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Photo by William E. Colby

rectly into the sea, and so perhaps did all first-class glaciers when in their prime; but now the world is so warm, and the snow-crop so scanty, most glaciers melt long before reaching the ocean. Schlagenweit tells us those of Switzerland melt on the average at an elevation of about 7400 feet above sea-level; the Himalaya glacier, in which the Ganges takes its rise, does not descend below 12,914 feet;* while those of our Sierra melt at an average elevation of about 11,000 feet. In its progress down a mountain-side a glacier follows the directions of greatest declivity, a law subject to very important modifications in its general application. Subordinate ranges many hundred feet in height are frequently overswept smoothly and gracefully without any visible manifestations of power. Thus, the Tenaya outlet of the ancient Tuolumne mer de glace glided over the Merced divide, which is more than 500 feet high, impelled by the force of that portion of the glacier which was descending the higher slopes of Mounts Dana, Gibbs, and others, at a distance of ten miles.

The deeper and broader the glacier, the greater the horizontal distance over which the impelling force may be transmitted. No matter how much the courses of glaciers are obstructed by inequalities of surface, such as ridges and cañons, if they are deep enough and wide enough, and the general declivity be sufficient, they will flow smoothly over them all just as calm water-streams flow over the stones and wrinkles of their channels.



The most obvious glacial phenomena presented in the Sierra are: first, polished, striated, scratched, and grooved surfaces, produced by the glaciers slipping over and past the rocks in their pathways. Secondly, moraines, or accumulations of mud, dust, sand, gravel, and blocks of various dimensions, deposited by the glaciers in their progress, in certain specific methods. Thirdly, sculpture in general, as seen in cañons, lake-basins, hills, ridges, and separate rocks, whose forms, trends, distribution, etc., are the peculiar offspring of glaciers.

* According to Captain Hodgson.

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Fig. 2.

In order that my readers may have clear conceptions of the distribution and comparative abundance of the above phenomena, I will give here a section of the west flank from summit to base between the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, which, though only a rough approximation, is sufficiently accurate for our purposes. The summit region from D to C (Fig. 2) is composed of metamorphic slates, so also is most of the lower region, B to A. The middle region is granite, with the exception of a few small slate-cappings upon summits of the Merced

and Hoffmann spurs. With regard to the general topography of the section, which may be taken as fairly characteristic of the greater portion of the

range, the summit forms are Il

sharp and angular, because they have been down-flowed; all the middle and lower regions comprising the bulk of the range

have rounded forms, because they have been overflowed. In the summit region all the glacial phenomena mentioned above are found in a fresh condition, simply on account of their youthfulness and the strong, indestructible character of the granite. Scores of small gla

. ciers still exist on the summit peaks where we can watch their actions. But the middle region is the most interesting, because, though older, it contains all the phenomena, on a far grander scale, on account of the superior physical structure of granite for the reception of enduring glacial history.

Notwithstanding the grandeur of the cañons and moraines of this region, with their glorious adornments, stretching in sublime simplicity delicately compliant to glacial law, and the endless variety of picturesque rocks rising in beautiful groups out of the dark forests, by far the most striking of all the ice phenomena presented to the ordinary observer are the polished surfaces, the beauty and mechanical excellence of which no words will describe. They occur in large irregular patches many acres in extent in the summit and upper half of the middle regions, bright and stainless as the untrodden sky. They reflect the sunbeams like glass, and though they have been subjected to the corroding influences of the storms of countless thousands of years, to frosts, rains, dews, yet are they in many places unblurred, undimmed, as if finished but yesterday. The attention of the mountaineer is seldom arrested by moraines however conspicuously regular and artificial in form, or by cañons however deep, or rocks however noble, but he stoops and rubs his hand admiringly on these shining surfaces, and tries hard to account for their mysterious smoothness. He has beheld the summit snows descending in booming avalanches, but he concludes that these cannot be the work of snow, because he finds it far beyond the reach of avalanches; neither can water be the agent, he says, for he finds it on the tops of the loftiest domes. Only the winds seem capable of following and flowing in the paths indicated by the scratches and grooves, and some observers have actually ascribed the phenomenon to this cause. Even horses and dogs gaze wonderingly at the strange brightness of the ground, and smell it, and place their feet upon it cautiously; only the wild mountain sheep seems to move wholly at ease upon these glistening pavements.

This polish is produced by glaciers slipping with enormous pressure over hard, close-grained slates or granite. The fine striations, so small as to be scarcely visible, are evidently caused by grains of sand imbedded in the bottom of the ice; the scratches and smaller grooves, by stones with sharp graving edges. Scratches are therefore most abundant and roughest in the region of metamorphic slates, which break up by the force of the overflowing currents into blocks with hard cutting angles, and gradually disappear where these graving tools have been pushed so far as to have had their edges worn off.

The most extensive areas of polished surfaces are found in the upper half of the middle region, where the granite is most solid in structure and contains the greatest quantity of silex. They are always brighter, and extend farther down from the axis of the range, on the north sides of cañons that trend in a westerly direction than on the south sides; because, when wetted by corroding rains and snows, they are sooner dried, the north sides receiving sunshine, while the south walls are mostly in shadow and remain longer wet, and of course their glaciated surfaces become corroded sooner. The lowest patches are found at elevations of from 3000 to 5000 feet above the sea, and thirty to forty miles below the summits, on the sunniest and most enduring portions of vertical walls, protected from the drip and friction of water and snow by the form of the walls above them, and on hard swelling bosses on the bottom of wide cañons, protected and kept dry by broad boulders with overhanging eaves.


In the summit region we may watch the process of the formation of moraines of every kind among the small glaciers still lingering there. The material of which they are composed has been so recently quarried from the adjacent mountains that they are still plantless, and have a raw, unsettled appearance, as if newly dumped, like the stone and gravel of railroad embankments. The moraines belonging to the ancient glaciers are covered with forests, and extend with a greater or less degree of regularity down across the middle zone, as we have seen in Study No. III. Glacial rock forms occur throughout this region also, in marvelous richness, variety, and magnitude, composing all that is most special in Sierra scenery. So also do cañons, ridges and sculpture phenomena in general, descriptions of whose scenic beauties and separate points of scientific interest would require volumes. In the lower regions the polished surfaces, as far as my observations have reached, are wholly wanting. So also are moraines, though the material which once composed them is found scattered, washed, crumbled, and reformed, over and over again, along river-sides and over every flat, and filled-up lake-basin, but so changed in position, form of deposit, and mechanical condition, that unless we begin with the undisturbed moraines of the summit region and trace them carefully to where they become more and more obscure, we would be inclined to question the glacial character of these ancient deposits.

The cañons themselves, the valleys, ridges, and the large rock masses are the most unalterable and indestructible glacial phenomena under consideration, for their general forms, trends, and geographical position are specifically glacial. Yet even

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