Nature Notes

Volume V No. 2 - August, 1932

Wizard Island
By Earl W. Count, Ranger Naturalist

Is Wizard Island the head of the monster, Llao, slain by Skell, or is it massive, black or red lave fragments and cinders, a volcano within a caldera? Take your choice or take both. At any rate, five hundred-odd acres of cozy desolation are marooned in the "Sea of Mystery". After crossing the lake to the island you land most unstrategically on a shaky, weatherbeaten dock in the shallow recess of a cove. Blunderbusses or bows might rain thrilling death from the trees on three sides of you. But let us say that you have miraculously escaped this first disaster; perhaps the pirates were out fishing on the other side of the island. Perhaps the Indian savages, the Moros, the King of the Cannibal Islands, or what you will, were sliding down the snowbank within, the crater that scoops its bed in the crest of the mount. You hitch up your belt, take a deep breath, and start your trudge. It all looks innocent enough. The path stoops under a fallen tree, and turns to dodge upward between two lava flows that form a small valley of incongruously heavy boulders. Dust and tree sees years ago have flown across the water you have just labored over, and together they have made your path possible by carpeting it crudely with crushed and weathered needles and wood. There is shade here of fir, hemlock, and white pine, and against the black rocks it is dark indeed.

Can anything moving live in a place like this? The bleeding-hearts not far from the water, the penstemons and scarlet paint-brushes farther up can, to be sure, live in whatever soil the island has captured, but certainly no bird or beast would choose to haunt here.

Then a belted kingfisher sweeps through the trees, on his way to a cove on the other side of the island. A chickadee babbles from somewhere in the tangle of boughs. A hummingbird flashes over to a scarlet paint-brush, uttering his quick shrill little click. A coney shoots in between two rocks. You look for him, and uncover a little green frog, or a jolly toad. How did the coney get there? What was the frog doing a hundred feet or more above the lake level? Is a pile of volcanic ashes exactly the place for a toad? There are butterflies dodging among the branches, and bees in the flower cups. There are ants (with doodle-bugs to eat them), spiders, and dragon flies... The island is alive. You, a mere human, are a decided minority against the other life that pops up from the ground, out from behind boulders or tree-trunks, or from the needles of the lanky conifers.

The path is not easy to the top, but your grind out foot after foot. Here is where the lava ends, and where the ash and cinder of a dying mountain spilled over it and built the cone that caps the whole. It is harder trudging here, and even the host of trees seem to have hesitated, for they thin out to a few hardy stragglers.

The thin little trail sweeps in one spiral loop around and up the cone. As you curl onto the northern slope, the ranks of the trees disappear. They huddle far below you. Above and below, the broad back of the mountain spreads away. Above and below, the broad back is covered with the thin down of white-and-yellow anemones. A unique experience now comes upon you, for, as you progress, you will pass from January to September in a couple of minutes. In the region of a snow-back, where the soil has been uncovered but recently, the anemones have just sprung into bloom. Small clusters pop into view even as you look at them. There is no solid carpet of blossoms; the plants are few enough to be individuals, yet frequent enough to mollify the protoan barrenness of the cinders. Then, as you pass on to where the sun has been ever increasingly active, they anemones have flowered, faded, withered and seeded. Here at last, in shaggy, tufted heads, like some girl's roguish bob, the plumed seedlets write the epilogue to the life of the anemones. Here, too, their province ends. The rocks now burst into a hot maroon, and the scarlet paint-brushes spring out fiercely, all the redder for their red background. By some fantastic quip of artistry, Nature has managed even to underscore this with just enough clumps of blue penstemons and yellow sulphur flowers. No peasant embroidery was ever more gaudy, yet harmoniously so, than this emphatic little country of the scarlet paintbrushes.

You are "up". The crater breaks upon you suddenly. It is about one hundred feet deep; yet it seems less. The size of the bowl must be grasped from the depth, looking upward. You note, with a short of poetic justice, that the lava-maw has been stopped with a snow-bank.

On the crater rim, for a moment, you may seem to be in the center of the universe. Your outermost horizon is the encircling rim walls of Crater Lake. Concentrically, the blue of the lake encloses your island. Within this is the shaggy ring of green trees that holds the base and lower slopes of the mountain. Then comes the cone of ashes, and lastly yourself -- Abruptly you realize that the center of a circle is a point, and a point is a figment that has no dimensions.

It is now, as you start to retrace your path, that you see war. The seeds that once flew across the lake and lodged in the scraps of dust and dirt, are trees, herbs, and groveling shrubs. The crest of Wizard Island is the citadel. Who knows but that once the garrison effected sorties against premature landing parties? At least now the trees have entrenched themselves solidly on all sides, although they are massed only at the base, as though not comprehending that the garrison long since has starved. On the sunny side, the besiegers struggle raggedly upward, exactly like a crouching party of raiders facing fire. In places they have rushed up and set foot upon the parapet, but where they have done so, they are battered and twisted. As a final touch of realism, there are the trunks that lie prone and broken, scattered on the hillside. On the northern slope, as you look down upon them, you se that the line ends abruptly, where the masses of trees are gathered but seem to be holding fire. Then you notice that immediately in front of the mature individuals is a solid row of young saplings. Here, too, then, there is an offensive; but it is slow, dogged, and not spectacular. Up the slope, crouch and creep the anemones and the fierce paint-brushes. Are they Nature's "scouts" who pave the way for the "regulars"?

There is more than idle fancy in such speculation. The warfare is real and also intense. Wizard Island is weird in its quiet.

Columnar Structure In Our Lavas
By E. L. Clark, Ranger Naturalist

columnar basalt

Many of our visitors have wondered if the elongated columns of rock that are observed in various parts of our Park are petrified logs, i.e. logs that were neatly arranged in piles and bundles, then turned to rock by some unknown and uncanny process. It is found in our lava flows and dikes, and is due to the regular development of prismatic joints that break up the rock mass into parallel columns, the sides of which are characteristically five or six in number. This rock phenomenon is known as columnar structure. While most of the columns will portray a rough and irregular hexagonal outline, many of them will have the sixth side so depressed and small that it is entirely eliminated.

This structure is variously portrayed in our Park. It may be observed at the following localities within the Rim Area: (1) the upper exposed portions of the andesite dike about two hundred yards west of the foot of the Lake Trail; (2) in a small area some forty feet above the Lake and fifty yards west of the dike just mentioned; (3) the Devil's Woodpile some seven hundred yards west of the foot of the Lake Trail (this feature is observed on the lake excursions under the guidance of some member of our Naturalist Staff); (4) parts of the dike known as the Devils' Backbone; (5) near the base of the great dacite flow that forms Llao Rock; (6) the constriction at the base of the bowl portion of the Wineglass; and (7) in the lava flow on the inside of the Rim below Kerr Notch. Near the crest of the steep portion of the grade over Vidae Ridge, and facing Sun Creek Valley some six-tenths of a mile southwest of the Sun Creek crossing another exposure of columnar lava may be observed. Here the lava has been poured onto a trifaceous agglomerate (a chaotic assemblage of coarse volcanic ashes and cinders). The attitude of the lava readily suggests its direct relations to the former mountain.

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