Bear Lake – PBS Article
Photographer: PBS – Location: Bear Lake Idaho

bl2004-1When you drive north into Idaho from Logan, Utah, you come around a certain bend in the road and see Bear Lake for the first time. It is hard to forget the impact of that shocking blue color. It reminds some of certain blue gems; others, of the morning glory. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s always a new experience. Unlike the lakes in Idaho’s northern panhandle, which are surrounded by conifer forests, the shores of Bear Lake give way to the more gradual slopes of its sage-covered valley.

The lake, twenty miles long and seven wide, straddles the Idaho-Utah boundary. You can still make out the marks of an ancient shore line about thirty feet above the present lake surface. The lake is the end of the line for the Bear River, ( this is, of course, incorrect :Editor) which originates farther south in the Wasatch Range, flows north, and makes a U-turn to flow back south into the Bear Lake valley.

The setting of the lake is a perfect illustration of Basin and Range topography. This part of the earth’s surface is simply stretching apart (while elsewhere it is crunching together). The stresses of pulling apartBear Lake 2 cause earthquakes which rearrange great blocks of land. The result is an alternating pattern of mountain ranges and flat-bottomed valleys. Since the stresses come from east-west stretching, the mountain ranges run north-south, as do the valleys between them.

Most valleys in the Basin and Range Province don’t have big lakes in them, but when you look at Bear Lake, you can see why its long side is north-south. The mountain ranges to the east and west– and everywhere else in the Basin and Range Province–average about nine to twelve miles across. The valleys between them are about the same width.

Over time, the mountain ranges gradually give up their rock to the erosive power of wind and water. This material slowly fills the valleys. The process is young in Idaho, and you can drive along and still observe the exact spot where an alluvial fan ends and the flat-bottomed valley begins.

Like any other oasis, Bear Lake attracts the living–fish, ducks, geese, beaver, bear, and humans. The Shoshone Indians camped on the eastern shore in the summer and fished for trout. Trappers came in the early 1800s and took beaver. They named the lake after the brown bears that also like to fish. Two Bear Lake 3Mormon pioneers are said to have netted 1,800 pounds of fish in one day. In the early 1900s, the village of Fish Haven was home to a commercial fishery that thrived for a quarter of a century before it was outlawed by both Idaho and Utah.

Vacationers still fish however, taking the Bonneville cisco (also known as the “Bear Lake sardine”), two species of native whitefish, the Bonneville cutthroat, and introduced rainbow and lake trout. Another attraction of the lake is the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the north end of the lake. Birders look for herons, egrets, terns, rails, white-faced ibis, bitterns, grebes, Canada geese, avocets, white pelicans–and the stately sandhill crane. And ruddy ducks, mallards, and pintails. And teal.