Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/176

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

162

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

mountains, mentioned by Captain Cook, was likewise conspicuously evident to us as we sailed along the coast this day, and looked like a plain composed of a solid mass of ice or frozen snow, inclining gradually toward the low border; which from the smoothness, uniformity, and clean appearance of its surface, conveyed the idea of extensive waters having once existed beyond the then limits of our view, which had passed over this depressed part of the mountains, until their progress had been stopped by the severity of the climate, and that,> by the accumulation of succeeding snow, freezing on this body of ice, a barrier had become formed that had prevented such waters from flowing into the sea. This is not the only place where we had noticed the like appearance; since passing the icy bay mentioned on the 28th of June, other valleys had been seen strongly resembling this, but none were so extensive, nor was the surface of any of them so clean, most of them appearing to be very dirty. I do not, however, mean to assert that these inclined planes of ice must have been formed by the passing of inland waters thus into the ocean, as the elevation of them, which must be many hundred yards above the level of the sea, and their having been doomed for ages to perpetual frost, operate much against this reasoning; but one is naturally led, on contemplating any phenomenon out of the ordinary course of nature, to form some conjecture and to hazard some opinion as to its origin, which on the present occasion is rather offered for the purpose of describing its appearance, than accounting for the cause of its existence."[1]

Beyond Mount St. Elias, in the neighborhood of the Copper River and Prince William Sound, glaciers are reported by Elliott as numerous and of great size. Mount Wrangel, in the forks of the Copper River, is estimated by him to be upward of twenty thousand feet in height. From the flanks of the Chugatch Alps, of which Wrangel is the eastern summit, immense glaciers descend to Prince William Sound, and add greatly to the gloomy grandeur of its scenery. Glaciers also extend throughout the Kenai and Alaskan Peninsulas, as far to the westward as longitude 162°, and one even has been observed upon the island of Unalaska.

The region in the interior north of the St. Elias and Chugatch Alps has been but imperfectly explored; but there seems pretty general agreement that there are no glaciers there at the present time, nor is there evidence that glaciers ever existed in the country. Much of the region is now covered with tundra—that is, with vast level areas which are so deeply frozen that they never thaw out below a few feet from the surface. These are covered with a dense growth of heath and arctic mosses, which afford food for the reindeer, but are useless for man.

  1. "Voyage of Discovery around the "World, vol. v, pp. 312-314, 358-360.