The Disappearance of Mount Mazama.

Copyright, C. Lewis, Monmouth, Oregon Abt. 1901
Pearson's Magazine

Showing how some mountains commit suicide by blowing off their heads, while others behave like Mount Mazama, which undermined its foundations with volcanic explosions, causing such extensive outflows of lava that the entire structure collapsed, and only a hole in the earth was left to mark the place where the Mountain once stood. ~By T.E. James.

Volcanic mountains destroy themselves in various ways. Some blow their heads off, like Papandayang, in Java, which reduced its height during an eruption in 1772 by 4oooft.; or Bandaisan, in Japan, which hurled its head and shoulders into the air in one great explosion in 1888; or Krakatoa, in the Strait of Sunda, which shattered itself in 1883 with explosions so mighty that two-thirds of the original island-hill were completely blown away.

When a volcano wrecks itself in this way, it leaves a great hole, or "crater," where once it proudly raised its head. Thus were formed the pits of tile far-famed crater-lakes of Italy, like the Lago di Bolsena, twentyeight miles in circumference, or the Lago di Bracciano, near Rome. It would be easy to multiply instances of mountains that have left such craters. Drain away the water from the Santorin Islands, in tile Grecian Archipelago, for instance, and you would see a huge, bowl-shaped cavity, with wails more than 2000ft. in height, marking the site of a once great volcanic mountain, that measured at least ten miles by eight, at the present sea-level, in the days before it became a wreck.

In contrast to the mountains that violently blow away their heads are those that engulf themselves, and gradually sink away from sight.

In the State of Oregon, in the heart of the Cascade range of mountains, lies a great lake within a crater. Crater Lake, as it is called, is the deepest mass of fresh water in all the States, having a depth of 2000ft., and, singularly enough, it has no visible outlet. The water half fills the hollow, for the vast walls tower up 2000ft. above the smooth surface. Gigantic coniferous trees clothe the precipitous cliffs which rise out of the depths beneath.

This crater is now all that remains of a great volcanic mountain that once raised its head to the proud height of the other mountains of the Cascade range. Undermined by explosions, its strength sapped by the loss of lava, the entire mountain vanished by a process of gradual engulfment into its own bosom.

Strange to say, Crater Lake, until a few years ago, was practically unknown to travellers, and thus its beautiful scenery remained undescribed. So also down to recent times there had been no one competent enough to interpret its rocky surroundings, for the day of the Geological Survey had not arrived.

It is pretty certain that the lake was not seen by white men until 1853, and then only by the peripatetic prospector. So little, indeed, had been heard of it, that chance visitors gave it various names, each in the belief that no one else had previously been there: "The Great Sunken Lake," '' Mysterious," or "Deep Blue Lake," as well as the imposing one of "Lake Majesty." The final baptismal name, "Crater Lake," was given in 1869 by a party of tourists, who also supplied a happy title, "The Wizard," for an island within its waters.

If, however, white men missed seeing Crater Lake the Indians knew of it, and brought it into their legends. They associated the spot with a weird spirit called Llao, and scrupulously avoided the place believing that death awaited all who gazed upon the fearsome waters.

Time and the legend went on, but the potency of the spell diminished with the dying out of tribes, and the lake now ceases to inspire terror. Geology took it in hand, supplying a very different kind of romance.

Not, though, until 1896 did the encirclingremnant of the mountain receive a name. In that year a climbing club of Portland, called the "Mazama" (i.e., mountain goat) organised a visit to Crater Lake, and with ceremonious rite named the lost peak "Mount Mazama."

It is 'natural that Crater Lake, lying so restfully in its picturesque hollow, should be admired, but only the geologist can solve the mystery of the formation of the basin.

Here is an enormous pit, quite inclosed, five and a half miles or so wide, 4000 ft. deep, and about twelve cubic miles in volume. The sunken area, or "rim," is half full of water, and cliffs rise to the sky-line, where is the so-called "crest," which I may liken, for the sake of homely illustration, to the thick edge, of a pudding basin.

The primary business of a geological survey; of course, is to map the component rocks of the earth, and to explain their relationship and conditions of formation; to show how, during bygone ages, they have altered the scenery, destroying or building it up; and thus, peering into the dim past, science may make dumb rocks unfold their history.

The Geological Survey of the United States has done all this for Crater Lake.

In 1883, a visit was made to the lake by Mr. Joseph S. Diller, deputed by Captain (now Major) Dutton, as part of an investigation of the great chain of volcanic piles constituting the Cascade Range in California, Oregon, and Washington Territory. Mr. Diller and his companion, Ensign Hayden, of the U.S. Navy, in this preliminary work, were not prepared, as it were, for Crater Lake, and it came upon them as a revelation in natural wonders.

To make a descent to the water was not easy, as they had no suitable tackle, and no boat to use when they got there. However, they pluckily made the attempt to descend. Having tumbled logs over the cliffs at a suitable point, they gradually worked their way down, lashed the timbers into a raft, and paddled to Wizard Island.

Later on Captain Dutton himself made an extended survey of the district, when elaborate maps were drawn, soundings taken of the lake, and the basin thoroughly explored.

There was the old difficulty of boats to be considered at the outset. To meet it, Captain Dutton had a large one constructed before starting, and two small skiffs for auxiliary purposes. From the nearest barracks, Vancouver, a small detachment of soldiers was detailed for the work of transporting the material, and for general work at the lake. With great labour the waggons holding the boats were hauled up the rough inclines towards the summit, over snowbanks and along forested slopes. To lower the boats to the water was a process not without peril, but the tackle being made fast to trees, the men urged them forward and downward over the great snow banks, talus, and ledges. "Apart," says the director, "from the danger of working on a slope of about 40 degrees, the melting snow (the month was July) frequently detached large stones, which went crashing down. To camp below was impossible, for there was no room to lie down in a position approaching horizontality."

The eyes of the men of science had only to glance at the formation of Crater Lake to note several significant points which supply the key to the whole problem. They noticed that though the outer slopes of the crater rose upward in a gentle gradient, the inner slopes, rising from the water, were steep and precipitous, with abrupt ledges of rock, of volcanic origin, jutting out, and with huge cliffs running sheer down from crest to water line, defying the bravest climber.

They saw signs of glacial action, indicating a great wintry past; they came upon evidences of volcanic eruption; and up at the crest of the rocky rim they found boulders, polished and rounded, scattered about, indicating that there must have been at one time something above from which these rocks slid down.

That something their imagination reconstructed as Mount Mazama.

Then there was other important evidence to help bear out the lost-mountain theory. South of the Lake, Mount Shasta, 14, 225 ft. in height, rises out of this same Cascade Range. Now the present diameter of Crater Lake at the top of its basin is about five and a half miles, and this is also about the diameter of Mount Shasta at 8ooo ft., while the same type of lava occurs in both cases. Hence, how probable is the theory that Crater Lake once had a cone that rose up to a great height, as does the present cone of neighbouring Shasta; perhaps, however, not quite equalling the height of Shasta, for the outer slope of Crater Lake is not nearly so steep as its neighbour's.

Thus we may realise Mount Mazama's ancient history with some clearness. Apparently its childhood and youth were occupied in rearing a volcanic cone; in the prime of life it was a snow-clad mountain peak, sending rivers of ice and detritus down its slopes, and along the valleys to great distances beyond, and indulging at intervals in eruptions.

Then the final stage drew near. The molten interior was making huge drafts on the capital of the mountain, which could not be borne indefinitely, nor could the wounds be repaired, and at length Mount Mazama abandoned the contest and disappeared from the company of Shasta, leaving only the existing basin, now rugged and precipitous inside. And this was accomplished without human witness or knowledge. There were no hurrying throngs of panic-stricken people.

Earth was the actor, and Nature's neighbouring handicraft the audience.

How long Mount Mazama was active no one can say in any measure of ordinary time, but it would appear to have set about its self destruction in leisurely fashion.

Elsewhere in the world there are parallels to Mount Mazama's case. For instance, in the Hawaiian Islands there are volcanic craters which geologists believe are due to processes of subsidence of the earth's crust, and Captain Dutton, an authority on these volcanoes, who went fresh from their examination to Crater Lake, singles out Kilauea, which has a pit seven and a half miles in circumference, and a pool of hot lava within, instead of water, and shows that a relationship of phenomena exists between it and Mount Mazama. Mr. Diller also is emphatic in his opinion. He calls up in fancy a state of things in the interior of Mazama, when there was a rise and fall of molten lava, with overflows and escapes of erupted material at points of low level, until so much of the mountain had gone that a general collapse took place, and it sank away.

After Mazama had gone, what happened ? To learn the sequence of events we must visit Wizard Island, situated within the waters of the lake on the western border.

At first sight one would imagine the Wizard to be a mere castaway of the mainland, or a remnant of the sacrifice of Mount Mazama. Not so, however. When Wizard Island was left face to face with the sky, the blue waters of Crater Lake were not there to offer greeting, but the huge encompassing walls were, and the new comer found itself imprisoned fast within the arms of a rocky giant.

Wizard Island, in short, was built up by the forces of fire and steam which had caused the disappearance of Mount Mazama, and which afterwards reasserted themselves. In reality the island is a small extinct volcano, with cinder cone, crater, and surrounding lava field, and to be where it is, must have come up from the bottom of the pit, erupted, however, long after the death struggle of the great mountain.

The lake is of the most beautiful colour imaginable, and further charm is given to the surface by the translucent nature of its waters, which cause the most vivid reflections of the adjacent rocks to appear. At the foot of a bold cliff there is an outlying rocky islet, 100 ft, high, known as the "Phantom Ship," and here the mirror-like fidelity of the reflections in the water is very striking. It only requires a slight stretch of the imagination to take the rock to be a fine ship anchored off the coast.

There are no fish in Crater Lake, and indeed all forms of life are exceedingly scarce within it and along the borders of the water. The absence of fish is not, however, a matter for surprise, as they have no means of transporting themselves to isolated inland bodies of water. If, too, such natural agencies of dispersal as the wind, or birds, happen to carry the seeds of aquatic flowering plants to the lake, they do not appear to flourish, and even the lowlier types of vegetation, such as algae and mosses, are almost entirely absent. The extremes of temperature occurring in the district doubtless account to a great extent for the scarcity of animal and plant life.

In America, geographers and other scientific men have long felt keenly alive to the necessity of creating "reservations," or areas, artificially protected, in regions which are unique by reason of their scenery, or natural history. The carelessness of camp parties may devastate vast tracts of virgin land by forest fires; or, in another direction, a misuse of the rifle for mere self-enjoyment may cause the extermination of interesting types of animals and birds.

A Bill is now before Congress, having for its object the preservation of Crater Lake and vicinity in its native wildness. It is desired to withdraw from settlement, occupancy, or sale, for the welfare of Oregon, a tract of land of the area of two hundred and forty square miles, inclusive of the lake. The game, fish, and timber would be protected by law, and the whole area set apart for ever for the pleasure and benefit of the people of the United States under the name of Crater Lake National Park.

Let us hope that the wishes of those who are pledged to the preservation of Crater Lake may find realisation.

My thanks are due to Mr. J. R. Carter, of the American Embassy, Mr. Diller, and Prof. H. B. Patton, of the State School of Mines, Golden, for the loan of photographs, and for other facilities extended during the preparation of this article.