|Mono Lake, CA|
The best vantage point for the calcificied tufa features of the lake is on the south shore and there is a park entrance for this access five miles off of Highway 395 just south of Lee Vining and Route 120 (look for the South Tufa park entrance sign on 395). The entrance fee is only $3 per person but you can use the National Park Annual Pass, despite Mono Lake not being a National Park.
The most iconic tufa island landscape can be found to the right of the wooden pathway’s end, though there are smaller tufa islands directly in front of the main trail and also to the left. Due to the the clear skies here and foot traffic at night, the park appears to be open 24 hours. I can guess what the official policy is regarding sleeping over but I was able to sleep in my car after my timelapse nightshift and there were several other cars present in the parking lot and they appeared to be doing the same. This made my sunrise efforts that much easier since I awoke just a short hike away from the tufa. If I was to do it all over again, I’d probably just pull out a bivy and/or cot and just sleep on the sand by the tufa and let my timelapse go all night.
By the time darkness set in, the park became somewhat deserted but visitors began to cycle through shortly thereafter for a clear view of the Milky Way. If you are planning on shooting tufa-foreground timelapses, be prepared for random flashlight infiltration as most of the the nighttime visitors when I was there were either surprised to find people already there before them or unaware of the needs of timelapse photography (and unaware of red light flashlights for a smaller flashlight footprint). My three hour tufa silhouette timelapse was completely bombarded by flashlights. If you’re going to do one, definitely aim away from the incoming trails or try a less populated tufa structure away from the more popular spots.
As far as my research can tell, as of the summer of 2015, drones are not officially banned in this park yet. However, that seems to be in the works. Also, there are a lot of birds in the area so be aware of their nesting and territorial needs.