouds in the sky.
Shot at the tail end of the blue hour, I love the pink and purple hews in the water and on the tufas.

With the wildfire so close, are we seeing its flames? Or, is this the biggest ball of fire we know, the sun?

Who needs clouds with a sky like this? These tufas silhouetted against the bright orange sky are known locally as the “battleship”.

After sunrise, I was able to walk among my old friends, photographing them in golden light.

Kathryn, always seeking out a reflection, photographed these tufas bathing in the early morning sun.

Some of these tufas were land lovers three years ago. Photograph by Kathryn.

I’m glad I listened to the call of the Tufa.

Remember, it’s all about the light!

Hi from Mono Lake! We are now part of the tufa family.