Driving through Eastern Idaho, you pass what seems like an endless stretch of large green farms, often with massive sprinklers spreading thousands of gallons of water over dozens of different types of crops. However, this land only recently became like this. Before the 1900’s, this part of Idaho was a mix between a desert and grassy plains, better suited for grazing a few animals than farming. By the beginning of the 20th century, homesteaders began spreading across the entire country, and needed to farm to survive and earn money. While the nearby Snake River provides water, the water comes too fast during the spring, with the winter run off flooding large sections of farmland. During the fall, not enough water reaches the farmland to sustain the crops and the crops die before the harvest. In 1902, with the passing of the Newlands Reclamation Act, the Federal Government, under Theodore Roosevelt, set aside money to create dams and irrigation canals across the US in order to store the water and allow more people to farm successfully. The main project that affected this area of the Snake River was the Minidoka project. It entailed the Minidoka, American Falls, Jackson Lake, Island Park, and Grassy Lakes Dam. The Palisades Dam and the Teton Dam were completed in separate projects much after the completion of the original five dams. The Minidoka Camp was originally an outpost for reclamation workers, and was converted into an internment camp for a few years during World War 2. The creation of these dams mirror the further settling of Eastern Idaho. As the dams were completed, hundreds of thousands more people moved to Idaho to begin farming the now irrigated land. This tour tells the story of the creation of these dams and illustrates the story of the settling of the Snake River Plain.
Locations for Tour
Bureau of Reclamation, from Projects and Facilities. “Minidoka Project,” available at
Stene, Eric A. Minidoka Project. Report. Bureau of Reclamation. 1997. Available at