IDAHOME, Idaho -- Great expectations don't last long out here when the wind blows from the northwest.

But on a preternaturally calm November morning, it's possible to see how they might take root.The Cotterell Mountains shield the Raft River Valley from an encroaching storm, and in the shadow of the skeleton of the grain elevator, there are footprints of civilization: A bent and rusted hay rake, a crushed tin can, a willow tree -- unaccountable but unmistakable signs that once people took the measure of this place and struck a bargain with the sky and the land.

Or, at least, thought they did.

Back in 1914, when all the world was buying American grain, this seemed like a upland Eden, bountiful and boundless. But World War I didn't last.

And while the awful drought of 1919 didn't kill off Idahome, it sealed its fate: Two decades of dry weather and low crop prices followed, and now the place is distinguishable from two dozen other Magic Valley ghost towns only by a historical marker and a concrete citadel of dashed hopes.

Ninety years after it was imagined, the Magic Valley survives by a technological sleight-of-hand: borrowed water. That's because drought is the rule on the northern fringe of the Great Basin, no matter how full the canals run with melted Wyoming snow.

"The south-central part of the state is part of one of the most drought-prone regions in the country," said Myron Molnau, a University of Idaho professor and the state climatologist. "Rainfall is 10 inches (a year) or less, and there are great variations in precipitation from year to year. That's typical of a desert."

Drought has shaped how life is lived in this cauldron of leveraged hopes.

"A powerful emotion (is) wont to come upon an irrigator as he dabbles with a trickle when his tender plants are being desiccated by midsummer heat," wrote Merle Wells, the dean of Idaho historians, in his 1959 "History of Idaho," which he co-authored with Merrill Beal.

In a land where rainfall can vary by eight inches a year, nearly one-third of the Magic Valley's recorded history has been consumed by drought.

The worst came in the 1930s, but a repeat is never far away. Never far away from the land or the souls of the people who live on it. And that fact affects everything from credit to community.

"In 1919, the Twin Falls Canal Company reported that it would be able to furnish only 30 percent of the normal supply of water," says Twin Falls-born historian Leonard Arrington, now a Utahn, but author of his own Idaho history. "There were altercations along the river.

"Desperate farmers in the upper valleys of the Snake sometimes made illegal use of water, broke the locks on headgates, and in some cases organized vigilante committees."

In short, the fabric of society began to unravel.

"The pioneers in the Upper Snake River Valley and the promoters in Magic Valley were equally optimistic over the abundance of water for irrigation," Wells and Beal wrote. "It was supposed that the water supply was far in excess of possible needs. Time and drought were destined to shatter their confidence."

That led directly to the 1927 construction of American Falls Dam, which became the linchpin for Magic Valley agriculture. And the specter of drought drives the current Snake River Basin Adjudication, which aims to sort out every water right.

But how could it be otherwise in a place where snowfall in the Tetons is more important than rainfall in Twin Falls? Storing that water has provided a safety net for Magic Valley's economy, but the prospect of drought still drives its margins.

The residue of hard times is caution.

No banker makes a farm loan without consulting the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Many folks still pay cash for refrigerators and pickups. It's part of an almost biblical mentality based on the fear that complacency breeds want.

"Drought is part of the norm in this part of the world," said Richard Allen, a professor at Utah State University and a specialist in irrigated agriculture and climate.

"Since 1992, the climate has been favorable (to agriculture) in southern Idaho," Molnau said. "But sooner or later, that's going to change. It always does."

Meanwhile, in Idahome the wind is blowing.