Utah and Idaho’s Colorful Bear Lake

June 13, 2019

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Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

From high above, as viewed for instance from the International Space Station, Bear Lake looks much like a lozenge-shaped blue-to-turquoise gem, filling a mountain-framed valley that straddles the border of the U.S. states of Idaho and Utah. That jewel-like coloration, caused by the refraction of sunlight off mountain-eroded particles of limestone (calcium carbonate) suspended in the water, is also evident along its glittering beaches, as in the photograph above, taken on the large freshwater lake’s southwestern shore on May 2, 2019. A second photo, taken while looking east from a marina levee at Utah’s Bear Lake State Park, in Garden City, spotlights the almost Caribbean tint of the water on that same beautiful day, under cottony cumulus clouds.

Covering about 109 square miles (280 sq km) and with a surface elevation of 5,924 feet (1,806 m), Bear Lake is described by the U.S. Geological Survey as a tectonic lake, one that has existed for several hundred thousand years in a fault-bounded valley. Its shape and depth are influenced by a half-graben, a still-subsiding depression that tilts toward the valley’s east Bear Lake fault zone and steep slopes on the lake’s well-defined east side. The similarly named Bear River flows only a few miles to the north and occasionally contributed to Bear Lake in the ancient past, but now does so only via human-made canals, as the lake is also used as a reservoir. The river, which rises in Utah’s Uinta Mountains, is 350 miles (560 km) long, courses through Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, and is the largest tributary of endorheic Great Salt Lake.

Long visited and used by Native American tribes like the Shoshone, the lake was observed and originally named, in the plural, Black Bears Lake by Scottish-Canadian fur trader Donald Mackenzie in 1819. Near today’s Laketown, on Bear Lake’s south shore, mountain men and Indians gathered for fur-trading, replenishing supplies and socializing during their third and fourth summer Rocky Mountain rendezvous in 1827 and 1828. Today, as well as an agricultural and ranching resource, the lake is in part a resort and recreation area, lined in places with homes, cabins, condos, marinas and fishing-boat ramps, as well as Idaho and Utah state parks and campgrounds — including Rendezvous Beach.

Photo Details: Top - Camera: NIKON D3500; Exposure Time: 0.0025s (1/400); Aperture: ƒ/10.0; ISO equivalent: 100; Focal Length (35mm): 18. Bottom: same except - Focal Length (35mm): 21.