100 Years Ago: June 1920
The is the 65th entries in my series of brief reviews of National Geographic magazines that have reached their centennial of being published.
The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “A Mind’s-Eye Map of America” and was written by Franklin K. Lane, Former Secretary of State, and author of several articles in National Geographic, including “A City of Realized Dreams”, “From the Warpath to the Plow”, “The Makers of the Flag”, and “The Nation’s Pride”. The article contains “33 Illustrations” of which twenty-five are black-and-white photographs. Seventeen of those photos are full-page in size. The remaining eight illustrations are full-page colorized photographs, documented on the cover as “Our National Parks Illustrated in Color”.
Mr. Lane began his article with a word, “Americanization”. It was a very broad and inclusive term. He found that in order to have our immigrants understand what it was, he first had to make the American-born “realize fully and be conscious of America in all its various senses and moods and spirits”. One of the things he would have liked to do to address this problem was to create “a real geography class”. Americans were fascinated by pictures. Recently the author had induced the motion-picture industry to the cause of producing Americanization pictures, including slogans, suggestions, and apothegms that would stimulate the American ideal. He did this because he had a notion that there was something in this country called Americanism that was distinctive and was expressed in the lives of our people, in their work, in their philosophy, and in their tradition and history.
One of the pictures that Mr. Lane envisioned was a map of the United States. By visualizing the map of our country, it became apparent how large in material resources, and how large in activity, intellectual and spiritual, the United States was. By looking at some of the remote parts of this map, and learning what was and what could be, the public would have renewed confidence in our future.
A year and a half prior to the article, the author took a trip to one of the islands of Hawaii. He started at the very edge of the sea, where the rice grew, and then went into sugar cane, and then above into orange orchards, and then into coffee plantations, and then, all the time ascending, into fruit lands – peaches and other fruits – and then up into wheat lands, and then into grazing lands, until he came to the snow on top of the mountain. By driving in an hour’s time from the sea to the summit, he saw everything that could be produced, from the topics to the Arctic Circle. That segment of the island gave a picture of the United States, because we had the capacity in this country to produce all those things which man required, either in the temperate or the semi-topical zones or even in the eternal snows of the north.
In Alaska the nation was building a railroad, almost completed, five hundred miles long, from the sea straight north to Fairbanks and into the Arctic Circle. That was a government enterprise. It was well built, without graft and without pull, out of government funds for the benefit of the territory, so that it might be opened up. At the very far end of Alaska was the Seward Peninsula. Far from worthless, a woman found $40,000 worth of tin in a river bed there. This side of the Seward Peninsula there were great grazing grounds for reindeer. Twenty years before, a man brought 1,200 animals over from Siberia. That herd had multiplied to reach 165,000. They fed on moss all the year round. Eskimos guarded them.
Recently, Stefansson, the Arctic explorer, visited the author and told him that musk-ox flourished in the far north of Canada. The musk-ox was valuable for its hide, its superb wool, and its meat. It cost nothing to support, because it fed on the grasses that grow among the moss. Stefansson urge Mr. Lane to procure a ship, load it with musk-oxen, and bring them to Alaska to be released among the reindeer. They were not competitors but cooperators, feeding off different things. They had learned to live together long centuries ago. If the empty spaces of Alaska could be filled with these two species, there would be enough meat to supply the Pacific coast.
And what of other Alaskan treasures? The second largest copper mine in the world is in Alaska. The greatest protected area in the world, Mount McKinley National Park [Denali], was home to the caribou and mountain sheep. As for gold, it was once mined abundantly in Alaska, but even though there was still gold under thousands of miles of the territory, the mines were closed because it cost more in labor to extract it then it would be worth on the market. The fishing industry in southern Alaska, according to Mr. Lane, would be supplemented by the vegetable-canning industry. There was a territory 600,000,000 acres almost untouched that belonged to Uncle Sam.
The author moved down the coast on his “map” to the State of Washington. There at one point was the largest rainfall per year of any point in the U. S., 150 inches. And on the other side of the State was the great desert of the Columbia Basin. Land that could be bought for $1.50 an acre was, in the author’s time, selling for $1,000 an acre. The reason was that by spending a little money to divert the waters flowing down from Mount Tacoma [Rainier] and turning them upon that land, the region was flush with apple orchards. One of those apples was taken from the Hudson River. They had taken the Delicious apple as it was known, and cared for it until it made the land even more valuable, as much as $2,000 an acre.
The dominant feature of the landscape in the State of Washington was Mount Rainier. It was named for an admiral who first saw it, but the author preferred the Indian name, Tacoma which meant “The feeding breast”. This name seemed appropriate to Mr. Lane because rivers came down it from every side nurturing the land. Here was one of the country’s great parks. The author has stood there with one hand on the snow of a glacier, and the other touching the blossoming wildflowers.
The State was rich in mines, rich in agricultural land, and rich in power possibilities. It had hundreds of thousands of acres of land that was practically desert that could be reclaimed and brought into usefulness by using the waters of the Columbia River. And yet, according to the author, the State’s most significant asset was its State University. He remembered seeing Seattle when it was a frontier town, with little thought of it possessing a great university. But there were 6,000 students at the University of Washington, and the State was only thirty years old. That fact showed the trend of American life, making a richer country both materially and intellectually.
Down from Washington, one next came to Oregon, with its long line of mountains, its majestic rivers, and its vast forests. One outstanding scenic feature in Oregon was Crater Lake. Its top was blown off and the volcanic crater then filled with water from endless years of rain. The lake was exquisite, without parallel in color in this country, and perhaps the world. There was abundant land to be had in the State. The federal government had recently brought back to the U. S. a strip of land ten miles wide and 300 miles long which was granted to the Oregon and California Railroad. That land was now open to homesteaders.
Further south one came to California. Mr. Lane, being from California, spoke with a degree of modesty about the State. That modesty was not characteristic of most Californians. He related a story to show that pride. He once went to Baltimore to speak to a Methodist congregation. There he met a preacher from the Eastern Shore of Maryland who told of a legend that when Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, they fell sick, and disturbed about them, the Lord called a counsel of angels to decide where they should be sent to recover. The Angel Gabriel suggested that they be sent to the Eastern Shore, and the Lord said, “No, no; that would not be sufficient change!” That same spirit lived in every Californian, and was the reason that they were known as Californiacs.
California was peopled by Indians when the padres arrived. Wherever the Catholic Church had gone in that State one would find a most fertile spot. The rich centers of California were all gathered around those exquisite missions which those fathers taught the Indians to build. The Mission Fathers brought with them the art of irrigation, and they brought their sprigs of vine, of orange, and of fig; and laid the foundation for the wonderous productions of the State. From the Oregon border to the Imperial Valley, the lands of California were made as fertile as the valley of the Nile.
As one journeyed down the State one saw some superb and delightful sites, including Mount Shasta, the Yosemite Valley, and the great redwood trees, the oldest living thing on this, or any other continent. Those great sequoia were there when Christ came upon the earth; and they were there when Moses brought down the tablets from the mountain, some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Out of a desire for railroad ties, people were cutting down these majestic trees and have been doing so for years. In response to this destruction, a Save-the-Redwoods League was organized in the hopes of raising money to save a strip of redwood along the great highway that led from San Francisco to the Oregon border. The author felt it would be the finest bit of coastal scenery in the U. S., perhaps anywhere, bordered on both sides by those magnificent trees. The destruction of those forest giants was a cruel thing. The Yosemite Valley had been saved and there was the Sequoia National Park but the desire was to expand that park and to give it a new name, the Roosevelt Park.
Further down south near Mexico, was the Imperial Valley, which was once an inland sea. Here were 300,000 acres of desert land, that had been transformed into the most productive single piece of land in the country, because of the waters of the Colorado River. Across the river, in Arizona was another irrigation project – Yuma. Known for its heat and piercing, wind-blown sand, Yuma was being turned into a great garden. The government was offering for sale some public lands on what was called Yuma Mesa for $250 to $260 an acre. The land was barren but had water rights promised in the future.
During a campaign trip through the West, Vice-President Stevenson used an interesting, and effective tactic. In each State he visited he would complement the residents for some aspect of their State and express a desire to move there. In Missouri he commented on their intelligence and prosperity, and in Kansas it was their fields of waving grain. It was the same in Colorado and New Mexico, but when he came to Yuma, he looked out at the Indians who lived there all he could think of was that “if I ever change my style of dress, I will adopt yours”. And yet Yuma was a prosperous business center surrounded by land that grew oranges and lemons, and according to the author the best grapefruits grown in the U. S.
Heading north, there was the Salt River project, known because of the Roosevelt Dam. This dam was largely built by the Apache Indians. According to Mr. Lane, the best Indian was the Indian that fought us the hardest. That Indian had the conception of himself which did not permit him to be conquered, even by the white man. When he had to yield to the inevitable, he turned to work, and work became his salvation. Where Indians were paternalized, cared for and treated as babies in arms, they did not grow. But where they were made to struggle for a living, they came through and made men of themselves.
Now, the author returned to the northern border, to Idaho. A few years prior, this State was thought to be an almost worthless piece of land. He visited a piece of land along the Snake River which raised 575 bushels of potatoes to an acre. Idaho had the highest dam in the world, the Arrow Rock Dam. It held enough water to irrigate several hundred thousand acres of Idaho land. The town of American Falls had to be moved several miles back due to the fact that it would have been flooded. In Minidoka, below the dam, many houses had no chimney or fireplace. Those houses were heated and lit by the electricity generated by the dam. The women churned with electricity and the sewing-machines were run with electricity. The author joked that they probably had paddling machines for naughty children which ran on electricity. Mr. Lane envisioned electrifying farms throughout the country. Idaho was a rich State and was growing rapidly. It had a huge bed of phosphates, enough to fertilize the whole Western country. It also had forest, mines, a fine State university, and an excellent school system.
Crossing the border, one came down into Utah. Its people of the Mormon Church were law-abiding, steady, hard-working, and kindly. When Brigham Young crossed the Missouri River and over the desert, leading his band of a few hundred followers with their push carts, going out into that unknown waste, he turned the land that lied around Salt Lake City into a garden. Sir William Willcocks, the greatest irrigation expert in the world, came there and said: “Nowhere else have I seen people who understand so wisely how to apply water to land as around Salt Lake City.” Utah had wonderful beauty in it as well as great stretches of desert. Recently a new beauty spot was discovered there, Bryce Canyon. The author presented a picture of this new beauty to the King of Belgium when he visited the U. S. Here was a great canyon filled with Stalagmites, great pillars of rock which rose hundreds of feet from the bottom of the canyon in colors like those of pastel. Just below that spot was the Colorado River, where there was the Grand Canyon National Park. Mr. Lane envisioned the building of a dam across the Colorado to provide electricity and to allow the irrigation of the surrounding desert. A mountain in Utah was being cut down at a rate of 50,000 tons a day yielding copper. In the desert of southern Utah oil flowed at a rate of a thousand barrels a day.
Going north again, into Montana, there was Glacier Park. The author rated this as the place the one that impressed him the most, above Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. As one stood at the edge of Saint Mary’s Lake and looked up at the two mountains – one named “Going to the Sun” and the other “Almost a Dog”, that person would feel inspired and humbled. Glacier Park, with its glaciers and lakes, was populated by Blackfeet Indians. To the south was the Sun River irrigation project. Six years prior, Mr. Lane, as Secretary of the Interior, was petitioned by a large number of people on that project to be released from their obligation to take water. A mass meeting was held and the farmers said that they should continue the dry-farming method. They felt that there was no danger of drought and didn’t want to pay the $60 to $70 an acre for water rights. Mr. Lane protested, begging them to think of the future. Only one person dissented, a girl of 19 or 20 years of age who had been a school teacher in the East. She made a capital speech but did not succeed. A few weeks before Mr. Lane left his position, he received a petition, signed by every man that was left on the project, asking that the project be taken up again.
Going south again from Montana into Wyoming, there was also irrigation, Indians, mines, and oil. Future south was Colorado. Colorado was one-third forest. In Colorado there was a park where one could stand in one spot and see twelve mountains, each one 12,000 feet high. The author wanted to see that park extended along the east side of the Rocky Mountains to include everything from the Rocky Mountain Park down to Pike’s Peak. Already 150,000 people visited that section with their automobiles every year. In Colorado, too, there was irrigation projects. One man the author met there, an immigrant from Illinois, had bought five acres of land and planted peach trees. He told the author that he made $2,500 off of those five acres the year before. His secret was his love and nurturing of the trees.
The author could go on and on, taking each State and showing how intimately it touched the Department of the Interior. For example, take Illinois. One would not suppose that there was much in Illinois that would be of interest to the Department, but outside of Chicago there was an exquisite place, called “The Dunes”, down by the lakeside. A lovely place that the author felt should be made a park. Just outside Chicago there was also a model country school. The children in the rural districts were not given a fair chance. The author had asked Congress for $300,000 so he might get a representative teacher from each district in the U. S. to spend a month in that school in Illinois, where they could find out how country children should be taught. He could not get the money but he hoped someday that the country school would be appreciated and still more, the country school teacher be dignified.
Teachers were underpaid, not being able to live, not being treated with respect, and having no dignity given to them. No one had a more justifiable complaint as the school teacher of the U. S. In one State the ordinary farm laborer was paid more than the school teacher. If Americanism was founded on intelligence, one must have somebody who could bring out of the young what was in them. You cannot expect quality education from a teacher making $40 a month. Moreover, teachers had to be treated with respect and dignity if they were going to do their best. The teacher was the very heart and center of Americanism, but given little recognition and no social status. Upon her depended the future. She could be the greatest instrumentality for building up the right spirit within boys and girls of America.
The author sometimes thought that the Indian schools in places were better than some schools nearer home. The Indian boy was taught to raise four kinds of grain, to shoe a horse, to build a shack, and he came out of that school not only knowing a little reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also knowing how to make a living. There were Indian schools that taught girls how to care for themselves and others. There were little cottages, with two girls to a cottage. Those girls each month had to produce a hat and a dress, and do all their own cooking. They had to cultivate a garden patch and learn how to care for a sick baby and a sick woman. In Oklahoma there was a group of Indians who were the richest people in the world, with an income of $20,000 a year per family. They had so much money they didn’t have to work. In North Carolina, there were the Cherokees who were self-reliant. There had not been an illegitimate birth on the reservation for forty years. They were fine upstanding, self-respecting, well-educated farmers and herders. Down in Florida were the Seminoles, who fought us 100 years prior. They raised cattle and were contented.
The author changed topics and began to rail against urbanization. He felt that we were not going to be happy cluttered together in cities. That was not a normal, natural life. The Americanism that had fought our wars, made this country, and developed the lands which the author discussed, was not meant for city life. He felt that every man had the desire to get down into the soil and wrestle with it, and make it yield to his will. Because of the lure of pleasure, because of the moving-picture shows, and because of a desire to get closer together, man was deserting the farm. When the author was born, 70% of our people lived in the country, at the time of this article, only 50% did. If that movement continued, there would not be a strong, self-dependent, and resourceful America.
As a solution to this problem, Mr. Lane suggested that each soldier returning from the World War be given a piece of land, where they could live in communities to which they could bring their brides. The land would have a little cottage on it, and be fenced and broken, so that it would be immediately productive. The community would have modern houses and a community center around which this colony would gather. The author wanted one of those communities in every State, so all might see what an ideal farm life should be. There was abundant vacant land, land that could be had for almost nothing. Between the National Capital and the Gulf of Mexico there were 32,000,000 acres of unused land. The entire country could be supported, if need be, on that body of land. He wanted those boys to be given that chance, but it would have cost money and vision. He felt we must come to it if we were going to have the kind of men in the future that we have had in the past. One reached down and touched the soil and got strength from it, one did not get it from asphalt streets. 150,000 boys had written asking that they might have a chance at such a farm, and we could not give it to them.
Changing topics again, the author discussed power, specifically hydroelectric power. He wanted all the streams that had possibilities for power, from the James all the way up to the Saint Lawrence River developed. He envisioned a stream of power circulating through those States, and predicted that it would be done. Mr. Lane made an appeal to women that they fire the men with ambition to make this country what it could be. We had done gloriously, but we must not stand still. The way to stand off Bolshevism was not to talk about it, but to do things which showed that in this nation there was hope; that we had possibilities; that this land was the best of all lands. That was because it was filled with a people who had imagination and willingness to work. These things that the author had enumerated were in America. If a man had his best chance here, then that man would be proud of the traditions and the institutions and the character of the people who had made this country. That was true Americanism.
We also needed to show the people around us that the principles that had guided our fathers, the love of liberty, the love of right, and the sense of mercy and kindness, were things that a nation may express occasionally, but that every one of us must express constantly. One could not take a foreigner and interpret America to him in strict terms of abstract law, or in terms of mountains of cooper, or miles of railroads. One must interpret America to them in terms of American life – its beauty, its dignity, the generosity of our nature, our willingness to be fair, and our desire to help. To know America was to love it. Under liberty and order men were stimulated to their best, challenged to create. So everywhere throughout this land men were dreaming dreams. Some wrote those dreams on paper, while others wrote them on mountains as orchards, or in mountains as mine shafts, or in the tall buildings of the cities, or in safe docks for ships. They had the world to draw from, all the richness were theirs by inheritance. This country was to be a new picture in the world gallery.
The last eight pages of the article are full-page black-and-white photographs that have been painted over to simulate color photographs. They are of different National Parks and are quite beautiful. They are label I to VIII in Roman numerals and represent pages 511 through 518 of the issue.
The second article this month is entitled “Saving the Redwoods” and was written by Madison Grant. It contains ten black-and-white photographs, all of which are full-page in size. The article has an italicized introduction which highlights the National Geographic Society’s assistance in the preservation effort by supplementing funds appropriated by Congress to the tune of $20,000. [See: “Our Big Trees Saved” in the January 1917 issue of National Geographic.]
The eastern tourist visiting California felt that he had explored the State when he had crossed the Sierra and the central valley, with perhaps a side trip to Lake Tahoe and to the Yosemite Canyon, having completed a leisurely trip down the southern coast. Afterwards, he carried away an impression of a golden brown, semiarid countryside, waterless stream beds, endless fruit orchards, an absence of turf and grass, abundant flowers, a rainless sky, and a pitiless sunlight. There was, however, another and different California on the coast from San Francisco north to the Oregon line. This region was heavily wooded, with running streams and abundant moisture, fog taking the place of rain in the summer months.
Much of the immediate coast was an old Pleistocene strand, elevated about 1,000 feet above the sea and cut through at various points by rivers and streams. A new boulevard ran along this elevated beach-line for many miles, and when completed would be one of the finest highways in the world. With high mountains to the east, the traveler looked out over the vast expanse of the Pacific toward the setting sun. It was along this northwestern coast that the great redwoods of California were found. The impending destruction of these forests was the most serious question confronting California in the effort for the preservation of some portion of her vast inheritance. It was calculated that all of the old stand of forest in the U. S. would be cut down within the next sixty years, but it might be shortened by the new methods of logging.
The genus Sequoia, to which the two surviving species of the great trees belong, stands widely separated from other living trees. Together with closely related groups, it once spread over the entire Northern Hemisphere. Fossil remains of Sequoia and kindred genera have been found in Europe, Spitzbergen, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Changes in climate and other causes have led to their gradual extinction, until the sole survivors of the genus were confined to California – one to high altitudes in the Sierra Mountains and the other to the western slopes of the Coast Range. Fossil leaves and cones of genera closely related to Sequoia occur in rocks of the Jurassic and of the Triassic. Members of the Sequoia genus were common and characteristic trees in California throughout the Cretaceous. These trees, virtually in their present form, flourishes in California before mammals developed from their humble ancestors and while dinosaurs were the most advanced form of land animals. [See: Hunting Big Game of Other Days” in the May 1919 National Geographic.] The mountains upon which these trees now stand contain fossils records of Sequoia-like trees, proving that this group abounded before the rocks that constitute the present Sierra and Coast Ranges were laid down in shallow seas, before being uplifted and later eroded, a process measured not in hundreds of thousands, but in millions of years.
While the duration of the family, of the genus, and even the existing species, extends through such an immense portion of the earth’s history, the lifespan of the living trees was correspondingly great. The Sequoia was not only the oldest living thing on earth, but it was the tallest tree in the Western Hemisphere. No other tree found in the fossil record surpassed it in size, in girth, in height, or in grandeur. And these trees were being cut down for grape stakes, for railroad ties, and for shingles. This article was written about the redwoods of the coast rather than the big trees of the Sierra. They were both of the genus Sequoia, so the author wanted to say a few words on the big trees before going into a description of the redwoods.
The big trees, Sequoia gigantea, were found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, in California, at an altitude of 5,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level, with a north and south range of about 250 miles. They did not constitute a solid stand, but occurred in more or less isolated groves, and growing with them were other huge trees, chiefly white firs, incense cedar, sugar pine, and yellow pine. There were about thirty-two groves and were much scattered in the northern part of their range, while in the south they were larger and closer together. This distribution showed that the big trees were on the decline, the groves having long since lost touch with each other, while in the north the reproduction was very poor. They all grew in spots sheltered by surrounding trees, and the slopes of the Sierras were more or less windless. These trees would soon be destroyed unless they were protected by a National Park.
They had suffered throughout the ages from ground fires. Their extraordinarily thick bark, which was from one-half to two feet thick, was a great protection. If protected by human care, the big tree had remarkable recuperative power. Many of the specimens in the Giant Forest of the Sequoia National Park showed an accelerated growth, owing to their immunity from fire even for a few decades. These trees were from five to twenty-five feet in diameter at shoulder height from the ground. In the Giant Forest alone there were around 5,000 trees of more than ten feet in diameter. Their height varied from 150 to much more than 225 feet, and as they were without taproots, they stood absolutely straight, often without branches from the ground to a height of 175 feet.
The crown was usually dead; not blasted by lightning, as was often asserted, but because ancient fires had eaten in at the base, so the flow of the sap had been checked. When connection with the ground had been reestablished, growth takes place from the topmost uninjured branches forming a new, false crown. It was estimated that if these trees escaped the toppling wind and damaging fire, their upper limit of growth would be 600 feet high. The known age of trees which had been cut down was from 1,100 to 3,250 years. There was little doubt that this long period was much exceeded by such trees as the General Sherman and the Grizzly Giant. There was always uncertainty in the rate of growth due to shelter and supply of water. Development may be retarded with poor water and soil so that a relatively small tree might be very ancient.
The redwoods of the coast, Sequoia sempervirens – the immortal Sequoia – far from being a battered remnant, was a beautiful, cheerful, and indomitable tree. Burned or butchered, it spouted up again with a vitality which was truly amazing. It was this marvelous capacity for new growth which was the most interesting character of the redwood in contrast with the big tree, which had no such means of regeneration. All the redwood forests had been injured by fire, sometimes of ancient origin. It was a wonderful sight to see a charred trunk throw out a spray of new growth twenty of thirty feet above the ground, or a new tree standing atop an ancient bole and sending its roots down into the ground around the mother stump. The vitality of the second growth threw up a circular ring of new and beautiful redwoods around the parent stump. These little trees would come up again and again if cut. If a tree was burned several times in succession, that capacity of shoot reproduction was lost. There were cases where very large and thickly set burned stumps showed little or no signs of reforestation.
The age of the redwood was about half that of the Sierra big tree, and the life of a mature redwood ran from 500 to 1,300 years, probably more. The diameter of the larger redwoods was sixteen feet and more, and the height ran from 100 to 340 feet. Thus, while its diameter was less, its height was far greater than its cousin. The author felt it likely that taller trees, up to 350 feet, would be identified. Many of the finest groves had fallen to the axe. It was probable that the existing groves, with few exceptions, did not represent the finest grove of fifty years prior. This needless destruction was compounded by the fact that few, if any, of the lumber companies had proved profitable.
The original range of the redwoods extended from Monterey north along the California coast to a point a few miles over the Oregon line. It embraced an area with a length of 450 miles and a width not exceeding 40 miles. The narrowness of this range seemed to be determined by the fog which swept in from the Pacific, with the edge of the fog bank clinging closely to the inland limit of the redwood belt. These forests were sometimes so wet that the dripping from the high crowns was like a thin rain. In the southern and larger half of their range, the redwoods were somewhat broken up into isolated groves. In the north there was an almost continuous series of solid stands of redwoods, constituting the most magnificent forests in the world. The redwoods in the south showed a marked variation from those in the north, being redder in color, and having more frequent growth-rings.
South of San Francisco the redwoods were found chiefly in the Big Basin, which was made into a State park, and in the famous Santa Cruz grove. Intermediate spots along the Coast Range, notably at La Honda, showed the concern with which the owners of surviving trees cared for the battered remnants amid the charred stumps of former giants. The owners had learned that the value of a living tree at a public resort or along a highway far exceeded the value of its lumber. North of San Francisco the Muir Woods, on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, were easily accessible and showed something of the forest grandeur formerly found in the region of the Golden Gate. The preservation of that grove was due to the efforts of Mr. William Kent, who presented it to the nation. To the north, Sonoma County had purchased for public use the Armstrong Grove, and Mendocino County probably would buy the Montgomery Grove. Those last trees were situated near the highway to the north of Ukiah. If purchased by the town or county, they would become the entrance to the Redwood Park series.
After leaving Mendocino County one entered the great groves of Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Here were solid stands of redwoods. Four great forests stood out prominently: (1) the groves along the South Fork of the Eel River and the west bank of the main Eel, culminating in the Bull Creek Flat and the Dyerville Flat; (2) the immense Redwood Creek grove; (3) the Klamath River groves; and (4) the Smith River groves at Mills Creek, in Del Norte County. Each had its particular beauty. The groves along the South Fork of the Eel River were the ones most in peril. Those groves were traversed by the State highway, in the process of being constructed, which had made the timber accessible resulting in the establishment of small lumber camps that were destroying the trees along it edge. These great trees had the unfortunate characteristic of easy splitting, so they are in special demand for railroad ties, shingles, and grape stakes. They were used for stakes because of they were practically indestructible, standing in the ground almost indefinitely without rotting.
In going to Redwood country on the California State Highway from San Francisco, the first important group of trees encountered was the Montgomery grove, a few miles west of the highway. About fifty miles north of Willits the redwoods began to appear along the highway in small and scattered groups. The beauty of the roadway could be greatly enhanced by the saving of these small groves and scattered trees. Their preservation depended on the ability of the California Highway Commission (CHC) to secure a right of way of sufficient width. The first important redwood groves were at Hick’s Camp and at the Stern’s Camp grove. At Red Mountain there was a fine grove of redwoods, and to the north of that the first cutting was made in 1919. From that point on it became obvious that the 100-yard-wide right of way, acquired by the CHC was not only insufficient, but had actually served to invite logging operations.
The author compared the cutting down of these trees for grape stakes and railroad ties to breaking up a grandfather clock for kindling, or lighting a pipe with a Greek manuscript. Farther north the cutting began to appear at scattered points, but one of the finest groves, a tract of 700 acres belonging to the Hammond Lumber Company had been left untouched. A little farther north there was a fine stand of timber owned by the University of Minnesota. The author hoped they would cooperate in preserving those trees. From here on there had been much destruction at various points along the road. After those scenes of destruction, the traveler reached Bull Creek Flat, perhaps the finest forest in the world. Here was a magnificent stand of trees, some 10,000 acres in extent. If the forested area needed for the State highway from Bull Creek up to upper reaches of South Fork, combined with Bull Creek Flat and the grove opposite, at Dyerville, it would total around 25,000 acres, the minimum for a State park. Bull Creek Flat belonged to the Pacific Lumber Company and the Metropolitan Lumber Company. Both companies had expressed a willingness to sell it to the park project. The tract was said to contain one enormous tree, possibly the largest redwood and the tallest tree in the world.
The fundamental problem with the whole redwood situation was the fact the great trees were nearly all in the hands of private owners. The State and nation, having given away these lands in the past, must now buy back at least a large portion of them. On the east bank of the Eel River, for many miles below the forks, there were very few redwoods within sight of the highway except at Fortuna, where 2,300 acres of fine trees had been preserved temporarily and were known as the Carson Woods. This grove was a mile or so east of the highway and hopefully would be preserved as a local park. Along the lower stretch of the Eel River below Scotia, a lumber company had checked reforestation by cutting, during successive years, the sprouting saplings. This was done in the belief that the land could be made available for pasturage. It had proved a failure, and the only result had been to destroy, in many places, the chance of the forest recovering.
Below the forks, on the left bank, there was a magnificent stand of trees extending from the water’s edge to the crest of the main slope, nearly all belonging to the Pacific Lumber Company. This area was 20,000 acres in extent, and the highway runs through it. Mr. Grant felt it should be preserved, although it would be costly. Below this forest the timber on both sides of the river had been almost completely destroyed. At Orick, on the Big Lagoon, the highway passed through the lower end of the Redwood Creek grove, one of the very best stands of Redwoods in Humboldt County, approximately 50,000 acres in extent. The redwoods were largely mixed with spruce and the ground carpeted with ferns. This stand was untouched and should be saved for a national park. It could have been acquired at a relatively small cost due to the fact that the timber was mostly inaccessible. One of the most conspicuous features of these redwood forests was the profusion of ferns of which there were some thirty species.
The protection of the California redwoods was being done by the Redwoods League. There were two distinct movements being undertaken. First were the efforts made by Humboldt County and the Redwood League to stop the cutting along the highway on the South Fork of the Eel River. This had been accomplished, and since August of 1919, all the cutting had been stopped by the purchase of the land on which lumber operations were carried out. This was made possible through Mr. Stephen T. Mather and Mr. William Kent, each of whom donated $30,000 to be used to purchase the threatened areas. The Supervisors of Humboldt County were expected to provide a bond issue on a large scale, which would secure the preservation of the groves most in danger, but the bulk of the money needed must be provided by the State of California. The bond issue was supported by the Governor and had the support of the most influential men in the State.
In addition to that, the Redwoods League had succeeded in enlisting the support of many lumbermen and owners of timber, who proposed donating at least a portion of their holdings for park purposes, especially along the highway. The extent of this park was the entire valley of the South Fork of the Eel River down to, and including Bull Creek Flat and Dyerville Flat. If addition funds could be provided to purchase any or all of the 20,000 acres on the left bank of the main Eel farther downstream, a superb reserve would be established. The Eel River redwoods constituted the most immediate problem, but there was also a plan to provide a National Redwoods Park. A national park required a large area, with sufficient isolation and compactness to allow proper administration. There were three such areas available: 1) the grove along Redwood Creek, about 50,000 acres in extent; the groves along the Klamath River, as yet untouched and of great beauty; and 3) the Smith River groves, in Del Norte County. A complete survey of these sites was being undertaken by the Redwoods League to determine the suitability of these three groves for national parks.
The “Save the Redwoods League” was formally organized in San Francisco in July 1919. The league was under the executive control of Dr. John C. Merriman, of the University of California, Berkley. Its purposes were: (1) To purchase redwood groves by private subscription and by county bond issues, (2) To secure a State bond issue to buy the finest redwood groves along State highways, (3) To establish, through federal aid, a National Redwood Park, (4) To obtain, through State and county aid, the protection of timber along the scenic highways now in the course of construction throughout California, and (5) To encourage the State to purchase cut-over redwood areas for reforestation by natural means or by replanting where repeated fires have made sprout reproduction impossible.
Committees had been formed also to study the subjects of redwood distribution, variation, and the most efficient commercial use of redwood products, in the belief that nearly all the purposes for which the lumber was used could be adequately served by second-growth trees. One of the first results of the activities of the league was the donation by Dr. John C. Phillips, of Boston, of a large sum of money for the purchase of a redwood grove as a memorial to his brother-in-law, the late Colonel Bolling, who died in the World War. In addition to donations of money and trees for such memorial purposes, the league expected to find sympathetic and cordial support for the park among the lumbermen. They knew only too well the value of the timber. It was not fair to ask them to sacrifice their financial interests. It was the duty of the county, State, and nation to purchase their holdings.
It would cost money to preserve the redwoods – many millions of dollars; but California had no choice. Either today or in ten years at a higher price and then only for a butchered and isolated tenth part of the forests. If the groves were bought in their current condition and at a relatively small cost, it would be a great innovation, because heretofore Americans had followed the wasteful policy of reckless exploitation then as soon as the destruction was completed, the policy was changed. Attempts were made to reforest the mountains at great cost. But redwoods could never be replaced. No one who had seen these groves could fail to love them. Nature had been so bountiful to California that the Californians were trustees, for the rest of the world, of many of these priceless heirlooms from a distant past.
The third, and last, article in this month’s issue is entitled “Peru’s Wealth-Producing Birds” and was written by R. E. Coker. It has the subtitle “Vast Riches in the Guano Deposits of Cormorants, Pelicans, and Petrels which Nest on Her Barren, Rainless Coast”. The article contains twenty-eight photographs taken by the author. Six of those photos are full-page in size.
Peru was a land of contrast. A visitor could stand on a hill by the sea and gaze alternately upon the ocean’s smooth surface, and upon the highest mountains of the continent. If he tired of looking at the barren desert stretching between the coast and the mountains, he could turn and gaze upon the beauty of a verdant tropical valley. The sunlight was as dazzling as may be seen anywhere on earth, while he breathed deeply the cool sea breeze blowing fresh from the mighty Humboldt Stream. The Humboldt, or Peruvian Current, supplemented no doubt by the upturn of cold bottom waters, maintained its steady course for thousands of miles, from icy Antarctic latitudes to the Equator. Thus, it was that topical shores were bathed by cold ocean waters. It was this contrast which prevented rainfall on the coast. When cool, wet air blew off the ocean touched the lands that were warmed beneath the tropical sun, expansion or rarefaction occurred, rainfall was prevented, and the atmosphere was dry.
The significance of this, with respect to the famed guano deposits of Peru, easily became apparent. In climates of common humidity, however numerous the sea-fowl that nest there, the nitrates of the guano gave rise to ammonia and were wasted by evaporation or seepage. But in Peru year after year the guano was laid down beneath a clear, dry atmosphere’ the deposits bake in the sun, and its most valuable components were imprisoned for an indefinite period. Guano was primarily the deposit of fish-eating birds which may have contained a variety of other substances, such as eggs and bodies of birds, and the deposits and bodies of sea-lions. It may have been found mixed with gravel and sand in small proportions or sometimes to an extent rendering it unprofitable to extract. Great beds of guano had been formed upon islands of the Caribbean Sea, others off the coast of Africa, and others in the Pacific. Yet those guanos were scarcely comparable to the guano of Peru, for in the moist climate of those islands the nitrogen was soon lost, while the insoluble phosphates remained to form a far less valuable “phosphatic guano”.
“Peruvian guano” was practically synonymous with nitrogenous guano and had long been recognized as the best fertilizer in the world. Its nitrogen compounds were in a condition most readily assimilable by plants. Nitrogen was a primary necessity to the farmer. It was critical to maintain a supply of this element in a form available for agricultural use. Nitrogen existed in abundance in the atmosphere, but the problem of supply arose from the limited means and agencies for its fixation in a form that was useful. There was a tendency for it to return to its gaseous state. It could only be recovered by slow, natural processes of expensive industrial methods. Only in recent times had mechanical methods been devised to supplement the supply, but such methods are expensive. Farmers continued to depend upon the utilization of organic waste for nitrogen. Consequently, the birds of the Peruvian islands were of particular interest and required protection so they might continue to contribute materially to our needs.
Peruvian guano had been imported into Great Britain, Europe, and the U. S. for many decades. Its employment as fertilizer in South America was far more ancient. Centuries before the beginning of modern American agriculture, there existed on the west coast of South America a civilization of high attainment in agriculture, in textile industries, and in architecture. With few fertile valleys and a vast desert, the ancient Peruvians extended their cultivated fields far over the arid land by way of extensive irrigation works, with canals and ditches that followed the contour of the hillsides, tier after tier, and pierced ridges with tunnels. [See: “The Staircase Farms of the Ancients” in the May 1916 National Geographic.]
Having overcome the obstacle of the dry conditions, they found upon the coast and islands a unique compensation for their difficulties. The same conditions which made the land arid had also conserved to them the best agricultural aids in Peruvian guano. They took fertilizer from the islands to enrich the lands, even in the mountains, two or three miles above sea-level. They left the refuse heaps of their camps upon the islands, including pottery and metal-ware suggesting the guano industry dated back to at least an early period of the Christian era. These early Americans appreciated the value of the producing birds. They enacted edicts for the protection of the birds, and also administered the guano extraction industry with conservation of the resource in mind.
With the Spanish conquest and the consequent decline of agriculture, the guano industry became insignificant until the 1800s. Humboldt, in about 1804, brought samples of Peruvian guano to Europe and advocated its commercial importation. Humboldt was a great scientist and traveler who was erroneously given credit for the introduction of guano to Europe. Unfortunately, he believed the guano was produced by birds of the land and not sea-fowl. This error furnished no incentive to protect the useful birds. Up to about 1840 the beds on the islands remained virtually undiscovered. Existing untouched, those deposits represented the accumulation of thousands of years, lying in thick beds, exposed or deeply buried. They were waiting only to be shoveled up and loaded into ships for conveyance to the markets of the world. After guano was introduced to foreign markets in 1843, there began an era of large-scale extraction. Islands were surrounded by vessels, fifty or more at a time. Each year hundreds of thousands of tons were removed.
It was estimated that between 1851 and 1872 more than ten million tons were extracted from one small group of islands, representing an average annual exportation to the value between twenty and thirty million dollars. A single island was lowered more than a hundred feet by the removal of its thick crown of guano. The possibility of exhaustion of the deposits was not then contemplated, and no thought was given to conserving the birds. Cries of warnings came as rumors of probable exhaustion spread abroad and threatened the economy. A readjustment was finally made in the last decade of the century. The industry had continued both for home agriculture and for export, but in a regularly declining condition as regards to the export trade.
These mines of wealth were the product of the numerous sea-fowl of the coast, which found abundant food in the ocean and made their nests on the islands or points of shore. The hot, dry conditions merely allowed the preservation of the product. The primary requisite for abundant bird life was the existence of a plentiful food supply. This was found in the schools of small fish, called “anchobetes” [anchovies], that swarmed in the Peruvian Current. Their schools, acres in extent, were often pursued by bonitoes and other larger fish, while beset from the air by thousands of birds. Billions of pounds of fish were consumed each year by the birds and larger fish, but the anchovies were able to maintain their numbers. At times, great areas of the sea were made red by myriads of small, brightly-colored shrimplike crustacea. These were also an important food supply for the birds and fish.
Not all the birds were of equal importance from a commercial point of view. Only three main species supported the guano industry – the white-breast cormorant (guanay), the big gray pelican (alcatraz), and the white-head gannet (piquero). Of lesser significance were the cave-dwelling penguin and the small diving and burrowing petrel. Three species of cormorant were numerous on the coast and islands of Peru. The white-breast cormorant was the most important guano-producing bird there. The natives long recognized it as such and called it guanay, meaning “the guano bird”. In spite of its abundance, it was less familiar than many other cormorants. One would see a black cormorant while visiting a pier or see a scarlet foot cormorant while on a brief trip on the water, yet a visitor might remain ignorant of the most abundant species, the guanay, unless his boat near a cloud of thousands or hundreds of thousands, or unless his boat passed by an islet rookery. Sometimes they formed small rookeries, but typically they were found in immense aggregations. Guanays occurred on the Peruvian coast from near the northern to the extreme southern border. Their preeminent home was the double group of islands opposite Pisco, in the south, the Chinchas, and the Ballestas.
The author visited the Ballesta Islands in May. Each of the three islands had large flocks of guanays, all of which had been disturbed since the opening of the season for guano extraction. The smallest of the three flocks had occupied the southwest corner of the north island, on level ground beyond a bluff. The rookery was about 5,500 square yards in size with nearly 14,000 nests. The south island of the Ballestas was some 300 feet in height and its small top was nearly half covered with birds in a rookery around 13,000 square yards. The middle island possessed a rookery of equal size. In all, there were about 150,000 birds nesting on those islands. The author visited the Chincha Islands the following month. The south island of the Chinchas was a triangular body between twenty and thirty acres. It was two-thirds covered with compact rookeries. When he approached a rookery, the guanays crowded away with much grumbling and, when a few birds took flight, the entire flock of hundreds of thousands was liable to take to the air. When the author patiently waited motionless, the birds eventually came back until only a circle with a radius of three to four feet was left vacant.
Mr. Coker had visited these islands during the winter months, when fog prevailed upon the coast. However, the atmosphere of the islands was invariably dry, perfect conditions for the preservation of the guano. Comparatively new guano contained 14% to 16% nitrogen or more, while even the ancient deposits contained nitrogen in proportion of around 12% to 14%. When the islands were closed by the government in 1906 from November to March, it was determined that the south island of the Chinchas should not be reopened for a number of years. By the summer of 1907, about 5,000 ton of guano had accumulated. By July 1908 the deposit was estimated at 12,000 to 15,000 tons, and when extraction resumed in March 1910, after being closed for three and a half years, the amount of guano taken was more than 22,000 tons. It was estimated that a pair of guanays, with their offspring, produced about $1.50 worth of guano per year. Since this income was produced with no expense except for protection, the fowl had been appraised as having a value of $15 per pair. It was found that the deposits on the south island accumulated at a rate of four and a half inches per year, or nearly 300 pounds per square yard.
Two other species of cormorant were residents of the coast. The black cuervo de mar, or “sea crow”, was comparable to the eastern American fish cormorants. They haunted the shores and piers, and made short dives for fish, taking in their expansive throats even large fish. Their nests were found on the rougher outlaying rocks. The patillo, or “little duck”, was peculiar among the cormorants of the coast in living in isolated pairs, with homes on the cliffs or in caverns. It constructed strong nests of seaweed and straw. It had a high-pitched cheeping which led to it being known as “chiquitoy” or “chuita”. It was a notable illustration of the adaptability of nature that three species of birds so closely related should in the same general environment manifest such striking contrasts in habit.
More pleasing to the eye than any cormorant was the common Peruvian gannet, the “piquero” or “camanay”, with its snow-white head, neck, and breast and variegated back, elegant form, and swift, graceful flight. Everywhere on the coast it was the most abundant sea-fowl. If it weren’t for its habit of nesting on cliffs and more inaccessible places, the piquero would perhaps have been ranked first as a commercial bird. At the time of this article it was ranked third in commercial importance. The author found it striking to see one gannet circle and dive into the ocean in search of prey, but when he saw a cloud of thousands of them flying over a school of anchovies while in a fisherman’s rowboat, he was truly in awe. The birds began to fall into the water, hundreds at a time, until within a few seconds practically the whole cloud had emptied into the sea. After their dive, they rested on the surface for a few moments and then took flight again. They repeated this process without interruption. The author changed his course slightly to pass directly under the flock, and was able to pass through this downpour of birds.
Almost universally the nests of the gannets were found on cliffs or upon very steep and rugged slopes high above the water, where approach was difficult. Mating season was year-round and eggs and all stages of young could be found on any given day. The naturalist and traveler, von Tschudi, found that a single bird produced 3½ to 5 ounces of guano per day. Assuming only one ounce was deposited on the island, a million piqueros would produce 11,400 tons of guano per year with a value of a half million dollars. Beyond question the gannets of the Peruvian coast far exceeded a million in number, but at that time the product was practically all wasted.
Most conspicuous of all the birds of the Peruvian coast was the large pelican, or “alcatraz”, which was seen along the entire coast. It was much more abundant in the north, not due to climate but due to the fact that the larger islands of the north offered a better environment for nesting. The residents of Pisco had stated that there was formerly a great abundance of pelicans in the southern regions, so apparently a great change had occurred. Only a very few pelican nesting grounds were found during the author’s visit. The Chincha and Ballestas Islands were largely given over to cormorants, San Gallan to the petrel, and Santa Rosas to small terns. Upon the Lobos Islands, however, the pelican was the bird of paramount importance. One rookery comprised of upward to forty thousand pelicans nesting and rearing their young. The eastward island of Lobos de Afuera, with its outlying islet to the north, contained an estimated one hundred thousand pelicans.
Following the author’s visit, this rookery was stripped of guano by extractors. When the islands were revisited in December, scarcely any birds were found near the old rookery and only a couple thousand nests were anywhere on the island. Upon the north point of the westward island the largest rookeries were found, including between twenty to forty thousand birds. Other nesting grounds had been established on the Lobos de Tierra Islands, thirty miles further north, well removed from the scene of guano extraction. It was one of the tragedies of the guano industry that this important bird had received so little consideration that its numbers were greatly reduced. There was a belief that the pelican was unaffected by disturbance since the adults would stand by their eggs of nestlings when molested. The gradual extermination of the species showed that the pelican suffered more detriment from molestation than perhaps any other bird along the coast.
The subordinate economic importance of the pelican was not only based on the number of birds, but also upon the inferiority of its guano. This was due to the climatic conditions of the northern coastal islands. While rare, light showers were not unknown on the Lobos Islands. Fresh pelican guano gave more than 21% nitrogen when analyzed, but samples of dry guano yielded less than 8½%. This difference showed the detrimental effects of the local climate. The northern pelican guano was inferior to the southern guanay guano, with its 12% to 16% nitrogen. This comparison did not show the relative merits of the birds when subjected to the same climatic conditions.
Mr. Coker found the pelicans interesting. When he visited an island with a large number of those birds, he noted a bewildering variety of colors. This was not due to different species but to various ages of the pelicans. The nestlings were first naked and purple-skinned, then covered with white down. They attained a large size before developing their second plumage. Both young and old were beset by parasites. These insects attached themselves within the pouches of the pelican. It was not surprising that the pelicans spent much time bathing and splashing along the shores of their islands.
Next the author turned his attention from the largest to the smallest of the Peruvian guano birds. The little diving petrel, though comparatively abundant, it was rarely seen. By day, while one of the pair was brooding on a subterranean nest, the other was usually far out on the ocean, resting quietly or making short dives for prey. On sea or land, there was scarcely a movement to attract attention to the birds. At night, things changed. The air became filled with the sounds of swift wings and gentle croaking voices, as little dark objects flitted bat-like back and forth. A petrel would emerge from an opening in the ground and take flight, while another would arrive from the ocean and disappear into the ground to replace its mate. The little birds measured ten inches in length and weighed a half a pound. They were black on top and white on the bottom, while under the feathers was a gray down giving the petrel the appearance of a large body. The small wings and short neck seemed disproportionately small.
Off the Peninsula of Paracas was lofty San Gallan, marked by peaks reaching 1,200 to 1,400 feet. The tops of these hills were concealed by clouds. Here was the preeminent home of the diving petrel, or “potoyuncos” as the locals called them. From the lower desert slopes of San Gallan’s hills to the cloud-bathed peaks, everywhere were large patches of ground undermined by short borrows. In spite of its small size, the petrel’s guano was valued for its high quality. Unfortunately, its meat was likewise esteemed by the native fishermen and laborers. Unless effective measures were taken, the potoyunco would incur the fate of other birds whose habit and defenselessness laid them open to destruction.
A tropical penguin seemed like a Peruvian paradox. Nevertheless, penguins were quite common on the coast, even as far north as the Lobos de Afuera Islands, within a few hundred miles of the Equator. This was because the ocean off Peru were not tropical, but was constantly chilled by waters that streamed from the Antarctic regions to the Equator. Penguins were naturally more numerous toward the south. Almost every cavern beneath the Chincha and Ballestas Islands revealed its quota of nests. The Peruvians had given penguins the suggestive name of “pajaro ninos”, or “baby birds”, in reference to their infantile, waddling gait. The guano of penguins was limited in quantity and liable to be moistened by the spray from waves dashing into the caverns they preferred to frequent. Nevertheless, when obtained in good preservation, it was highly esteemed. Penguins were also valued for their oil, and fishermen sought them for their skins, while sailors killed them for fun.
There were many other interesting birds of the Peruvian islands. Blue Inca terns, with white curled “moustache”, darted excitedly close to the author’s face, but nested prudently in the rougher places, where homes were made under shelves of guano or in rudimentary burrows. Pearly gray terns practically covered the south Santa Rosa Island, with nests so indistinguishable amidst the gravel and guano that eggs were invariably crushed when walking about. Gulls of several species nested on various islands. Shore birds, such as curlews, oyster birds, plovers and sandpipers, frequented the margins of the islands, especially where sandy beaches were available. Scavenger buzzards, or “gallinazos” preyed upon the eggs and young of other birds and nested in caverns or beneath overhanging rocks. Large condors were occasionally seen, and a lonely species of perching bird, the little “chirote”, also had found its way from Andean slopes to the barren sea islands. Sailing from mainland to islands, typical sea-birds were seen, including the shearwaters, a small hovering petrel, and the beautiful Peruvian albatross, smaller than the great southern albatross but with a wingspan of eight feet.
Guano deposits had been found on almost every island, islet, and point of shore along the Peruvian coast from 5 degrees south to 18 degrees south, a distance of about 1,300 miles. The commercial guano industry comprised some hundreds of locations, but chiefly among them were the Chincha and Ballestas Islands, the islands of Guanape and Macabi, and the larger of the Lobos Islands. Pabellon de Pica, beyond the territory of Peru, was also important in earlier times. Among places of secondary importance were the Islas Santa, Fronton, Palominos, Asia, Santa Rosa, Vieja, and Cerro Azul. From year to year the industry shifted from island to island as deposits accumulated or were exhausted, but the chief locations were rarely abandoned. None of the islands were very large or far removed from the coast. While most were within twelve miles from the coast, the Lobos de Afuera group was about 33 miles from shore, while one small islet was so close that an aerial trolley had been set up.
All of the islands were more or less rocky and barren. Vegetation was absent except where the higher points reach such an altitude (about 1,200 feet) as to derive moisture from the clouds. These isolated gardens of vegetation were found only upon such lofty islands as San Gallan, La Isla Vieja, or San Lorenzo. A small amount of vegetation was seen on the sandy shores of Lobos de Tierra, but this was exceptional. Due to lack of moisture, the rocky nature of the ground, and the strongly concentrated fertilizer, the islands were generally unfavorable for plants to grow. The only land-dwelling inhabitants of the islands, besides the birds and sea lions, were the parasitic insects and their predators – spiders, scorpions, lizards, and bats. On the green-capped peaks, land snails had been introduced, perhaps by condors. Escaped cats lived freely on at least one island, living on birds and shellfish. Evidently fresh water was not essential for feline health and prosperity.
On many islands, the shores were bold and difficult to access. Landing from a small boat, one would have to leap to a bare foothold on the ragged shore rocks. At established locations there might be a rope ladder daggling from a makeshift pier. But in other places a smooth cove and an easy beach were at hand. Some small islands were inaccessible in rough weather. Once on the islands, the guano was found to be baked into a hard, dry crust. The fresh, dry breeze rarely carries a trace of odor. The author found his camping experience upon them pleasant, with a dependable breeze and hills, cliffs and caverns to explore. He caught fish and, of course, studied the birds. The night brought its own particular charms.
A guano extraction camp was simple. Skeleton frames of wood with covering and walls of burlap constituted the barracks. The foreman’s camp was often a larger tent of the same construction. The workers were practically all Peruvians. Often there were few in camp who could speak Spanish and the foreman could communicate with the peons only by signs or through an interpreter. The extraction of guano was a simple process. Where the material was comparatively recent, the only implements needed were picks and shovels, a screen, and a few sacks. The surface cake was broken up and thrown into small heaps. The guano was then pitched through slanting wire screens to remove the gravel, and then sacked for embarkation by strongly constructed lighters in the form of rowboats, adapted for use in the heavy swell that prevailed about the islands.
A very common method of conveying the guano to the lighter was by means of an aerial trolley, consisting of two stout wires suspended between a frame at the top of the island and some convenient rock somewhat removed from the shore. A boat would be rowed beneath the lower part of the cable to receive the guano, lowered by pulleys. The full sacks descended by gravity and drew the empty sacks back. No power was applied except for slowing and breaking. When the launch was loaded, it was rowed to out the ship, where the sacks were hoisted into the hold. The stowing of the guano was difficult. If the guano was strong, only natives could work in the ship’s hold, and then only for a half an hour to an hour at a time.
Much more extensive equipment was employed on the larger islands of the north. An American company had laid lines of tracks for conveying the guano in tram-cars, and the screening was done from trestles over a lower level track. A bridge of some length had even been built between the main Lobos de Tierra Island and a smaller island nearby. There were several permanent buildings upon this island. The largest of these contained the offices and store of the company, while two smaller buildings housed the representatives of the government and the exporting corporation respectively.
By far the greatest portion of guano that had been exported consisted of the ancient deposits, called “mineral” guano, which in places covered the islands to great depths. This had simply been stripped away until scarcely any of the old guano remained. Many deposits were found deeply buried under layers of sand and broken rock. The blowing sand and falling rocks from the weathering hills readily explained the covering of old beds. Guano was being deposited at a rate of more than four inches per year in some places, or a probable rate of twenty to thirty thousand tons per year along the entire coast. Mr. Coker wondered, not that such great beds had accumulated, but why there was so little found. He theorized that many millions of tons had been lost through the ages from the falling of cliffs undermined by the surf, from the breaking up of the islands through erosion, and perhaps subsidence due to seismic activity.
Unless additional deposits, buried beneath the surface, were located the industry was permanently reduced to the annual deposits, which scarcely exceeded the demands of Peruvian agriculture. Since the important birds had been greatly reduced in numbers, it was hoped that those numbers would substantially increase if interference with the breeding was reduced to a minimum. The future of Peruvian agriculture was closely linked to the protection of the guano birds.
Your heading at the very top says June 1919 instead of June 1920.
Fixed it, Thanks.
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