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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Mud Lake

Friday, June 16, 2017  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Field of alfalfa near the City of Mud Lake

The City of Mud Lake is located a few miles southwest of the 10,578-acre Camas National Wildlife Refuge and the adjoining 8,853-acre Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The WMA includes streams, wetlands and the six-mile-wide and up to two and a half-mile-long Mud Lake.

The city lies near the base of a broad, up to 15-mile-deep and 40-mile-long, crescent of irrigated farmland in a vast dry high desert. The crescent extends from above Hamer, located 14 miles due northeast of the city of Mud Lake; wraps around the south side of the WMA past the city of Mud Lake; and then proceeds northwest to above the unincorporated community of Monteview.

Idaho Falls lies about 35 miles southeast of Mud Lake City. Rexburg is about 36 miles west. The substantially larger in population but unincorporated community of Terreton is two miles west.

Historical Tidbits

Until around 1810 when the first European and American explorers/trappers came into the region, American Indians—primarily of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes—hunted and fished the area that now comprises the WMA.

In 1863 prospectors discovered placer gold in what is now western Montana. A stagecoach and freight wagon trail soon developed from Utah to the Montana gold fields. The trail, called the Gold Road, crossed the Snake River at Idaho Falls and continued north to Monida Pass and on into Montana.

The stagecoach company built relay stations every 12 to 15 miles, where travelers could rest and eat. One of these relay stations, named Sandhole Station, would become the city of Hamer.

A few years after completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit in northern Utah in 1869, the Utah and Northern Railroad—later merged into the Oregon Short Line Railroad—began constructing a rail line from Corrine, Utah, to Butte, Montana. The rail line generally followed the Gold Road. In 1879 the rail line reached Sandhole Station.

The railroad built its roundhouse and depot five miles north of Sandhole Station at Camas. Three years later in 1882, there was a serious drought and the railroad’s Camas well went dry.

Railroad officials found that Dry Creek—later named Dubois and located 16 miles north of Camas—had plenty of water. They moved their roundhouse and other buildings to Dubois. There they drilled a well and built a water tower, telegraph office and section house. Several men worked at the roundhouse and operated the helper engines used to get the trains over the 6,824-foot-high Monida Pass.

As a general practice, the railroad built train stops about every 20 miles. With the abandonment of the Camas location, Sandhole Station became a train stop.

Sam Turman—a long-time Hamer resident whose grandfather founded Hamer—said the railroad steam engines would stop at Sandhole Station for water and load locally produced cattle and sheep for market.

Many of these cattle and sheep grazed in the meadows and on the adjoining grass and sagebrush-covered land surrounding the large shallow lake. Each summer the streams feeding the lake declined in volume and the lakeshores receded leaving exposed lake-bottom and a long muddy circumference around the lake. Local ranchers thus named the shallow body of water "Mud Lake."

Mud Lake was incorporated as a village. In 1967 with a change in Idaho state law, Mud Lake became a city.

Homesteading and the Railroad

The Homestead Act of 1862 was critical to the development of the Mud Lake area. Due to the Act, farms and ranches were established in the area. Soon other amenities and businesses came and a town named Mud Lake was formed.

The railroad stopping at Hamer was close enough to the community of Mud Lake that it not only allowed convenient transportation of passengers and rapid movement of mail and freight, but it allowed area ranchers and farmers to efficiently ship their livestock and commodities to market.

Amenities and Attractions Today

The WMA is a prominent attraction for wildlife observation and recreation. A broad array of migratory and native birds and animals thrive among the diverse habitats of the WMA. Ducks, geese, trumpeter swans, songbirds, raptors, moose, elk, deer and pronghorn antelope inhabit these wildlife preserves. Both the refuge and management area have facilities to accommodate the increasing numbers of people coming to watch the birds and view the big game that come out of the mountains each winter.

Mud Lake has continual winds, clean air and spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Over the centuries, the winds produced the St. Anthony Sand Dunes. These sand dunes begin about 24 miles due northeast of the city and cover an area 35 miles long and up to five miles wide. The height of the dunes themselves range from 70 to 365 feet—a height greater than the dunes in Death Valley, California.

In the winter, the winds often produce high sweeping snowdrifts that turn the landscape into a beautiful winter wonderland—a paradise for cross country skiers and snowmobiles.

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