This is High Plains Drifter country, made famous by Clint Eastwood's motion picture. It is a land of sage-brush-covered plains leading to towering, snow-flecked sawtooth ranges and dormant volcanoes. Mono County was named for the Indian people who lived here prior to the arrival of American pioneers. The Mono people were a band of the Paiute-Shoshone Indians.
Two national forests, the Inyo National Forest and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, as well as three wilderness areas, the Hoover Wilderness, Ansel Adams Wilderness and John Muir Wilderness can be explored in Mono County. Nearly all the two million acres in Mono County are government owned. What isn't is ranchland for cattle and sheep or supports the county's largest industry... tourism.
Mono Lake, the largest natural lake entirely within California, attracts millions of migratory birds including 90 percent of the California Gull population to nest there. Mono Lake is also downright bizarre, with surreal tufa columns that rise from the water's edge and a chemistry so unusual that NASA has run tests in its murky depths in order to determine whether life might exist on other planets.
Signs of geologic activity can be seen throughout Mono County... steaming hot springs, volcanic flows, obsidian domes, ancient craters, and open faults. There's even a geothermal power plant to tour by calling (760) 934-4893.
Mammoth Mountain (11,053 ft) in the town of Mammoth Lakes is one of the largest ski areas in the U.S. In summer, the ski runs become mountain biking trails at one of the most extreme mountain biking experiences in the U.S. June Mountain, near the town of June Lake, is a favorite of snowboarders, families and backcountry skiers (yes, guided off-piste skiing is permitted there). Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice-climbing, backcountry skiing, snowplay, dog sledding and snowmobiling are other popular winter activities.
Mono County is home to California's legendary Alpers Trout, raised by local aquaculturist, Tim Alpers on the historic Conway Ranch. These lunkers are prized for their beefy shape, massive size and fight. Because so many "Alpers Trout" are stocked there and due to its clear water and many lakes and streams, anglers consider Mono County and the Eastern Sierra to be prime fly and bait fishing territory. The region is so renowned for its fishing that field testing of many synthetic baits and lures occurs there. Hiking, horseback riding and wilderness pack trips, backpacking, cycling, motor touring, off-roading, camping, orienteering, golfing, kayaking, water-skiing, jet-skiing, rock-climbing and bouldering are popular summer activities.
Bodie is Mono County's most notorious town, yet only caretakers live there, today. It was one of the wildest towns in the West in the late 1800s, but today is a ghost town managed by the California State Parks, as is the Tufa State Reserve at Mono Lake.
California's finest displays of fall color can be found here. From early September through October (usually peaking in early October), spectacular displays of yellow, orange, red, pink, auburn and green leaves descend from the high up in the Eastern Sierra, down canyons to near U.S. 395.
Bridgeport - the county seat with a classic white courthouse in use since 1880. The countryside surrounding it is speckled with hundreds, nay thousands, nay... Oh well, lots and lots of cattle, and in the background the high alpine peaks of Yosemite National Park. Can you say "cowboy country?"
Lee Vining - the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park (road closed Nov. - May) and the ideal base for exploring Mono Lake. Classic curio shops, Mono Lake visitor centers, gas, motels, Lee Vining has everything you need to provision a stay on the East Side.
Mammoth Lakes - the largest town in Mono County. Mammoth Lakes was originally a fish camp, but has become a major resort town serving skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, anglers, golfers, horseback riders, hikers, mountain bikers, road bikers and people otherwise looking for inspirational relaxation.
June Lake - California's classic Eastern Sierra fish camp and small ski town.
Walker - trading posts, art galleries and eat a Walker burger in a forested setting surrounded by bird houses.
Benton Hot Springs - the name says it all. You can soak in natural hot springs that are temperature regulated.
Coleville - a ranching town in the Antelope Valley.
Topaz - a fishing town at the south end of Topaz lake, just minutes from a Nevada casino.
Bodie - OK, no one lives here, other than park rangers, but it used to be one of the largest towns in California with 10,000 rough and tumble residents.
Tom's Place - Too cool general store, bar and cafe. Stop here for prime rib and burgers, rated tops by local newspapers.
Mono Lake - We're talkin' a lake that's truly bizarre-a-mundo! At several points around it odd, Seussian-like towers of limestone rise from the water. Rent a canoe or kayak in Mammoth Lakes or take one of the Mono Lake Committee's canoe tours to see these "Tufa towers" close up. Millions of birds stop at the lake to munch on the trillions of brine shrimp living in its salty waters. If you're a birder, plan to attend the Mono Lake Bird Chatauqua on the third weekend of June. It sells out, so reserve early to join walks, talks and otherwise birdy things.
Bodie State Historic Park - Someone compared Bodie on this Wiki to the Eastern Sierra's Deadwood. Not at all. Deadwood is a commercialized and inhabited tourist attraction, whereas Bodie is a completely uncommercialized ghost town, kept in a state of arrested decay by curators and historians of the California State Parks. At Bodie, you get a real idea of what it was like in a big mining town (pop. 10,000), after everyone left... school work scattered across desks, cards left on dusty tables in saloons, lace window curtains blowing in the breeze of an abandoned home. The only people left in Bodie are the prostitutes, outlaws, miners and ordinary citizens buried on boot hill, and you and a few caretakers whose job is to make sure the place never changes from what it looked like when the mines gave out and the people departed.
Twin Lakes - Two, almost identically sized lakes are found 14 miles southwest of Bridgeport. Located at 7,000 ft. in elevation, the lakes are favorite places for shore, float and boat fishing.
United States Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center - Established in 1951 specifically to provide mountain and cold weather training for replacement personnel bound for Korea, this intense training ground is one of the U.S. Marine Corps’ most remote and isolated posts, and one of its most difficult training grounds. The Center is located at 6,762 feet, on 46,000 acres of the Toiyabe National Forest. Lowest course elevation is 6,800 ft, and highest elevation is 7,800 ft. Average temperature in May is 53 degrees. This is where the U.S. Marines receive high-altitute training before heading to battle the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the mountains of Afghanistan. On this terrain is run one of the most challenging 10K runs, anywhere. It's open not only to military athletes, but to anyone willing to take on a Marine Corps-sized challenge. The gain is 1,100 feet beginning at 6,800 ft. and climbing to 7,600 ft in just 2.3 miles. The Marines have named this stretch, "Heart Attack Hill." About the time you hit the first water station at only one mile up the hill, you've hit the runner's proverbial wall and are thankful you're just a marathoner and not one of the Marines stationed here who, in the course of their arduous training, have to do similar things carrying full combat gear. You settle in and begin to understand what the Marines mean when they call each other grunts and experience a little of what it's about to be one of the few, the proud.
Whoa Nelli Deli - the finest cuisine at a gas station in America (that's right, we said "cuisine"). Chef (right again, we said "Chef") Matt Toomey prepares such unexpected entrees as Lobster Taquitos, Ragin' Cajun Chicken Jambalaya, Buffalo Meatloat, Salmon Salad and other tantalizing treats. At the Mobil Gas Mart at the east end of CA-120 in Lee Vining.
Convict Lake Restaurant - You're always sure to dine on Mono County's famous Alpers Trout at Convict Lake, because if you don't hook one, you can always order one at the Convict Lake Restaurant. This famous dining room is famous for its "Country French" cooking with Beef Wellington (hey, isn't that English?!), rack of lamb (New Zealand?), salmon (Alaskan?), pasta (Italian?) and "succulent steaks" (so, what's French about it? - guess you'll have to go to find out). At Convict Lake, south of Mammoth Lakes.