Nature Notes

Volume XII No. 1 - October, 1946

New Formations At Oregon Caves
By Robert C. Zink, Ranger-Naturalist

The formations seen today on a trip through Oregon Caves have required centuries to be built up. Most of the water whose action formed the caves from the melting ice and snow of the Ice Age, one million years ago. Since that time, the caves were eroded and dissolved out of the mountain; stalactites and stalagmites slowly grew from the evaporation of lime solution as it dripped in the caverns. An upper opening was formed naturally 75 feet above the present Cave Entrance, from which Cave Creek emerges from the mountain. This increased the draft and consequently the rate of evaporation.

In 1930 an exit tunnel 550 feet long was drilled to the upper end of the passages adjoining the Ghost Chamber; 218 feet above the Entrance, it greatly increased draft through the caves, so that it is very noticeable at the Entrance. This increase already shows its effect. On August 10, I noticed a crack in the newly cut marble at the inner end of the exit tunnel. Through this water slowly trickles, and around it calcium carbonate has been deposited to a thickness of 1/16 of an inch. Several stalactites 3/8 of an inch long have been formed. These have been built up in these few years as a result of the warm relatively dry air entering here from outside. Beyond, however, the air is dispersed, so that its overall effect in the caves would be difficult to determine.

Editorial: An Appraisment
By Dr. C. G. Ruhle, Editor

Undoubtedly most people are initially attracted to Crater Lake National Park by the extraordinary beauty of the lake. This is expressed particularly in its Parriah blue color, which is not exceeded in brilliance, depth, and intensity by other bodies of water and which contrasts with a landscape especially suitable for its delineation and emphasis. From favorable sites on its singular setting on the truncated summit of a volcano, is presented an expansive outlook of dense forests, pumice waste lands, dark ranges, and high, solitary peaks.

The lake and its immediate surroundings form an infinite combination of pleasurable sense impressions arising from the symmetry and harmony of color, form, pattern, and sound, each acquiring significance by the intimacy of association together. The steep, variegated crater walls center attention on the lake and furnish a frame to delimit the picture and enhance its charms. The graceful green clusters of mountain hemlocks, themselves of exceptional charm, accent sharply the ultramarine color, and while acquiring emphasis by projection against it, act as effective borders for vistas of the lake. Cloud patterns cast moving shadows on the lake, and the varying light affects changes in the reflections of the enclosing cliffs. Countless wind flurries sweep across the basin and stir ripples of wavelets in sharply defined paths, as if created by jets of air.

To complete the picture, put in this framework a magnificent abandon of colorful wildflowers, open, park-like stands of Hudsonian forests, gnarled and wind-tortured veteran trees, desperately clinging to existence or succumbent to the vicissitudes of their home, tortuous rocks fashioned in the furnace of a volcano, and a benign salubrity of climate resulting from a combination of the crispness of the mountains and a suavity of the nearby Pacific shores.

In winter all these are wrapped with or completely buried under a score or more feet of snow, that softens the forms and imparts an enchanting aspect to the landscape. This is the paradise for the skier, but just as many come to see what great change winter has wrought, in the beauty of the lake and its surroundings.

Sublimity, power, and orderly operation are expressed in this creation. As practically all who come are impressed by its beauty, so few are uninfluenced by the significance of its story of origin as acquaintance grows. In this instance, one deals with the evolution of a landscape by age-long operation of forces generated from the power and energy of the inner earth. Although the visual beauty is enough in itself, it gather significance and emphasis only as the story of its genesis and structure are apparent. Crater Lake focuses attention on the realities of a landscape.

Not only Mount Mazama, the decapitated volcano now marked by Crater Lake, but also a vast area of some 200,000 square miles around it was built up by repeated flows of lava. The walls of the lake reveal how the mountain was built up layer on layer of volcanic ash, lava, or wash of streams and glaciers. Sometimes the mountain was quiet; forests and flowery meadows covered its mass, while tumultuous streams slowly were washing away its bulk. At times it was the mother of snowfields and glaciers, at times it glowed with Vulcan's fire. Later, through collapse or explosion, the top gave way to form the tremendous caldera whose layers have edges that give evidence of recent breaking increasingly to widen the opening.

Of chief scientific interest is an accounting for the presence of this lake of overwhelming depth and beauty on the very summit of an unusual mountain. What are the interesting geological and dynamics of the volcano? What connects the beauty of the scenic features and the story of their origin? Why is the water so blue and so pure? How does one account for the presence of freshness of this lake at all, since it has no inlet and no known outlet? What is the origin, nature, and distribution of the flora and fauna of the region and how have they been influenced by the signal environment in which they are found?

The amounts of rain and snow that are added year by year are adequate to account for the filing of the caldera to its present height with water. Seepage, lack of suspended material washed in by rain, and the nature of the basin are such that the lake possesses marvelous clarity and beauty. Only in a region in which all of these local peculiar qualities are concatenate could a Crater Lake be possible.

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