Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/493

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

By T. A. JAGGAR, Jr., Ph. D.

CASES of asphyxiation by gas have been very frequently reported of late years, and we commonly associate with such reports the idea of a second-rate hotel and an unsophisticated countryman who blows out the gas. Such incidents we connect with the super-civilization of the nineteenth century, but it is none the less true that Nature furnishes similar accidents, and that in regions far remote from the haunts of men. In the heart of the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, unknown to either the tourist or the trapper, there is a natural hostelry for the wild inhabitants of the forest, where, with food, drink, and shelter all in sight, the poor creatures are tempted one after another into a bath of invisible poisonous vapor, where they sink down to add their bones to the fossil records of an interminable list of similar tragedies, dating back to a period long preceding the records of human history.

It was the writer's privilege, as a member of the expedition of the United States Geological Survey of the Yellowstone Park, under the direction of Mr. Arnold Hague, to visit and for the first time to photograph this remarkable locality. A similar visit was last made by members of the survey in the summer of 1888, and an account of the discovery of Death Gulch was published in Science (February 15, 1889) under the title A Deadly Gas Spring in the Yellowstone Park, by Mr. Walter Harvey Weed. The following extracts from Mr. Weed's paper indicate concisely the general character of the gulch, and the description of the death-trap as it then appeared offers interesting material for comparison with its condition as observed in the summer of 1897.

Death Gulch is a small and gloomy ravine in the northeast corner of the Yellowstone National Park. "In this region the lavas which fill the ancient basin of the park rest upon the flanks of mountains formed of fragmentary volcanic ejecta, . . . while the hydrothermal forces of the central portion of the park show but feeble manifestations of their energy in the almost extinct hot-spring areas of Soda Butte, Lamar River, Cache Creek, and Miller Creek." Although hot water no longer flows from these vents, "gaseous emanations are now given off in considerable volume." On Cache Creek, about two miles above its confluence with Lamar River, are deposits of altered and crystalline travertine, with pools in the creek violently effervescing locally. This is due to the copious emission of gas. Above these deposits "the creek cuts into a bank of sulphur and gravel cemented by this material, and a few yards beyond is the