Much of the refuge was set aside in 1908 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to use for an irrigation project. Water is drawn down annually in the spring for irrigation, taking out all but about six inches of water. In many years the whole marsh can dry up in the summer.
The unnatural hydrology isn’t always ideal for birds, but there have still been 250 species recorded at the refuge. About 100 of those are known to nest there. Notably, Grays Lake is typically home to about 200 nesting pairs of sandhill cranes. That’s the largest nesting population of the species in the world.
Grays Lake was named for mountain man John Grey. If you’re scratching your head about why he was named Grey and the lake is Grays Lake—with an a—there is much more to trouble your gray or grey hair over than that. The mountain man was also known as Ignace Hatchiorauquasha. That last name throws my spellchecker into a desolate land where it finds no road signs. Further, on many early maps Grays Lake is marked as Days Lake. Some thought it was named for John Day, an early trapper on the Astor Expedition. He has a town in Oregon named for him, so no sobbing.
But about that name, Hatchiorauquasha. It’s Iroquois. Gray/Grey/Hatchiorauquasha was half Scottish and half Iroquois. He chose the name Ignace because he considered St. Ignatius his patron saint.