Tufa Tower at Twilight

(order ID # CT35-00788)

Mono Lake is a unique and magical place. One of its quintessential signatures are tufa, towers of limestone that form from a chemical reaction in the lake water. Water from mineral-rich springs in the lakebed reacts with the alkaline lake water to precipitate limestone around the mouth of the spring. This effectively raises the level of the mouth of the spring and the process continues, constantly building up a tower of limestone with the spring bubbling up through its core, until the top of the tower reaches the surface of the water and the reaction stops. If the lake level subsequently drops, the towers emerge in an eerie forest of knobby spires.

In the past half century the lake level has dropped due to Los Angeles diverting water that would otherwise fill the lake. A court decision a decade ago limited the amount that Los Angeles could divert and the level of the lake has risen nine feet since then. This is excellent news for the lake's ecosystem (even if it does cover up much of the photogenic tufa).

To photograph this remaining tufa structure I waited until just after sunset. With the sun having just set behind the camera position, the foreground is suffused with the soft pink light from the red sky behind me. The sky in the distance is an example of my favorite atmospheric phenomenon, that of earth shadow. The air at the top of the image is still illuminated by the direct light of the setting sun and is therefore pink; the air near the horizon has already seen the sun set and is therefore the blue of oncoming night. The air near the horizon is literally in the shadow of the earth, hence the name. I love the medley of blues, pinks, and magentas that result.

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