« PreviousContinue »
Let us not look too far ahead, however. Wandering on over the sunny slopes, where the gardener has forgotten to separate the colors or to divide the flower banks, we gain the top of the island; but so dense are the plants about us, and so eager is each painted cup to expand freely in the sunlight at the expense of its neighbors, that we have to beat them down with our alpenstocks-much as we dislike to mar the beauty of the placebefore we can recline on the thick turf beneath and study the strange landscape before us.
The foreground of every view is a bank of Aowers nodding and swaying in the wind, but all beyond is a frozen desert. The ice-fields before us, with their dark bands of débris, are a picture of desolation. The creative breath has touched only the garden which we, the first of wanderers, have invaded. The land before us is entirely without human associations. No battles have there been fought, no kings have ruled, no poets have sung of its ruggedness, and no philosopher has explained its secrets. Yet it has its history, its poetry, and its philosophy!
The mountains toward the north are too near at hand to reveal their grandeur; only the borders of the vast snow-fields covering all of these upper slopes are in view. In the deep cañon with perpendicular walls, just north of our station, but curving westward so that its upper course is concealed from view, there flows a secondary glacier which forces its terminal moraine high up on the northern slope of Blossom island, but does not now join the ice-field on the south. Streams of turbid water flow from this glacier on each side of the oasis on which we stand and unite at the mouth of a dark tunnel in the ice toward the south.
The barren gravel plain just east of our station, and at the foot of the glacier from the north, is the bed of a glacial lake which has been drained through the tunnel in the ice. On our way to Blossom island we crossed this area and found that it had but recently lost its waters. Miniature terraces on the gravel banks forming the sides of the basin marked the height to which the waters last rose, and all the slopes formerly submerged were covered with a thin layer of sediment. On the sides of the basin where this fresh lining rests on steep slopes there are beautiful frettings made by rills in the soft sediment. The stream from the glacier now meanders across this sand plain, dividing as it goes into many branches, which unite on approach
ing the dark archway below. The lake is extremely irregular in its behavior, and may be filled and emptied several times in a
The waters are either restrained or flow freely, according as the tunnel through which they discharge is obstructed or open. The lake is typical of a class. Similar basins may be found about many of the spurs projecting into the Malaspina glacier.
A little west of the glacier to which I have directed your attention there is a narrow mountain gorge occupied by another glacier, of small size but having all the principal characteristics of even the largest Alpine glaciers of the region. It is less than half a mile in length, has a high grade, and is fed by several lateral branches. Its surface is divided into an ice region below and a névé region above. It has lateral and medial moraines, ice pinnacles, crevasses, and many other details peculiar to glaciers. From its extremity, which is dark with dirt and stones, there flows a stream of turbid water. It is, in fact, a miniature similitude of the ice-streams on the neighboring mountain, some of which are forty or fifty miles in length and many times wider in their narrowest part than the little glacier before us is long. The more thoroughly we become acquainted with the mountains of southern Alaska the more interesting and more numerous do the Alpine glaciers of the third order become. Already, thousands could be enumerated.
I will not detain my imaginary companion longer with local details, but turn at once to the objects which will ever be the center of attraction to visitors who may chance to reach this remote island in the ice. Looking far up the Marvine glacier, beyond the tapering pinnacles and rugged peaks about its head, you will see spires and cathedral-like forms of the purest white projected against the northern sky. They recall at once the ecclesiastic architecture of the Old World; but instead of being dimn and faded by time they seem built of immaculate marble. They have a grandeur and repose seen only in mountains of the first magnitude. The cathedral to the right, with the long rooflike crest and a tapering spire at its eastern terminus, is Mount Augusta ; its elevation is over 13,000 feet. A little to the west, and equally beautiful but slightly less in elevation, is Mount Malaspina-a worthy monument to the unfortunate navigator whose name it bears. These peaks are on the main St. Elias range, but from our present point of view they form only the background of a magnificent picture. Later in the season our tents were pitched at their very bases, and they then revealed their full grandeur and fulfilled every promise given by distant views.
EOG. MAG., VOL. III,
The rugged Hitchcock range bordering the distant margin of the Marvine glacier, like the mountains near at hand and the rocky island on which we stand, is composed of sandstone and shale, but presents one interesting feature, to which I shall direct your attention. The trend of the range is northeast and southwest, but the strata of which it is composed run east and west and are inclined northward. As the range is some cight miles long, these conditions would seem to indicate a thickness of many thousands of feet for the rocks of which it is composed; yet the beds were deposited in horizontal sheets of sand and mud of very late date, as will be shown farther on.
But the great apparent thickness of the strata is deceptive: a nearer. examination would reveal the fact that the rocks have been so greatly crushed that even a hand specimen can scarcely be broken off with fresh surfaces. More than this, the black shale, exhibiting the greatest amount of crushiny, is usually in wedge-shaped masses, which, in some cases at least, are bordered by what are known as thrust planes, nearly coinciding with the bedding planes of the strata. The rocks have been fractured and crushed together in such a way as to pile fragments of the same layer on top of each other, and thus to increase greatly their apparent thickness. In the elevations before us the thrust planes are tipped northeastwardly, and it would seem that the force that produced them acted from that direction. The apparent thickness of the beds has thus been increased many times. What their original thickness was, it is not now possible to say. Similar indications of a lateral crushing in the rocks may be found in several of the mountain spurs between the Hitchcock range and Yakutat bay; but space will not permit me to follow this subject further.
Turning from the mountains, we direct our eyes seaward; but it is a sea of ice that meets our view and not the blue Pacific. Far as the eye can reach toward the west, toward the south, and toward the southeast there is nothing in view but a vast plateau of ice or barren débris fields resting on ice and concealing it from view. This is the Malaspina glacier.
On the border of the ice, just below the cliffs on which we