The Western United States - A Geographical Reader
by Harold Wellman Fairbanks
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In the preparation of this book the author has had in mind the needs of the upper grammar grades. The subject matter has not been selected with the object of covering the field of Western geography in a systematic manner, but instead the attempt has been made to picture as graphically as may be some of its more striking and interesting physical features, and the influence which these features have exerted upon its discovery and settlement.

Those subjects have been presented which have more than local interest and are illustrative of world-wide principles. Clear conceptions of the earth and man's relation to it are not gained by general statements as readily as by the comprehensive study of concrete examples.

Nowhere outside of the Cordilleran region are to be found so remarkable illustrations of the growth and destruction of physical features, or so clear examples of the control which physical features exercise over the paths of exploration, settlement, and industrial development.

The fact that the West furnishes a wealth of material for geography teaching has long been recognized in a general way, although there has been but little attempt to present this material in a form suitable for the use of schools.

The illustrations are, with few exceptions, from the author's own photographs, and the descriptions are made up from his personal observations. Since the illustrations are numerous and have been selected with much care, it is hoped that they will add greatly to the value of the text. They should be used, and a proper understanding of the pictures made a part of every lesson.




































The Colorado River is not old, as we estimate the age of rivers. It was born when the Rocky Mountains were first uplifted to the sky, when their lofty peaks, collecting the moisture of the storms, sent streams dashing down to the plains below. Upon the western slope of the mountains a number of these streams united in one great river, which wound here and there, seeking the easiest route across the plateau to the Gulf of California.

At first the banks of the river were low, and its course was easily turned one way or another. From the base of the mountains to the level of the ocean there is a fall of more than a mile, so that the river ran swiftly and was not long in making for itself a definite channel.

Many thousands of years passed. America was discovered. The Spaniards conquered Mexico and sent expeditions northward in search of the cities of Cibola, where it was said that gold and silver were abundant. One of these parties is reported to have reached a mighty canon, into which it was impossible to descend. The canon was so deep that rocks standing in the bottom, which were in reality higher than the Seville cathedral, appeared no taller than a man.

Another party discovered the mouth of the river and called it, because of their safe arrival, The River of Our Lady of Safe Conduct. They went as far up the river as its shallow waters would permit, but failed to find the seven cities of which they were in search, and turned about and went back to Mexico. For years afterward the river remained undisturbed, so far as white men were concerned. A great part of the stream was unknown even to the Indians, for the barren plateaus upon either side offered no inducements to approach.

Trappers and explorers in the Rocky Mountains reached the head waters of the river nearly one hundred years ago, and followed the converging branches down as far as they dared toward the dark and forbidding canons. It was believed that no boat could pass through the canons, and that once launched upon those turbid waters, the adventurer would never be able to return.

The Colorado remained a river of mystery for nearly three centuries after its discovery. When California and New Mexico had become a part of the Union, about the middle of the last century, the canon of the Colorado was approached at various points by government exploring parties, which brought back more definite reports concerning the rugged gorge through which the river flows.

In 1869 Major Powell, at the head of a small party, undertook the dangerous trip through the canon by boat. After enduring great hardships for a number of weeks, the party succeeded in reaching the lower end of the canon. Major Powell's exploit has been repeated by only one other company, and some members of this party perished before the dangerous feat was accomplished.

The Colorado is a wonderful stream. It is fed by the perpetual snows of the Rocky Mountains. For some distance the tributary streams flow through fertile valleys, many of them now richly and widely cultivated. But soon the branches unite in one mighty river which, seeming to shun life and sunlight, buries itself so deeply in the great plateau that the traveller through this region may perish in sight of its waters without being able to descend far enough to reach them. After passing through one hundred miles of canon, the river emerges upon a desert region, where the rainfall is so slight that curious and unusual forms of plants and animals have been developed, forms which are adapted to withstand the almost perpetual sunshine and scorching heat of summer.

Below the Grand Canon the river traverses an open valley, where the bottom lands support a few Indians who raise corn, squashes, and other vegetables. At the Needles the river is hidden for a short time within canon walls, but beyond Yuma the valley widens, and the stream enters upon vast plains over which it flows to its mouth in the Gulf of California.

No portion of the river is well adapted to navigation. Below the canon the channels are shallow and ever changing. At the mouth, enormous tides sweep with swift currents over the shallows and produce foam-decked waves known as the "bore."

Visit the Colorado River whenever you will, at flood time in early summer, or in the fall and winter when the waters are lowest, you will always find it deeply discolored. The name "Colorado" signifies red, and was given to the river by the Spaniards. Watch the current and note how it boils and seethes. It seems to be thick with mud. The bars are almost of the same color as the water and are continually changing. Here a low alluvial bank is being washed away, there a broad flat is forming. With the exception of the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and the Gila, which joins the Colorado at Yuma, no other river is known to be so laden with silt. No other river is so rapidly removing the highlands through which it flows.

Over a large portion of the watershed of the Colorado the rainfall is light. This fact might lead one to think that upon its slopes the work of erosion would go on more slowly than where the rainfall is heavy. This would, however, be a wrong conclusion, for in places where there is a great deal of rain the ground becomes covered with a thick growth of vegetation which holds the soil and broken rock fragments and keeps them from being carried away.

The surface of the plateaus and lower mountain slopes in the basin of the Colorado are but little protected by vegetation. When the rain does fall in this arid region, it often comes with great violence. The barren mountain sides are quickly covered with trickling streams, which unite in muddy torrents in the gulches, carrying along mud, sand, and even boulders in their rapid course; the torrents in turn deliver a large part of their loads to the river. As the rain passes, the gulches become dry and remain so until another storm visits the region. It is storming somewhere within the basin of the Colorado much of the time, for the river drains two hundred and twenty-three thousand square miles. So it comes about that whether one visits the river in winter or summer one always finds it loaded with mud.

But what becomes of all this mud? The river cannot drop it in the narrow canons. It is not until the river has carried its load of mud down to the region about its mouth, where the current becomes sluggish, that the heavy brown burden can be discharged. Dip up a glassful of the water near the mouth of the river, and let it settle, then carefully remove the clear water and allow the sediment in the bottom to dry. If the water in the glass was six inches deep, there will finally remain in the bottom a mass of hardened mud, which will vary in amount with the time of the year in which the experiment is performed, but will average about one-fiftieth of an inch in thickness. Each cubic foot of the water, then, must contain nearly six cubic inches of solid sediment or silt.

It has been estimated that the average flow of the Colorado River at Yuma throughout the year is eighteen thousand cubic feet of water per second. From this fact we can calculate that there would be deposited at the mouth of the river every year, enough sediment to lie one foot deep over sixty-six square miles of territory. Nearly one three-hundredth part of the Colorado River water is silt, while in the case of the Mississippi the silt forms only one part in twenty-nine hundred.

Now we are prepared to understand the origin of the vast lowlands about the head of the Gulf of California. Long ago this gulf extended one hundred and fifty miles farther north than it does at present, so that it reached nearly to the place where the little town of Indio now stands in the northern end of the Colorado desert.

When the Colorado River first began to flow, it emptied its waters into the gulf not far from the spot where Yuma is situated. The water was probably loaded with silt then as it is now. Part of this sediment was dropped at the mouth of the stream, while part was spread by the currents over the bottom of the adjoining portions of the gulf. The rapidly growing delta crept southward and westward into the gulf. As fast as the sediment was built up above the reach of the tide, vegetation appeared, which, retarding the flow of the water at times of flood, aided the deposition of silt and the building up of the delta.

As the centuries went by, these lowland plains became more and more extensive, until the gulf was actually divided into two parts by the spreading of the delta across to the western shore. The portion of the gulf thus cut off from the ocean formed a salt lake fully one hundred miles in length.

We may suppose that for a long time before the barrier was high and strong, the tidal currents occasionally broke over the delta and supplied the lake with water. As the river meandered here and there over the flat delta, its channels must have undergone many changes at every time of flood. A part of the water without doubt flowed into the salt lake, and another portion into the open gulf. In fact, the basin in which the lake lay, now known as the Colorado desert, continued to receive water from the river, at intervals, until very recently. In 1891 an overflow occurred, through the channel known as New River, which flooded the lower portion of the basin and threatened to cover the railroad.

When the ocean had been permanently shut off from the head of the gulf, and the river itself had been largely diverted toward the south, the lake began to dry up. At last, most of the water disappeared and there remained a vast desert basin, at its greatest depth two hundred and fifty feet below the level of the ocean. In the bottom of the basin a bed of salt appeared, for this substance could not be carried away, as the water had been, by the thirsty air.

Remarkably perfect beaches still exist around the shores of this old lake, and on them are found the pearly shells of multitudes of fresh-water mollusks. The presence of these shells leads us to believe that after the salt lake dried up, the river again broke in and formed a new lake of comparatively fresh water which also, after a time, dried up.

The wonderful fertility of the Colorado delta is just beginning to be appreciated. Canals have been dug to take the water from the river and distribute it over the land. Year by year the cultivated lands are being extended. The change which irrigation is making upon the surface of one of the worst deserts in the country is indeed remarkable.

The Colorado River is working on quietly and steadily. We may think, and truly, that it has already done a great at work in excavating the mighty canons along its course, but, in reality, the work already accomplished is small in comparison with that which remains to be done.

In time, if the land is not disturbed by the forces which build mountains, the plateaus through which the river now flows in such deep canons will be carried away in the form of sand and mud. Broad valleys will replace the canons, and the Gulf of California will become a fertile plain. As the highlands wear away the process will go on more and more slowly, for there will be less rainfall. The river will become smaller and its basin more arid. All these changes will be brought about through the crumbling of the rocks, and the removal of the waste matter by the running water.


We may read of the Colorado plateau, and of the Grand Canon with its precipitous walls of variously colored rock, but unless we actually visit this wonderland, it is hard to realize the height and extent of the plateau and the depth of the gashes made in its surface by running water, gashes so deep that they seem to expose the very heart of the earth.

Nature has chosen a remote and half-desert region for the location of this, the most picturesque canon in the world, as if she wished to keep it as long as possible from the eyes of men. Once a traveller could not view the canon without making a long and weary journey across hundreds of miles of desert; now it is quite different, for one can almost look into its depths from the windows of a palace car. But to appreciate and understand fully the stupendous work that nature has done throughout this region we must leave the cars at a somewhat distant point, and before reaching the canon become acquainted with the country in which it lies through the old-fashioned ways of travelling on horseback or wagon.

Flagstaff was formerly the starting-point for travellers to the canon, and we will choose it now, for the old stage road offers an interesting ride. The road first winds around that lofty snow-clad peak, the San Francisco Mountain, which can be seen from all northern Arizona. Leaving the mountain behind, we strike out directly across the high plateau. The country is nearly level, and the open park-like forest extends in every direction as far as one can see.

It is difficult for us to believe that we are seven thousand feet above the sea, a height greater than that of the highest mountains in the United States east of the Mississippi Valley. It is this elevation, however, which brings the summer showers and makes the air cool and pleasant, for the lowlands of this portion of the United States are barren deserts, upon which the sun beats with almost savage heat.

After the rainy season green grass and an abundance of flowers appear in the open meadows scattered through the forest. But, as a rule, the entire absence of water strikes one as being very strange. Where are the springs and running streams which usually abound in mountainous regions? Throughout the whole distance of seventy miles from Flagstaff to the canon, there are but one or two spots where water is to be found. These places are known as "water-holes"; they are simply hollows in the surface of the ground where the water collects after the showers.

There is another strange feature about the plateau over which the road leads; instead of sloping down toward the Colorado River and the Grand Canon, the surface slowly rises, so that the little streams which are formed after the heavy rains flow away from the river.

Our journey draws to an end, but there is nothing to indicate the presence of the canon until we get glimpses through the trees of an apparently bottomless gulf. The gulf widens upon a closer view, we reach the edge, and all its wonderful proportions burst upon us. Does the Grand Canon look as you thought it would? Probably not, for it is unlike any other in the world. The canon is very deep. The river has worn its way for more than a mile down into the plateau, which once stretched unbroken from the cliffs upon which we stand, across to those upon the opposite side, nearly ten miles away.

The clear air makes objects upon the opposite side and in the bottom of the canon seem much nearer than they really are. You may think that it is an easy task to go to the bottom of the canon and climb back again in a day, but in reality it is so difficult an undertaking that only those who are accustomed to mountain climbing can accomplish it.

It is not merely the great width and depth of the canon that impress us, but also the bright, variegated colors which the different rock layers display as they stretch in horizontal bands along the faces of the cliffs, or sweep around the towers and pinnacles until their detailed outlines are lost in the distant blue haze.

Our eyes wander far down, toward the bottom of the canon, following the alternate lines of precipitous cliffs and slopes covered with rock fragments. The cliffs and slopes succeed each other like the steps in a giant stairway, until at the very bottom the opposite walls meet in a gorge so narrow that in only a few places does the river come into view, glistening like a silver thread.

A hotel stands among the trees a short distance from the brink of the canon. Living here is expensive, for every article of food has to be brought upon the cars and wagons for a distance of hundreds of miles. Even the water has to be brought in wagons from a distant spring.

In visiting the canon we have the choice of going on horseback or on foot. While the latter method is much harder, yet one feels safer upon his own feet while moving along the steep and narrow trail. Our start is made in the cool air of the early morning. Leaving the top of the plateau, where among the pines the summer air is seldom sultry, and the winters are cold and snowy, we descend, until, by luncheon time, we are far below the heights and in the midst of an almost tropical climate. This difference in climatic features between the top and bottom of the canon is equal to the change which the traveller experiences in a trip from the pine forests of the northern United States to the cactus-covered plains of Arizona.

As we look down from the top of the trail it does not seem possible to pass the great cliffs below, and yet there must be a way, since others have gone before us. All that we have to do is simply to follow the beaten path. Nature has conveniently left narrow shelves, crevices, and less precipitous slopes here and there, which need only the application of the pick and shovel to be made passable even for pack animals. Where the trail winds into shady recesses, we find stunted fir and pine trees clinging to the crevices and stretching their roots down into the waste rock collected upon projecting ledges.

Down, down we go. The belt of the yellow pine and fir is left behind, and we come to the habitat of the pinon pine and juniper. These two will flourish where there is less moisture than is needed by the trees which grow nearer the top. Soon the trees have all disappeared and such plants as the greasewood, cactus, and agave take their place. Here, if it were not for the walls of rock rising on every hand, we might imagine ourselves upon one of the desert plains of Arizona.

New views open at every turn in the trail, as it winds along the narrow shelves of rock with precipitous walls above and below. Now it zigzags back and forth down a gentle slope, but is soon stopped by another precipice. In one place, to escape a rocky point, the trail has been carried around the face of a cliff on a sort of shelf made of logs. It then passes through a crevice formed by the splitting away of a huge piece of the wall. In many places the grade is so steep that the trail is made practically a stairway, for the steps are necessary to keep animals from slipping.

Step by step we descend until the slope becomes more gentle and a sort of terrace is reached, where men are at work developing a copper mine. Everything needed for the mine is carried down packed upon the backs of sure-footed burros. Even the water has to be brought in kegs from a little spring still deeper in the canon.

The trail leaves the mine and winds down past another cliff, until, when more than three thousand feet from the top of the plateau, we find water for the first time. The little springs issue from the sandstone, and their limited supply of water is soon drunk up by the thirsty sands.

As far as the water flows it forms a little oasis upon the barren slope. Along the course of the streams are little patches of green grass, flowers, and bushes. Birds flit about, and there are tracks of small animals in the mud. Evidently the water is as great an attraction to them as it is to us. If a well were dug in the plateau above, we can understand now how deep it would have to be in order to reach water. A well three-fourths of a mile deep would be a difficult one to pump.

We are now in the bottom of the main canon, but deeper still is the last and inner gorge, through which the Colorado is flowing. For thousands of centuries the river has been sawing its way down into the earth. The precipitous cliffs which we have passed are formed of hard sandstone or limestone. The more gentle slopes consist of softer shales. Now the river has cut through them all and has reached the very heart of the earth, the solid granite.

This inner gorge has almost vertical walls twelve hundred to fifteen hundred feet high. We can sit upon the brink under a ledge of rock which protects us from the hot sun, and watch the river as we eat our luncheon. Far below, almost directly under us, it rushes along. The roar of the current rises but faintly to our ears. The water is very muddy and not at all like the clear mountain streams, far away upon the continental divide, which unite to form the river. It seems as if the water, ashamed of its soiled appearance, wanted to hide from the sight of men. If so, it has succeeded well, for it can be seen only at rare intervals from the top of the canon walls, and even at the bottom of the main canon the river itself is not visible unless one stands upon the very brink of the granite gorge.

The work of the river is not yet done. It will go on until the great cliffs have crumbled and have been replaced by gentle slopes. It will not stop until, at some far distant time, a broad valley has been worn out of the rocky strata.

The canon appears much wider when viewed from the bottom than from the top, and the great cliffs far back along the trail seem less precipitous, but only because they are so far away. A weary climb of several miles awaits us. We must rest and take breath frequently or we shall not reach the top.

As night approaches and the shadows begin to fall, every turret and pinnacle stands out in bold relief. The bands of yellow and red shade into purple, and everything, save the long winding trail, begins to have a weird and mystical look.


Years ago people disputed as to the way in which the earth was made. Those who lived where all the rocks had, like lava, the appearance of having once been melted, believed that fire had done all the work. Those who lived where the rocks appeared to be formed of hardened mud, sand, and lime, substances such as we find accumulating under water, said that water alone had been the means. But in later years the earth's surface has been more widely explored, and now it is known that both opinions were partly right. Water and fire have both been concerned in the making of the earth.

In the great valleys fire-formed rocks are rare, but they are more or less abundant in all mountainous regions, for where mountains are, there the crust of the earth is weakest. There are many reasons for believing that the interior of the earth is very hot. We know that the surface is settling in some places and rising in others, and that where the strain of the upheaval is too great the rocks are broken. These convulsions sometimes cause earthquakes and sometimes volcanic eruptions, when enormous quantities of molten rock are poured out over the surface. In all the long history of our earth probably no greater flood of lava than that which made the Columbia plateau was ever spread over the surface of any region. Travel where you will over the plains of southern Idaho, central Washington, or Oregon, and examine the rocks which here and there rise above the soil or are exposed in the canons, and you will find that they all appear to have been formed by fire.

These rocks are dark in color and very hard. They are not arranged in regular layers like sandstone and shale; many of them show numerous little cavities which once contained steam. These cavities give to the rock a slag-like appearance. In this kind of rock, which we shall call lava, there are, of course, no remains of shells or bones of animals such as are often found in rocks formed from sand or clay.

Do not picture to yourself the Columbia plateau as one continuous stretch of level land, for it is broken by many mountain ranges. Some of these are old mountains which were too tall to be buried by the lava, but most of them have been formed out of the plateau itself. The eruptions which made the plateau extended through a very long time, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, and the older lava is deeply decayed and covered with soil. Some of the later flows show extremely rough and rugged surfaces and are probably only a few hundred years old.

Long ago, before the eruptions began, the geography of the Northwest was very different from what it is now. Instead of a vast plateau there were mountains and valleys. Lowlands occupied most of the region where the Cascade Range now rises with its lofty volcanic peaks. Portions of the basin of the present Columbia River were occupied by lakes which extended southwest into California.

Movements of the earth began to affect the region of the present plateau, and at many points the solid rocks were fissured and broken. Then from that mysterious region far beneath the surface came steam and gases, escaping through the fissures with explosive force. In some places cinder cones were built about the openings by the fragments of lava which were hurled out. In other places, during periods of less explosive eruption, molten lava flowed out in vast quantities. The lava was very hot and almost as liquid as water, so that it spread in thin sheets over hundreds of square miles of lowland.

One important series of fissures through which eruptions took place marked the line where the Cascade Range was to be built. Other volcanoes appeared over the surface of southern Idaho, central Washington, Oregon, and northeastern California.

The eruptions were not continuous over the whole field; now in this place, now in that, there came long periods of quiet. During such periods the earthquakes ceased, the lava became cold, and the clouds of volcanic ashes cleared from the air. Frequently the lava intercepted streams and blocked the valleys so that large lakes were formed. Whenever the periods of quiet were very long, plants spread over the surface and animals of many kinds made their homes about the lakes.

In eastern Oregon the John Day River and its branches have eroded canons through the later lava and have exposed the sands, clays, and gravels which collected at the bottom of one of those ancient lakes. In these beds the skeletons of many strange and interesting animals have been found. Evidently they had once lived about the borders of the lake, and the streams had washed their bones into the water and mingled them with the sediment.

One of these animals appears to have been an ancestor of the present horse. It was about the size of a sheep, and had three toes instead of one. Another, probably a very dangerous animal, was related to our present hog, but stood nearly seven feet high. Others resembled the rhinoceros, camel, tapir, or peccary. All but the peccary are now extinct upon this continent. Of the carnivorous animals there were wolves and cats of large size.

The eruptions continued, filling the valleys little by little, until in places the lava reached a thickness of nearly four thousand feet. The lower mountains were hidden from sight. We know of the existence of these buried mountains because the wearing away of the lava in some places has exposed their summits to view.

The lava flood reached farther and farther. In southern Idaho it formed the Snake River plains, which must have been, when first formed, hundreds of miles long, seventy-five miles wide, and almost as even as a floor. If we could have looked on while these things were taking place it would have appeared as if the whole land was about to sink under the fiery mass which flowed out of the earth. The streams and valleys were completely buried. The region of the John Day Lake, with all its animal remains, was covered. The lava, like a sea, crept up against the mountains surrounding the plateau region. Bays of lava extended into the valleys among the mountains, while mountain ridges rose like islands and capes from the surface of the flood.

We never tire of looking at the lofty snow-capped peaks of the Cascade Range. A dozen of them rise over ten thousand feet, and two, Mounts Shasta and Ranier, are more than fourteen thousand feet high. All these mountains were formed of material thrown out of the interior of the earth during the building of the Columbia plateau. The process was very similar for each. About some one exceptionally active crater immense quantities of scoriae[1] and lapilli[2] accumulated. Then came streams of fiery lava, some of which, hardening upon the outer slopes of the crater, added still more to the growth of the mountain. The process was very slow, however. A time of eruption, marked by tremblings of the earth, explosive noises, and a sky filled with dust and clouds, might last for many years. Then came a long period of rest when the falling rains, gathering in dashing torrents, cut deep gullies down the sides of the mountain.

[Footnote 1: scorioe, cellular, slaggy lava.]

[Footnote 2: lapilli, volcanic ashes, consisting of small, angular, stony fragments.]

The volcanoes at last ceased to grow any higher, for the lava, if the eruptions continued, formed new craters at their bases. It is probable that all these great peaks have been extinct for several thousand years, although some are much older and more worn away than others. One of these volcanoes has completely disappeared, and in its place lies that wonderful sheet of water known as Crater Lake. It is thought that the interior of this mountain was melted away during a period of activity, and that the outer portion fell in, leaving a crater five miles across and nearly a mile deep.

The streams of lava, as they flowed here and there building up the plateau, frequently broke up the rivers and turned them into new channels. As time went on the eruptions were less violent, and the rivers became established in the channels which they occupy to-day. The Columbia River, winding about over the plateau, sought the easiest path to the sea. It soon began to dig a channel, and now has hidden itself between dark walls of lava.

But other forces besides the streams were now at work in this volcanic region. The lava plateau began slowly to bend upward along the line of the great volcanoes, lifting them upward with it. In this manner the Cascade Range was formed. The Columbia River, instead of seeking another way to the sea, continued cutting its channel deeper and deeper into the growing mountain range, and so has given us that picturesque canon which forms a most convenient highway from the interior of Washington and Oregon to the coast.

Take a sheet of writing paper, lay it upon an even surface, then slowly push the opposite edges toward each other. This simple experiment will aid one in understanding one of the ways in which mountain ranges are made. Besides the upward fold of the plateau which made the Cascade Range, another was formed between the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon and a spur of the Rocky Mountains in northern Idaho. This fold lay across the path of the Snake River, but its movement was so slow that the river kept its former channel and in this rising land excavated a canon which to-day is more than a mile deep. The upper twenty-five hundred feet of the canon are cut into the lava of the plateau, and the lower three thousand into the underlying granite. The canon is not so picturesque as the Colorado, for it has no rocks with variegated coloring or castellated walls. Its sides are, however, exceedingly precipitous and it is difficult to enter.

Along portions of the lower Columbia and Snake rivers, navigation is obstructed by rapids and waterfalls. The presence of these falls teaches us that these streams are still at work cutting their channels deeper. The Snake River in its upper course has as yet cut only a very shallow channel in the hard lava, and the beautiful Shoshone Falls marks a point where its work is slow. These falls, which are the finest in the northwest, owe their existence to the fact that at this particular spot layers of strong resistant lava cover the softer rocks.

There are other canons in the plateau region which are fully as remarkable as those which have been mentioned. That of the Des Chutes River in central Oregon is in places a thousand feet deep, with almost vertical walls of lava.

We have already seen how mountains have been formed upon the Columbia plateau, by a bending of the earth upward. Other mountains of the plateau are due to fractures in the solid rocks, often many miles long. Upon one side of these fractures the surface has been depressed, while upon the other it has been raised. The amount of the uplift varies from a few hundred to thousands of feet. The mountains thus formed have a long, gentle slope upon one side and a very steep incline upon the other. They are known as "block mountains," and those upon the Columbia plateau are the most interesting of their kind in the world.

With the exception of a few large rivers, the greater portion of the Columbia plateau is remarkable for its lack of surface streams. The water which reaches the borders of the plateau from the surrounding mountains often sinks into the gravel between the layers of lava and forms underground rivers. The deep canons which have been mentioned intercept some of these underground rivers, so that their waters pour out and down over the sides of the canons in foaming cascades. The greatest of these cascades is that known as the Thousand Springs in the Snake River canon. The waters of the Blue Lakes in the canon of the same river below Shoshone Falls also come from underneath the lava. They are utilized in irrigating the most picturesque fruit ranch in southern Idaho.

The climate of the plateau is dry, and its eastern portion is practically a desert. Toward the west, however, the rainfall is greater, and in central Washington and northern Oregon the plateau becomes one vast grain-field. It is difficult to irrigate the plateau because the streams flow in such deep canons, but above the point where the canon of the Snake River begins there is an extensive system of canals and cultivated fields. With a sufficient water supply, the lava makes one of the richest and most productive of soils. Along the Snake and Columbia rivers, wherever there is a bit of bottom land, orchards have been planted. Little steamers ply along these rivers between the rapids, gathering the fruit and delivering it at the nearest railroad point.

Mining is carried on only in the mountains which rise above the lava flood, for the mineral veins are for the most part older than the lava of the plateau. We are certain that many very valuable deposits of the precious metals lie buried beneath the lava fields.

It is thought that the volcanic history of the Columbia plateau has been completed. Now the streams are at work carrying away the materials of which it is composed and may in time uncover the old buried land surface.


The western half of our country contains the deepest and most picturesque canons in the world. Those of the Colorado and Snake rivers form trenches in a comparatively level but lofty plateau region. The canons of the Sierra Nevada Range, on the contrary, take their rise and extend for much of their length among rugged snowcapped peaks which include some of the highest mountains in the United States. All these canons are the work of erosion. The rivers did not find depressions formed ready for them to occupy, but had to excavate their channels by the slow process of grinding away the solid rock.

The streams of the Sierra Nevada mountains begin their course in steep-walled alcoves under the shadows of the high peaks, where they are fed by perpetual snow-banks. Soon they bury themselves between granite walls, which at last tower three thousand feet above their roaring waters. After many miles the canons widen, the walls decrease in height, and the streams come out upon the fertile stretches of the Great Valley of California.

Nature works in many ways. Her tools are of different kinds, but the most important one is running water. The forms which she produces are dependent upon the kind of rock upon which she works. Where the surface of the earth is soft the results of her labor are not very interesting, but if the crust is hard the forms which she produces are often so remarkable that they arouse our wonder and admiration.

In shaping the Sierra Nevada mountains Nature had a grand opportunity. Here she produced the Yosemite Valley, which has a setting of cliffs and waterfalls that attract people from all over the world. Hetch-Hetchy Valley at the north of the Yosemite, and Tehipite and King's River canons at the south, are interesting places, but not so majestic and inspiring as the Yosemite.

Nature never seems satisfied with her work. After she has created a piece of wonderful scenery she proceeds to destroy it. The great cliffs of the Yosemite will sometime lose their grandeur and be replaced by gentle slopes down which the streams will flow quietly. The mountains of the Laurentian highlands in the northeastern portion of the continent undoubtedly were once lofty and picturesque, but there were no people upon the earth at that time to enjoy this scenery. Now these mountains have become old and are nearly worn down.

In one portion of the earth after another, Nature raises great mountain ranges and immediately proceeds to remove them. This continent was discovered and California was settled at the right time for the Sierra Nevadas to be seen in all their grandeur.

When the pioneers came in sight of the Sierra Nevada (snowy range), they little dreamed of the canons hidden among these mountains. Gold, and not scenery, was the object of their search. The great canons were outside of the gold regions, and so inaccessibly situated that no one except the Indians looked upon them until 1851. In that year a party of soldiers following the trail of some thieving Indians discovered and entered the Yosemite Valley, but it was not explored until 1855. For many years the valley could be reached only by the roughest trails, but as its advantages became more widely known roads were built, and there are now three different wagon routes by which it may be entered.

The history of the Yosemite Valley is like that of all the other canons of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Long ago there were no high mountains in eastern California. If there had been explorers crossing the plains in those days, they would have found no rugged wall shutting them off from the Pacific. There came a time, however, when the surface of the western portion of America was broken by violent earthquake movements, and hundreds of fissures were formed. Some of the earth blocks produced by these fissures were shoved upward, while others were dropped. One enormous block, which was to form the Sierra Nevada, was raised along its eastern edge until it stood several thousand feet above the adjoining country. The movement was like that of a trap-door opened slightly, so that upon one side—in this case the western one—the slope was long and gentle, while upon the east it was very abrupt.

Nature, the sculptor, took this mountain block in hand, and with the aid of running water began to carve its surface into a most intricate system of canons and ridges. The streams first flowed over the easiest slopes to the Great Valley of California, but soon they began to cut their way down into the granite, while along the crests of the ridges the more resistant rocks began to stand out as jagged peaks.

Thus Nature worked until the mountains promised before long to be well worn down. The canons had widened to valleys and the rugged slopes had given place to gentle ones. Toward the northern end of the range the work was even farther advanced, for the streams, now choked with gravel and sand, flowed over broad flood plains. In this gravel was buried a part of the wealth of California. The rocks over which the streams flowed contained veins of quartz with little particles of gold scattered through it, and as the surface rock crumbled and was worn away, the gold, being much heavier, slowly accumulated in the gravel at the bottom of the streams. This gold amounted in value to hundreds of millions of dollars.

The forces within the earth became active again. Apparently Nature did not intend that the gold should be forever buried, or that the country should always appear so uninteresting. Internal forces raised the mountain block for a second time, tilting it still more to the westward. Volcanoes broke forth along the summit of the range near the line of fracture, and floods of lava and volcanic mud ran down the slopes, completely filling the broad valleys of the northern Sierras and burying a great part of the gold-bearing gravel.

The eruptions turned the streams from their channels, but on the steeper slope of the mountains the rivers went energetically to work making new beds. They cut down through the lava and the buried gravel until they finally reached the solid rock underneath. Into this rock, which we call "bed-rock," they have now worn canons two thousand feet deep. The beds of gravel that lay under the old streams frequently form the tops of the hills between these deep canons. Here they are easily accessible to the miners, who by tunnels or surface workings have taken out many millions of dollars' worth of gold.

The important canons of the northern Sierras, where the gold is found, have been made by the American and Feather rivers. Farther south are the deeper and more rugged canons of the Tuolumne, Merced, King's, and Kern rivers, which open to us inviting pathways into the mountains.

It might be supposed that the mantle of snow and ice which at that time covered most of the surface of the earth would have protected it from further erosion, but this was not the case. In the basin at the head of each stream the snow accumulated year after year until it was more than a thousand feet deep. Under the influence of the warm days and cold nights the snow slowly turned to ice, and moved by its own weight, crept down into the canons. The solid rock walls were ground and polished, and even now, so long a time after the glaciers have melted, some of these polished surfaces still glisten in the sunlight. The glaciers deepened and enlarged the canons, but running water was the most important agent in their making.

Upon the disappearance of the glaciers, the streams went to work again deepening their canons. From their starting-points, under the lofty crags, they first ran through broad upland valleys, then tumbled into the canons; but until they had reached the lower mountain slopes, to which the glaciers had not extended, they passed through a dreary and desolate region devoid of almost every sign of life. The glaciers had swept away all the loose rock and soil, and it was many long years before the surface again crumbled so that forest trees could spread over it once more.

The grandeur and attractiveness of the Yosemite is partly due to the precipitous cliffs enclosing the valley, some of which are nearly four thousand feet in height, partly to the high waterfalls, and partly to the green meadows and forest groves through which the Merced River winds.

Although the glaciers had little to do with the making of the Yosemite Valley, yet they added to its attractiveness. The valley is situated where a number of smaller streams join the Merced River. Erosion was more rapid here because the granite was soft, while the vertical seams in the rock gave the growing valley precipitous walls. When the glacier came it pushed out the loose rocks and boulders, and dropping a portion of them at the lower end, made a dam across the Merced River. At first a shallow lake filled the valley, but after a time the silt and gravel which the streams were continually bringing in filled the lake, and formed marshy flats. Finally, grasses and trees spread over these flats and gave the valley the appearance which it has to-day.

Besides the meadows, the glaciers gave us two of the waterfalls. Yosemite Creek, which comes down over the walls twenty-seven hundred feet in three successive falls, was turned into its present channel by a dam which a glacier had left across its old course. A glacier also turned the Merced River at its entrance to the main valley so as to form the Nevada Fall.

After the valley had been made and clothed in vegetation, it was discovered by a small tribe of Indians who came here to make their home, secure from all their enemies. There were fish in the streams and animals in the woods. The oaks supplied acorns, and in early summer the meadows were covered with strawberries. Legends were associated with many of the cliffs and waterfalls, for the Indians, like ourselves, are impressed by the wonders of Nature.

Hetch-Hetchy Valley, twenty-five miles north of the Yosemite, has been formed upon much the same plan, but a portion of its floor is marshy and there are few waterfalls. King's River Canon has no green meadows and no high waterfalls, while its great granite walls are not so precipitous as those of the Yosemite. Next to the Yosemite, in the wildness of its scenery, is Tehipite Canon. This canon is situated upon the middle fork of King's River, about a hundred miles south. For many miles its walls and domes present ever changing views.

A continual struggle is going on between the forces within the earth and the sculptor working upon its surface. First one, then the other, gains the advantage. Where the mountains are steep and high, often the forces within have recently been active. Where they are low and the slopes are gentle, the sculptor has long held sway. She begins by making the surface as rough and picturesque as possible, but after a time she destroys her own handiwork.


There are records all about us of events which took place upon the earth long before there were any human inhabitants. These records have been preserved in the rocks, in the geographic features of the land and water, and in the distribution of the animals and plants. On every hand appear evidences of changes in the surface of the earth and in the climate.

Through all the central and northern United States, if we except some of the mountains of the West, the winter snows entirely disappear long before the coming of summer. But the climate of this region has not always been so pleasant and mild. Lands now densely peopled were once buried under a thick mantle of ice which lasted through many thousands of years.

Scattered over the surface of the northern United States are vast numbers of boulders and rock fragments which are not at all like the solid rocks beneath the soil. The history of these materials takes us back to the Glacial period, which can be best understood from a study of some one of the glaciers now existing upon the mountains of the northwestern part of our country.

Among the lofty mountain ranges of the Cordilleran region there are many peaks upon which perpetual snow-banks nestle, defying the long summer days. Where the winters are long and cold and the storms are severe, immense drifts of snow collect in the hollows and canons of the mountain slopes. Each summer all or a part of this snow melts. Upon the northern slopes the melting process is slower, and if there happens to be a large basin upon that side, an extensive field of snow remains until the winter storms come again. Each winter new snow is added to the surface, while the older snow, becoming hard and firm through repeated freezing and thawing, at last turns to ice.

This mass of snow and ice does not remain stationary, as might be expected from its apparent solidity. Under the influence of its own weight and of alternations of heat and cold, it flows down the incline like a very thick liquid. During the winter the ice melts but little, and the movement is slow, but in the summer, under the influence of the warm days and cool nights, both the melting and the rate of flow of the ice are increased. A moving body of snow and ice of this sort is called a "glacier." It creeps down the mountain slope and into some canon, until, in the warmer air of the lower mountains, the rate of advance is exactly balanced by the rate of melting at the lower end of the mass. The glaciers in the United States are at present comparatively small, but once these icy masses stretched over the mountains and lowlands of a large portion of the continent.

In the southern Sierra Nevada mountains no permanent snow exists below an elevation of about eleven thousand feet, but as we go north snow-fields are found lower and lower, until in the fiords of Alaska enormous glaciers reach down to the sea.

A glacier worthy of our study may be found upon the Three Sisters, a group of lofty and picturesque volcanic mountains rising from the summit of the Cascade Range in central Oregon. There is a deep depression between two of the peaks, which slopes down to the north and is thus particularly well adapted to catch and retain the drifting snows. Consequently the glacier to which it gives rise is of exceptional size, being nearly three miles long and half a mile wide.

The easiest path to the Three Sisters is by way of the McKenzie River from Eugene, Oregon. The McKenzie is a noted stream and one of the most beautiful in the state. The river courses through dense forests, and its clear, cold water is filled with trout. So tempestuous is the weather about the Cascade range that July is almost the only month in which one can visit the Three Sisters without danger of being caught in severe storms.

The traveller leaves the river a few miles above McKenzie Bridge, where a small tributary known as Lost Creek joins it. Lost Creek flows under the lava from a lake near the Three Sisters, while another stream, coming from the glacier of which we are in search, flows down the same valley upon the surface of the lava and almost directly over the hidden stream.

Upon the summit of the Cascade Range the dense forests of the river valley give place to more open woods interspersed with park-like meadows. A few miles away to the south rise the volcanic peaks of the Three Sisters, clear and cold in the mountain air, wrapt about with a mantle of white except where the slopes are too precipitous to hold the snow.

An indistinct trail leads through the tamarack forest and over a field of rugged lava to the base of the peaks. Here we come upon a swiftly flowing stream of a strange milky color. This appearance is due to the presence of fine mud, the product of the work of the glacier at the head of the stream as it slowly and with mighty power grinds away the surface of the rocks over which it moves. Wherever one meets a stream of this kind, he will probably be safe in asserting that it is fed by a glacier upon some distant mountain peak.

This little stream, the course of which we must follow to reach the glacier, is choked with sand and pebbles brought to it by the moving ice. These are not ordinary stream pebbles, for they have strangely flattened sides which often show scratches, and look as if they had been ground off against a grindstone. They are the tools with which the ice does its work. The ice block takes up the rock fragments which fall upon its surface or which it tears from beneath, and carries them along, grinding every surface which it touches. The fragments are dropped at the end of the glacier, and the smaller pebbles are washed away down the stream that flows from the melting ice.

We follow up the little glacial creek, past icy snow-banks and through groves of fir trees where the warm sunshine brings out the resinous odors. Upon one side of the canon there lies a field of black lava which not many hundreds of years ago forced this glacial creek from an earlier channel into its present bed. Now we come upon what appears at first to be a snow-bank lying across the course of the stream, and from beneath which its waters issue. Deep cracks in the outer mass of snow show the clear, pale-green ice below. This is the lower end of the glacier which we have been so long a time in reaching.

A short climb up a steep slope brings us to the top of the glacier. It forms a perfectly even plain, extending back with a gentle slope to the head of a deep notch between the two northern Sisters, while above and beyond rise the steeper snow-fields, from which this ice is continually renewed.

The glacier does not terminate in the usual manner, with a stream flowing from its centre, for the outlet is at one side, while the middle abuts against a low mound of rock. This mound we find most interesting, for upon reaching its top we look down into a volcanic crater. From this crater flowed the great stream of lava to which we have already referred. The lava ran downward, bending this way and that among the hollows, until it spread nearly to the McKenzie River.

During the Glacial period, before the eruption took place, this glacier was much larger. The summit of the Cascade Range was then covered by glaciers. This fact we know from the presence of grooved and polished rocks wherever the surface has not been worn away or covered with newer lava. The Glacial period had passed away and the climate had become much the same as it now is when the volcanic forces broke out at the spot where the crater is situated. The eruption undoubtedly melted the ice in the vicinity, but after it had ceased and the rocks had become cold, the glacier never gained strength enough to push the loose materials of the volcanic cone out of its path. The ice banked up snugly against the obstruction, and as it melted the water found its way out at the side of the lava.

Although the surface of the glacier appears at first to offer an easy route to the higher mountain slopes, yet there are numerous hidden crevices into which one may fall. The safest arrangement is to tie a company of people together with a stout rope, so that if one falls into a crevice the rope will save him. Toward the middle of the glacier the ice becomes so badly fissured that it is necessary to turn toward the right margin. There are two sets of these fissures, one parallel to the direction in which the glacier is moving, the other at right angles. They are due to the strain to which the ice is subjected as it moves along at an uneven rate and over a surface composed of hollows and ridges.

Leaving the glacier, we climb upon a long low ridge of gravel and boulders mixed with fragments of ice. The fragments of rock which have fallen upon the surface of the ice or been torn from the rock over which it is moving, have been heaped up along its sides somewhat as a ridge of snow is raised along each side of the course of a snow-plough. Such a ridge of debris along the side of a glacier is known as a marginal moraine. A similar ridge, formed by the accumulation of rock fragments at the lower end of the glacier, is a terminal moraine. These ridges and hollows formed by the ice are found all over the northern portion of the United States. The hollows once filled with ice are now occupied by the beautiful lakes of this portion of our country.

As we climb along the moraine at the margin of the glacier, many openings appear in the clear green ice. There is the sound of gurgling waters, and occasionally pieces of ice and rock fall into dimly outlined caverns which are narrow at the top, but far below widen out to the proportion of chambers.

After the head of the glacier is attained there is still a hard climb over the snow-fields, which extend upward so far that they seem to have no end. When at last the gap between the peaks is gained we are completely tired out. The summit of the middle Sister rising directly above us is still a thousand feet higher, but there is not time to-day to reach it.

A magnificent vista is spread out upon every hand. Extending north and south along the crest of the Cascade Range there is a line of sharp snowy peaks with summer clouds floating about them. How these peaks contrast with the dark blue of the surrounding forests! Opposite us, upon the south, is the third Sister, white with snow from top to bottom, while in the basin between this peak and the ridge on which we are standing lie the remnants of a once mighty glacier.

But it is time to return. The cold, foggy clouds are hiding the summits and will soon envelop the spot where we stand. We go down by a different path, but over almost continuous snow-fields, for more than two miles. The return is much easier than the ascent, although if one lost his footing upon some steep slope, it would mean a long slide or tumble. The solid earth is reached without accident. What a relief to have some firm hold for the feet again! Climbing over a field of rough lava is easier than toiling through soft snow.

The region about the Three Sisters is just as nature left it, for the home of the nearest settler is many miles away. Although now it has few visitors, this country will become attractive when its wonderful volcanic and glacial phenomena are better known.


Our everyday experiences lead us to feel that nothing is more permanent than the features of the earth upon which we live. Great cities containing costly buildings are built by the water's edge with the expectation that the ocean will remain where it is. The building of railroads and canals, and the establishment of industries to make the earth more fruitful and better adapted to our use, are based upon the idea that the mountains and valleys with their various, climates will not change.

The study of history, however, makes plain the fact that at different times in the past certain portions of the earth have been visited by destructive changes. Cities have been shaken down by earthquakes, and the ocean has swept in over the land, drowning thousands of people. Even the mountains, which stand upon broad and firm foundations, sometimes bring disaster, by means of avalanches and land-slides, to the people who live at their bases.

The truth is that the earth's surface is everywhere slowly and quietly changing; but our lives are so short, and the history of even the oldest cities is so brief in comparison with the rate at which most of the changes take place, that we as a rule are aware of only the uncommon and sudden ones.

The occurrence of earthquakes establishes the unmistakable fact that there are forces at work from within disturbing the surface, while land-slides, and even little gullies washed out by the rain, show that other forces are working from without.

The vibration or trembling of the earth which we call an "earthquake" always arouses alarm, and frequently occasions great destruction and loss of life. Only a few of the various causes that may bring about earthquakes are as yet fully understood. Earthquakes are very interesting, however, because they are often associated with the birth and growth of lofty mountain ranges.

Volcanic eruptions, hot springs, and the high temperature which exists toward the bottom of deep mines show us that the interior of the earth is very hot. It is thought that at one time the whole earth glowed with heat, but as ages passed it became cold upon the outside and a solid crust was formed.

Every one has observed that fruit becomes wrinkled as the pulp within dries and contracts. The materials of the earth occupy more space when they are hot than when cold, and as the interior portion is still cooling, the outer layer or crust continues to shrink down upon it, forming folds or wrinkles, as in the case of the skin of an apple.

There is probably no portion of the surface that is fixed in its present position. The land is either rising or sinking continually. If the area that is pushed upward is large, it becomes a plateau; but if long and narrow like a wrinkle, it forms a mountain range. We should not be aware of these movements in many cases if it were not for the horizontal shelf cut upon the borders of the land by the ocean waves. Along some coasts old wave-cut cliffs stand hundreds of feet above the present ocean level. Other coasts have sunk, so that the water has flooded the adjoining land and made a new shore line.

When the movements of the land are sudden, they manifest themselves to us through earthquakes. The crust of the earth is not so flexible as the skin of an apple, and when the strain upon it becomes too great it suddenly breaks. The rock walls usually slide past one another along such a fracture. If the rising wall becomes high enough it will form a mountain range.

The great mountain systems border the oceans, for the lines of weakness occur where the land dips steeply down beneath the water. It sometimes happens that the fractures in the rocks where mountains are being made are situated underneath the water, or in some position where water passes down through them in large quantities.

What do you think would happen if such an underground stream of water came in contact with hot or molten rocks far below the surface? Note the effect produced by drops of water falling upon a hot stove. Each one, as it strikes, is partly changed to steam with a slight explosive sound. The result is similar when water is turned into the hot and nearly empty boiler of a steam-engine—an explosion is sure to follow.

When the pressure of steam suddenly formed within the earth is too great, a volcanic explosion takes place at some point where the overlying rocks are weakest, probably on or near one of the lines of fracture about which we have been speaking. The explosion is accompanied by thundering noises, tremblings of the earth, and the hurling of rock and molten lava into the air. That the rocks of the earth's crust are elastic is shown by the rebounding of a pebble thrown against a large boulder. If a file be drawn across the edge of a sheet of tin upon which sand has been sprinkled, the tin vibrates over its whole extent, as is shown by the jumping of the sand grains. Because of like elasticity in the materials which make up the surface of the earth, the vibrations produced by an explosion are carried through the solid earth for hundreds of miles.

The records of earthquakes show that they are much more violent and occur oftener where the crust of the earth is being disturbed by folding. We have seen that there are two main causes of earthquakes: the slipping of portions of the earth past each other along a fissure, and the contact of water with very hot rocks far below the surface. It is probable that the earthquakes which occur so often in the western portion of the United States are due to the first of these causes. The numerous extinct volcanoes show that at one period this region was frequently shaken by explosive eruptions.

Mono Lake (see Fig. 42, page 99), at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada Range, has been a centre for explosive eruptions, which were extremely violent at one time. The islands which rise in the lake are shattered, while Black Point, upon the northern shore, has been uplifted by an explosion from beneath, which split the rocks apart and formed deep fissures.

It is an interesting fact that in the Cordilleran region the mountains have been increasing in height in very recent years. We might almost say that they are growing to-day. In this region, then, we can actually see how mountains are made; we do not have to depend upon descriptions of the manner in which they are supposed to have been made thousands of years ago.

Any good map will show that the mountains of the Cordilleran region have in general a north and south direction. Their direction was determined by fissures formed long ago in the crust of the earth. Movements have continued to take place along many of these fissures up to the present time, and probably will continue for some time to come.

In order to become better acquainted with these remarkable mountains, let us examine some of them, taking first the Wasatch Range in eastern Utah. The range has an elevation of nearly eleven thousand feet, rising gradually upon the eastern side, but presenting a bold and picturesque front upon the west, toward the plain of Great Salt Lake. A short drive from Salt Lake City brings us to the foot of the range, at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canon.

A peculiar bluff which extends for a number of miles along the base of the mountains at once attracts our attention. The steep face of the bluff, which is from fifty to seventy-five feet high, appears to have been formed by a rising of the land upon the side next the mountains, or a dropping upon the valley side. There are reasons for believing that the formation of the bluff was due to the occurrence of an earthquake some time within the last century. The bluff is closely related to the mighty mountains behind it. It was formed by the last of a series of movements in the earth which raised the great block known as the Wasatch Range to an elevation of six thousand feet above the plains at its base. Is it to be wondered at that disturbances of the earth which result in the erection of mountains of such height are frequently so severe as to destroy the strongest buildings?

Now let us go westward across the various parallel ranges of the Great Basin to Owens Valley at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is the highest and longest continuous mountain range in the United States. For a distance of more than one hundred miles its elevation is from twelve thousand to over fourteen thousand feet.

Owens Valley was in 1872 the centre of one of the most severe and extensive earthquakes ever recorded in the United States. The little village of Lone Pine, situated in the valley below Mount Whitney, was utterly demolished, twenty people were killed and many injured. A portion of the valley near the village sank so low that the water flowed in and formed a lake above it. The land was so shaken up that the fields of one man were thrust into those of his neighbor. For a distance of several hundred miles to the north along the base of the mountains the earth was fractured, and bluffs from ten to forty feet high were formed as a result either of the dropping of the surface of the valley upon the eastern side, or of the raising of the mountains upon the west.

This slipping of the earth which gave rise to the earthquake bluffs was the most recent of a long series of similar events which have raised the precipitous eastern wall of the Sierra Nevada mountains to a height of two miles above Owens Valley. If you will go out into the centre of the valley and look west toward the mountains, you will see three bluffs or scarps. The first, which is twenty feet high, was made at the time of the last earthquake; the second, known as the Alabama Hills and rising about four hundred feet, was formed at an earlier time; the third, rising back of the others, is that of the main Sierra.

Similar cliffs appear at the bases of other ranges of mountains in the Great Basin. Springs abound along these fractures in the earth, for the surface waters have an opportunity to collect wherever the rocks are broken. Numerous fertile valleys mark the line of earthquake movements, for the broken rocks and abundant springs favor rapid erosion.

Among the Coast Ranges of California there appears a series of fractures in the earth which form a line nearly four hundred miles long. They extend from a point near San Bernardino in a northwesterly direction to the neighborhood of San Francisco. Severe earthquakes have taken place along this line since the country was settled. The pressure and grinding of the earth upon opposite sides of the fissures has formed long low ridges of earth. Small valleys have been blocked, and the old stage road from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, which followed the course of the fissures for a number of miles, has been almost obliterated.

Hundreds of cliffs and mountain scarps throughout the West have come into existence as the results of movements such as we have been describing. Where the disturbances have been recent the mountains are bold and picturesque. Those produced in earlier times are in many instances so worn away that it is difficult to tell with certainty how they were made.


There are more volcanoes in our country than is generally supposed. Some are very small and some rank among the greatest of mountain peaks, but all together there are many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them. At present they are all silent and apparently dead. We are accustomed to speak of them as extinct volcanoes, but of this we must not be too sure.

They stand dark and cold, giving no clue to the nature of the forces which made them, except perhaps by the presence of an occasional hot spring and the appearance of the rocks of which they are composed. The slag-like character of these rocks we have learned to associate with intense heat. Some of these volcanoes are very old and have been nearly worn away; others are new and almost as perfect as when they were first made.

Where shall we go to find these volcanoes? Are there any upon the Atlantic coast or neighboring highlands? Though you may travel over all that portion of our country, you will find none, although you will discover in places, as for instance in the palisades of the Hudson, lavas which came from very ancient volcanoes, worn down so long ago that their very sites are lost to view.

If we search the Mississippi basin we find there even fewer traces of volcanic action than upon the eastern highlands. The greater portion of the vast area embraced by the Mississippi River and its tributaries has had a very uneventful history, although at times earthquakes may have occurred and the sky may have been darkened by ashes from eruptions in distant parts of the earth.

It is in the country west of the Rockies, the region last to be explored and settled, that the objects of our search come to light. Here are volcanoes and lava fields so extensive as almost to bury from sight the older surface of the earth. Some of them appear as if but yesterday they had been glowing with heat.

In the Cordilleran region Nature has carried on her work with a master hand. She has lifted the earth's crust to form a great plateau. Portions of the plateau she has broken, projecting the fragments upward to form lofty mountains, while along the fissures thus created she has squeezed out fiery molten matter from the interior of the earth. This molten material has spread out in fields of lava or has piled itself about small openings, forming volcanic cones, which in some cases have overtopped the loftiest mountain ranges of the continent. It is believed that a number of these volcanic eruptions have occurred in the Cordilleran region of the United States since the discovery of America, and that one took place within the lifetime of many persons now living.

San Francisco Mountain, in northern Arizona, is the loftiest volcanic peak of a region dotted with volcanoes and lava flows. This great volcano, like most of its neighbors, has long been extinct, although a few miles to the eastward there appears a group of small but very new cones.

A ride of fifteen miles from the town of Flagstaff, across the forest-covered plateau, brings us to Shadow Mountain and the fields of lava and volcanic sand lying at its base. The mountain, throughout its height of over one thousand feet, is a conical aggregate of loose lapilli which give way under the feet and make climbing the peak very tiresome.

The lapilli and scoriae are slag-like fragments of lava which have been blown out of the throat of the volcano while in a hot or semi-molten condition. These fragments, as they fall back to the earth, collect about the opening and in time build up the volcano, or cinder cone, as such a mountain is frequently called. The finer particles, which have the appearance of dark sand, fall farther away and form a layer over the surface for some miles upon every side. These products of an explosive volcano are sometimes called cinders and ashes, because of their resemblance to the slag and refuse of furnaces.

In the case of the volcano which we are studying, the lapilli are so black that they give the cone the appearance of being darkened by the shadow of a cloud, and on this account the peak is named Shadow Mountain. As the days are usually bright here, the shadow effect is very striking.

There are several smaller craters, east of the main one, which also threw out volcanic sand and lapilli. The surrounding hills are of volcanic origin, although very much older than Shadow Mountain. These hills are covered with pine forests; but trees or plants have gained only slight hold upon the newer surfaces of the cinder cones, which present a picture of almost complete desolation.

There have been two other eruptions since the making of the cinder cones, and these were marked by flows of molten lava. Although the rough and rugged surface of the older flow has not yet begun to crumble and form soil, as it must do in time, yet a few trees are found here and there, reaching their roots down for the scanty nourishment to be drawn from the crevices of the rocks.

The last flow of lava, which was very small, ran into a depression in the other flow just described. This lava appears so fresh that we almost expect to find the rocks still warm. What a contrast between the wooded hillside adjoining, with its carpet of soft volcanic sand, and the jagged surface of the lava! Care must be taken in climbing over the lava, for the sharp points and angles are ever ready to tear one's shoes and hands. It cannot be many years since these hard, cold rocks formed a glowing mass of molten matter creeping quietly out of some hidden fissure which reached far down into the earth. The lava hardened as it became cold, just as does molten iron when led from the furnace to make a casting.

At one spot in the lava field stand the remains of rude stone houses built into caverns in the lava. About them are scattered pieces of broken pottery. These rude dwellings were probably occupied by some of the prehistoric people whose homes are also found along many of the streams, and in the caves of the plateau region. We can see no reason for their coming to this desolate place, so far from a water supply, unless it was that the rugged lava offered some protection from their enemies.

Now let us imagine ourselves transported to northern California. Near Lassen Peak, the southernmost of the great volcanoes of the Cascade Range, there lies another field of recent volcanic activity of even greater interest than the first. The centre of attraction is Cinder Cone, similar to Shadow Mountain in its manner of formation as well as in materials, but more symmetrical in form. Upon one side is a field of black lava several miles in extent, while volcanic sand has been spread over all the adjacent country.

As nearly as can be determined, only a little more than two hundred years ago the valley now occupied by Cinder Cone and the lava fields gave no indication of ever becoming a new centre of volcanic action. It has been thousands of years since the ancient volcanic peaks and cinder cones of this mountainous region became extinct. The glaciers had come, and torn and ground away the surface of the lava, and afterward dense forests had hidden all the rocky slopes, while lakes had occupied many of the valleys. Far below, however, the fires had not gone out. In many places there were boiling springs from which the steam, upon cold mornings, rose in dense white clouds.

Then, for some reason which we do not understand, the forces beneath the surface increased their activity. The force of the steam and other gases was too great to be restrained, and at a weak spot in the overlying rocks they broke through. Molten lava accompanied them, and a new volcano came into life in the valley where Cinder Cone now raises its dark, symmetrical slopes.

The eruptions were violent. With explosive force the molten lava was torn into fragments, and sand, lapilli, and bombs were hurled out into the air. The finer particles were carried by the air currents far over the surrounding country. The lapilli, scoriae, and bombs fell around the throat of the volcano, finally building up the cone to its present proportions. The great bombs, some of them five feet in diameter, are among the most remarkable products of this eruption. They lie scattered about upon the surface of the ground at the foot of the cone, and, although they are often irregular in shape, they might almost be mistaken for huge cannon-balls. The eruption killed and burned the trees in the near-by forests, burying them under six or seven feet of fine sand or ashes. After the cone had been built and the explosive eruptions had nearly stopped, a stream of molten lava burst from the base of the cone and filled a portion of the valley.

Now followed a long period of quiet. Trees began to grow upon the sand and gradually to encroach upon the barren wastes about Cinder Cone. It appeared as if there were to be no more eruptions. But the volcano was only resting. At about the time, perhaps, when the gold seekers began to pour across the continent to California, there was another eruption; but this time it took the form of a lava flow and was so quiet as to create no disturbance in the surrounding country.

A stream of thick, viscous lava flowed slowly out of an opening at the southern base of Cinder Cone. As the lava crept down the gentle slopes of the valley, it crusted over, forming a black, slag-like surface. The surface was from time to time broken up and mixed with the softer portions beneath, so that the movement of the flow was still further retarded. At the lower end of the valley the lava occupied a portion of a body of water now known as Lake Bidwell; its rugged front made a dam across the valley above, forming Snag Lake. The stumps of the trees which were killed by the water when the lake was first formed are still standing.

One's feet sink deep into volcanic sands, and walking is tiresome. The lava field resulting from the last eruption is free from sand, but its rough surface, formed of broken blocks, is difficult to cross.

A few charred stumps rise out of the sand, pathetic remnants of the forest trees that were growing at the time of the first eruption. Most of the trees have completely disappeared, leaving shallow pits where they once stood.

It is exceedingly difficult to climb the cone, which rises over six hundred feet, for the slopes, composed of loose lapilli, are so steep that one slips back at every step nearly as far as he advances. From the summit a remarkable sight meets the eye. Within the rim of the main crater is a second crater with a rim nearly as high as the first, while the cavity within has a depth of about two hundred and fifty feet.

Because of the loose character of the material of which it is built, no streamlets have yet worn channels down the slopes of Cinder Cone, and except for the presence of two small bushes which cling to its side, it is just as bare and perfect in form as when first completed.

Little by little the forests are encroaching upon the sand-covered slopes about the cone, and in time these slopes, the black fields of lava, and the cone itself, will be covered with forests like the older lava fields and cinder cones which appear upon every hand.


The Colorado Desert is a strange, weird region. Here is a vast basin at the head of the Gulf of California which was once a part of the gulf, but is now separated from it by the delta of the Colorado River. With the drying up of the water, the centre of the basin was left a salt marsh more than two hundred and fifty feet below the level of the ocean. In summer the air quivers under the blazing sun, and it seems as if no form of life could withstand the scorching heat, but in winter the atmosphere is cool and full of life-giving energy.

Around this desert rise the mountains, some old and nearly worn down, their tops barely rising out of the long slopes of sand and gravel; others rugged and steep, lifting their crests far above the burning desert into the cold, clear sky.

Curious forms of plants and animals find their homes upon the slopes about the basin, where they adapt themselves to the heat and dryness. But toward the centre the soil is bare clay, for when the water dried up so much alkali and salt were left that nothing could grow.

However we do not now intend to study the plants or the animals, interesting though they are, but rather a group of mud volcanoes, which forms almost the only relief in the monotony of the bare plain. These volcanoes are in no way related to real volcanoes except in shape, for water and mud, instead of fire and lava, have been concerned in their building.

Once it required a long journey in wagons or upon horseback to reach the mud volcanoes, but now the railroad takes us within three miles of the spot. We alight from the train before a section house which stands in the midst of the great desert. Far, far away stretches the barren clay floor of the ancient lake. Here and there are scattered stunted shrubs, the only specimens of plant life which have been able to withstand the alkali in the clay.

Seen from the station, the volcanoes appear like dark specks almost upon the horizon, but in reality they are not far away, and an hour's brisk walk will bring us to them. The mud springs, which are scattered over an area of several hundred acres, present many strange and interesting features. There are holes in the earth with bubbling mud at the bottom, cones from the tops of which streams of muddy water issue, and ponds of mud, in some cases as thick as molasses, in others thin and watery. There are little jets of steam, strange odors, and a vista of many mingled colors. Taken altogether, it is a place quite different from any other that we have ever seen.

The ground is soft and marshy, and in some places undermined by the water, so that we have to take great care in walking about. Some of the smaller springs occupy round depressions, sometimes three or four feet across, which look as if they had been made by pressing a large pan down into the clay. The bubbling mud in the bottom of the pan, as well as the hot water in many of the springs, makes it easy to imagine that we are standing upon the top of a great cooking stove in which a hot fire is burning. As the gas with which the water is impregnated comes up through the mud, it forms huge bubbles which finally break and settle down, only to rise again. In this way concentric mud rings, perfect in form, are made to cover the entire surface of the pool.

Where there is little water, the surface of the mud hardens and leaves a small opening, through which the bubbling gas throws small columns of mud at regular intervals. From the large pools, some of which are forty to fifty feet in diameter, there comes a low murmuring sound like the boiling of many kettles. The water is sputtering and bubbling, and in some places it is hot enough to give off thin clouds of steam. Occasionally we get whiffs of sulphur, while about the borders of some of the ponds pretty crystals of this mineral can be found.

More commonly the pools are crusted about with a white deposit of salt, for they all contain more or less of this substance in solution. Around a few of the pools the mud is stained with the red tinge of iron, and red lines mark the paths of the streams as they run off from the pools toward the still lower portions of the desert.

The built-up cones or volcanoes appear in every stage, from the little ones a few inches high to the patriarchs, which in some cases have reached a height of twelve feet. These cones are formed by the hardening and piling up of mud about the openings; but when they have reached the height mentioned, the passages up through their centres, corresponding in each case to the throat of a real volcano, become clogged and new holes are formed in the mud at the base.

Many of these mud volcanoes closely resemble true volcanoes in form and structure. The mud which pours out at the top forms streams down the slopes very like those of molten lava. New cones are built upon the sides or at the bases of the old ones in much the same way as are those in the volcanic regions.

There are no signs of volcanic action in the vicinity of these mud springs, and it is likely that the water is forced to the surface by large quantities of gas produced by chemical changes taking place deep within the clay beds of the old lake. Similar springs occur farther south, nearer the mouth of the Colorado River, in the Yellowstone Park, and near Lassen Peak, but nowhere in America except in the Colorado desert have they formed such large and interesting mounds.


The story of our Pacific coast reads more like a tale from the "Arabian Nights" than like a plain statement of events which have actually happened.

The meeting place of the land and ocean is not really so permanent a line as it appears. The shore has been continually moving back and forth throughout the long history of the earth. That which was dry land at one time was at another time deeply buried beneath the ocean. The Pacific border seems never to have been at rest. It has risen and sunk again repeatedly. It has been squeezed, folded, and broken, shaken by earthquakes, and disturbed by volcanic eruptions.

One might be led to think from this statement that it would not be safe to live on the Pacific coast, and that both animals and men would shun the region. The fact is, however, that these changes usually come to pass so very slowly that we are not aware of them. Severe earthquakes and volcanic disturbances take place so rarely in comparison with the length of a man's life, that we may pass our whole lives without experiencing any of these violent disturbances. The Pacific coast region, with its forest-covered mountains, fertile valleys, and beautiful homes, presents so quiet and peaceful an appearance that it is difficult to believe that parts of its history have been so tumultuous.

Perhaps you will ask how we can know so much about the past. It is true that no one was here to witness the events which are supposed to have taken place. But Nature has left a record of her doings which we have only to see and understand in order to learn with certainty many things which happened in the far distant past.

Too many of us go through life seeing and understanding almost as little of the world about us as if we were blind. Our early ancestors were obliged to understand many things about Nature and to cultivate clear and close observation for the sake of self-preservation. The very life of the savage depends upon the training of his eyes. He must be able to tell the meaning of a distant object or an indistinct trail, for his enemies may have passed that way recently. If we could bring the sharp eyes of the savage to our aid, the world would mean much more to us.

In order to learn something of the history of the Pacific shore line, we must see what the waves are doing at the present time. The projecting points of land are being worn away (Fig. 33). The waves form the cliffs against which they beat, and sometimes, as they eat their way slowly into the land, they cut off portions and leave them standing alone as islands.

The pebbles and boulders (Fig. 34) were once angular fragments torn from the cliff. They have been washed about and hurled against the solid rock until they have been worn smooth; and the cliff in turn has had a cave ground out at its base. Above the lower cave there is a remnant of a second one, with pebbles upon its floor. This was made when the land stood ten feet lower than at present.

As the waves wear away the loose earth and the solid rock below it, moving the cliffs inland, they leave a comparatively smooth surface which is partly exposed at low tide. The fact that this surface is not marked by stream channels, as is the land, helps us to realize the great difference between the irregular surface of the latter and the plain-like character of the ocean floor.

Along the whole coast of California there are many old sea beaches and cliffs which the waves abandoned long ago. The highest of these beaches lies so far up the slopes of the mountains bordering the ocean that it makes us wonder what the geography of California could have been like when the region was so deeply submerged.

The lowest and newest terrace is the one shown in Fig. 35, ten feet above the ocean. Each succeeding terrace is less distinct, and the highest, fourteen hundred feet in elevation, can now be distinguished in only a few places. Where the old sea cliffs are best preserved they form a series of broad, flat steps, rising one above the other. Each bench, or terrace as it is commonly called, is a part of an old plain cut out of the land by the waves when the ocean stood at that level. The steeper slope rising at the back is the remnant of the cliff against which the waves used to beat. If we are fortunate, we shall find at its base some water-worn pebbles and possibly a few fragments of sea-shells. The crumbling of the rocks and the erosive action of the rills are fast destroying the old cliffs, so that in many places they have entirely disappeared.

Upon the seaward face of San Pedro Hill, in southern California, there are eleven terraces, rising to a height of twelve hundred feet. What an interesting record this shows! Long ago the land stood twelve hundred feet lower than at present, and the waves beat about San Pedro Hill, nearly submerging it. Then the land began to rise, but stopped after a time, and the waves cut a terrace. The upward movement was continued, with repeated intervals of rest, until the land stood higher than it does now.

North of San Francisco there stands a terrace fourteen hundred feet above the ocean. Numerous terraces appear along the Oregon coast, but those in Washington are not as high as those in California. It is probable that the land in this region was not so deeply submerged.

The ancient shore lines of British Columbia and Alaska are now deeply buried beneath the ocean, as those of California once were. The fiords, so common in these countries, are old river valleys which have been drowned by the sinking of the land. The islands were once portions of the coast mountains, but have been cut off by the same process.

Let us picture in our minds the changes in the geography of the Pacific coast of the United States which must have been made by a sinking of the land to a depth of only six hundred feet. We will begin upon the north, at the Strait of Fuca.

Puget Sound once opened to the south as well as to the north, so that the Olympic Mountains formed an island. The broad and fertile Willamette Valley was but an arm of the sea, somewhat like Puget Sound to-day. The body of water which once filled this valley has been called Willamette Sound. The ocean overspread the low Oregon coast, and reached far up the valleys of the Umpqua and Rogue rivers. But the boundaries of the Klamath Mountains were not greatly changed, for in many places they rise quite abruptly from the present shore line.

All the large valleys of California were flooded, including the San Joaquin-Sacramento valley, which was then a great sound, open to the ocean in the region of the present Strait of Carquinez. The Coast range was broken up into islands and peninsulas. The islands off the coast of southern California are high and therefore were not entirely submerged. The Gulf of California spread over the Colorado Desert, while from the west the water penetrated inland over the plain of Los Angeles to a point beyond San Bernardino, so that at the San Gorgonio pass only a narrow neck of land connected the San Jacinto Mountains and the Peninsula Range with the mainland.

If California had been inhabited at this time, the state would not have been noted for orchards and grain-fields, but rather for its mineral wealth. There would have been comparatively little low land fit for cultivation, but the mountains, where almost all the precious metals are found, would have appeared nearly as they do to-day.

The surface of the earth may be divided into the ocean basins and the continental masses which rise above them, but we must not make the mistake of thinking that the shore line always corresponds with the border of the continental masses. We have learned that the land is almost always moving slowly up or down, so that the shore is continually changing back and forth. At one time the shore line may be far within the borders of the continent, as we have seen was once the case upon our Pacific coast; at another time, if the land should rise, the shore line might coincide with the real border of the continent. By the real border of the continent we mean the line along which the earth slopes down steeply to the abysmal depths of the ocean.

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