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One Hundred Years Ago: March 1924


This is the 110th entry in my series of brief reviews of National Geographic Magazines as the reach the 100th anniversary of their publication.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Geography and Some Explorers” and was written by Joseph Conrad.  The article contains twelve black-and-white photographs of which six are full-page in size.  The article also contains a full-page map of Virginia and Florida published in 1638 on page 242.

Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

The author argued that Geography’s superiority over other sciences, like Geometry, was found in the figures which graced its history.  Of all the sciences, geography found its origin in action, what is more, in adventurous action.  Descriptive geography, like any other kind of science, had been built on the experience of certain phenomena and on experiments prompted by that curiosity of men and their passion for knowledge.  Like other sciences, it had fought its way to truth through a long series of errors.  Geography had its phase of circumstantially extravagant speculation which had nothing to do with the pursuit of truth, but had given us a glimpse of the medieval mind in its childish way with the problems of earth’s shape, its size, its character, its products, its inhabitants.  Cartography was almost as pictorial then as some modern newspapers.  It crowded its maps with pictures of strange pageants, strange trees, strange beasts, drawn with amazing precision amid theoretically conceived continents.  All that might have been amusing it the medieval gravity in the absurd had not been a wearisome thing.  But what of that!  Had not the key science of chemistry passed through its dishonest phase of alchemy, and our knowledge of the starry sky been arrived at through the superstitious idealism of astrology looking for men’s fate in the depths of the infinite!  Mere megalomania on a colossal scale.  The author preferred a science that had not laid itself out to thrive on the fears and the desires of men.  From that point of view, geography was the most blameless of sciences.  Its fabulous phase never aimed at cheating simple mortals out of their peace of mind or their money.  At the most, it had enticed a few away from their homes – to death, maybe, now and then to a little disputed glory, often to hardship, but never to high fortune.  The greatest of them all, who had presented modern geography with a new world to work upon, was at one time loaded with chains and thrown into prison.

Columbus remained a pathetic figure, not a sufferer in the cause of geography, but a victim of the imperfections of jealous human hearts, accepting his fate with resignation.  His contribution to the knowledge of the earth was certainly royal.  And if the discovery of America was the occasion of the greatest outburst of reckless cruelty and greed known to history, we may say this, at least, for it, that the gold of Mexico and Peru, unlike the gold of alchemists, was really there, palpable, that lured men away from their homes.  But there would never be enough gold to go round, as the Conquistadors found out by experienced.  The author took guilty pleasure in the fact that the searchers for El Dorado kept failing; they thought nothing about the science of geography.  The geographic knowledge of 1924 was of the kind that would have been beyond the conception of the hardy followers of Cortez, Pizarro, and de Vaca.  The discovery of the New World marked the end of the fabulous geography, and it must be owned that the history of the conquest contained at least one geographically great moment – Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean.  He surrendered to his first impression in naming it.  He was charmed by its serene aspect.  He probable thought himself within a stone’s throw, as it were, of the Indies and Cathay.  Balboa could not possibly have known that that great moment of his life had added, suddenly, thousands of miles to the circumference of the globe, had opened an immense theater for the human drama of adventure and exploration, and spread an enormous canvas on which some geographers could paint the most fanciful variants of their pet theory of a great southern continent.  Geography militant, which had succeeded the geography fabulous, did not seem able to accept the idea that there was much more water than land on this globe.  The author supposed their landsmen’s temperament stood in the way of their recognition that the world of geography seemed to have been planned mostly for the convenience of fishes.

What surprised the author was that the seamen of that time should have really believed that the large continents to the north of the equator demanded, as a matter of good art, to be balanced by corresponding masses of land in the southern hemisphere.  Every bit of coastline discovered, every mountain top glimpsed in the distance, had to be dragged loyally into the scheme of the Terra Australis Incognita.  Even the great seventeenth century explorer, Tasman, after coming unexpectedly upon the North Island of New Zealand, seemed to take for granted that that was the western limit of an enormous continent extending away toward the point of South America.  Mighty was the power of a theory, especially if based on such a common-sense notion as the balance of continents.  When he returned to Batavia, he was received coldly by his employers, the honorable governor-general, and the council of Batavia.  Their final judgement was that Abel Tasman was a skillful navigator, but that he had shown himself “remiss” in his investigations, and that he had been guilty of leaving certain problems unsolved.  Tasman did not expect that criticism.  He may have been hurt by the verdict of the honorable council, but he did not seem to have been cast down by it.  He requested a raise, and got it.  There was a taint of an unscrupulous adventurer in Tasman.  It was certain that at various times his patron and the council in Batavia had employed him in some shady transactions of their own connections with the Japan trade.  Then in his old age Tasman got into some disreputable scrape which caused his church to ask him to resign his membership.  Even the council was startled, and dismissed him from his employment.  Remiss or not, he had, in the course of his voyages, mapped 8,000 miles of an island which, by common consent, was called now [in 1924] a continent, a geologically very old continent indeed, but which was in 1924 the home of a very young Commonwealth.

James Cook would not refuse to acknowledge that Abel Tasman had first reported the existence of New Zealand in the perplexed bewildering way of those times, a hundred and thirty years before Captain Cook, on his second voyage, laid forever the ghost of Terra Australis Incognita and added New Zealand to the scientific domain of the geography triumph of our day.  No shades of remissness nor doubtful motive rested upon the achievements of Captain Cook, who worked at the great geographical problem of the Pacific.  Endeavour was the name of the ship which carried him on his first voyage, and was also the watchword of his professional life.  Resolution was the name of the ship he commanded himself on his second expedition, and it was the determining quality of his soul.  The voyages of the early explores were prompted by an acquisitive spirit, the idea of lucre in some form, the desire of trade or the desire of loot, disguised in, more or less, fine words.  But Cook’s three voyages were free from any taint of that sort.  His aims needed no disguise.  They were scientific.  His deeds spoke for themselves with the mastery simplicity of a hard-won success.  In that respect he seemed to belong to the single-minded explorers of the nineteenth century, the late fathers of militant geography, whose only object was the search for truth.  Geography was a science of facts, and they devoted themselves to the discovery of facts in the configuration and features of the great continents.  It was a century of landsmen investigators.  The author did not forget the polar explorers, a few of them laid down their lives for the advancement of geography.  Seamen, men of science.  The dominating figure among the seamen explorers of the first half of the nineteenth century was Sir John Franklyn, whose fame rested not only on the extent of his discoveries, but on professional prestige and high personal character.

That great navigator, who never returned home, served geography even in his death.  The persistent efforts, extending over ten years, to ascertain his fate advanced greatly our knowledge of the polar regions.  The first two years of the Erebus and Terror expedition seemed to be the way to success, all the while it was the way to death.  Sir Leopold M’Clintock, commanding the Fox, found an entry, under a cairn dated just a year before the ships were trapped and crushed by ice, stating “All well.”  Franklyn and his crew were forced to abandon their ships before suffering a long, desperate struggle for life.  The great spirit of the realities of the story sent the author off on the romantic explorations of his inner self; to the discovery of the taste for poring over land and sea maps; revealed to him the existence of a latent devotion to geography which interfered with his devotion to his other school work.  The author lamented that there was too little geography and too much of the other subjects.  He felt that the people who set the school curriculum had no romantic sense for the real; that they were ignorant of the great possibilities of active live; with no desire for struggle, no notion of the wide spaces of the world.  And their geography was very much like themselves, a bloodless thing, with a dry skin covering a pile of uninteresting bones.  The geography he discovered for himself was the geography of open spaces and wide horizons, a geography still militant, but already conscious of its approaching end with the death of the last great explorer.  Thus, it happened that the author got no marks at all for his first and only paper on Arctic geography, which he wrote at age thirteen.  It was not a set subject.  His tutor had told him to not waste his time reading books of travel instead of attending to his studies.  His proficiency in map drawing saved him on another occasion.

The author had no doubt that star-gazing was a fine occupation, for it led you within the borders of the unobtainable.  But map-gazing, to which he became addicted so early, brought the problems of the great spaces of the earth into direct contact with curiosity and gave precision to one’s imagination.  And the honest maps of the nineteenth century nourished in the author a passionate interest in the truth of geographical facts and a desire for precise knowledge which was extended later to other subjects.  For change had come over the spirit of cartographers.  From the middle of the eighteenth century on, the business of map-making had been growing into an honest occupation, registering the hard-won knowledge, but also recording the geographical ignorance of its time.  And it was Africa that got cleared of the dull imaginary wonders of the Dark Ages, which were replaced by exciting spaces of white paper.  Regions unknown!  The author imagined adventurous men nibbling at the edges, attacking from north and south and east and west, conquering a bit of truth here and a bit of truth there, and sometimes being swallowed up.  The author was proud that he was born around the same time the Great Lakes of Africa were discovered.  His first bit of mapmaking as a boy was to carefully trace in pencil the outline of Lake Tanganyika on his old atlas, published in 1852.  On it, the heart of Africa was white and big.  Many years afterwards, as second officer in the Merchant Service, it had been his duty to correct, and bring up to date, the charts of more than one ship.  He did that work conscientiously and with a sense of responsibility, but with great enjoyment.  The author did not give up his interest in the polar regions.  His interest swung from the frigid to the torrid zone, as the explorers, like masters of a great art, worked to complete the picture of the earth.

Not the least interesting part in the study of geographical discovery lied in the insight into the character of the men who devoted their lives to the exploration of land and sea.  The author admired those men more than the characters of famous fiction.  Men like Mungo Park, who mapped Western Sudan; Bruce, of Abyssinia; and Dr. Barth, of Central Sudan.  The empire building of 1924 could not suppress for the author the memory of David Livingstone, explorer of Central Africa, who died in a hut along the headwaters of the Congo.  He was a notable European figure, and the most venerated of all the objects of the author’s early geographical enthusiasm.  Once only did that enthusiasm expose the author to the derision of his schoolmates.  One day, putting his finger on a spot in the very middle of the then white heart of Africa, the author declared that someday he would go there.  His friends chaffed, and he fumed; but eighteen years later, a wretched little stern-wheel steamboat the author commanded lay moored to the bank of an African river.  Everything was dark under the stars.  The subdued thundering mutter of the Stanley Falls hung in the heavy night air of the last navigable reach of the Upper Congo.  Just above the falls the yet unbroken power of the Congo Arabs slumbered uneasily.  Their day was over.  The author said to himself with awe, “This is the very spot of my boyish boast.”  And yet a great melancholy descended on him.  It was the end to the idealized realities of a boy’s daydreams.  He had smoked a pipe at midnight in the very heart of the African Continent, and felt very lonely there.  But never so at sea.  There he never felt lonely, because there he never lacked company – the company of great navigators, the first grownup friends of his early boyhood.  The unchangeable sea preserved for one the sense of its past, the memory of things accomplished by wisdom and daring among its restless waves.

The author had been permitted to sail through the very heart of the old Pacific mystery; a region which even in his time remained very imperfectly charted and still remote from the knowledge of men.  It was in 1888, when in command of a ship loaded in Sydney a mixed cargo for Mauritius, that one day all the deep-lying historic sense of the exploring adventures in the Pacific surged up to the surface of his being.  He sat down an wrote a letter to his owners suggesting that instead of taking the usual southern route, he should take the ship to Mauritius by way of the Torres Strait.  He never expected it to be effective, but the owners left it to his responsibility.  He had no regrets, for what would his memory of sea life had been if it had not included a passage through Torres Strait, in its fullest extent, from the mouth of the great Fly River, right on along the tracks of early navigators.  The season being advanced, he insisted on leaving Sydney during a heavy southeast gale.  Both the pilot and the tug-master were angry, and left him to his own devices while still inside Sydney Heads.  The fierce southeaster caught the author in its wings, and in nine days he was outside the entrance of Torres Strait.  The strait was named after a Spaniard who, in the seventeenth century first sailed that way without knowing where he was; without suspecting he had New Guinea on one side and Australia on the other.  He thought he was passing through an archipelago.  The strait, whose existence had been doubted for a century and a half, argued, and squabbled about by geographers and even by the navigator Abel Tasman (who thought it was a bay), had its true contours first mapped by James Cook, the greatest of the seamen fathers of militant geography.  If the dead haunted the scenes of their earthly exploits, then the author must have been attended benevolently by those three shades – the inflexible Spaniard, the pig-headed Hollander, and the great Englishman.  Great shades, all friends of the author’s youth.

It was not without a certain emotion that, commanding very likely the first and certainly the last merchant ship that carried cargo that way, from Sydney to Mauritius, the author put her head at daybreak for Blight Entrance and packed on her every bit of canvas she could carry.  Windswept, sunlit, empty waters were all around him, half veiled by a brilliant haze.  The first thing that caught his eye upon the play of green white-capped waves was a black speck marking conveniently the end of a low sand bank.  It looked like the wreck of some small vessel.  He altered course slightly to pass close, with the hope of being able to read the letters on her stern.  They were already faded.  Her name was Honolulu.  Thirty-six hours later, of which nine were spent at anchor, approaching the other end of the strait, he sighted a gaunt, gray wreck of a big American ship lying high and dry on the southernmost of the Warrior Reefs.  She had been there for years.  The author had heard of her; she was legendary.  The author passed out of the Torres Strait before the dusk settled on its waters.  Just as the sun sank ahead of his ship, he took a bearing of a little island for a fresh departure, an insignificant crumb of dark earth, lonely, a sentinel to watch the approaches from the side of the Arafura Sea.  But to the author, it was a hallowed spot, for he knew that the Endeavour had been hove to off it in the year 1762 for her captain, James Cook, to go ashore for half an hour.  Thus, the sea had been for the author a hallowed ground, thanks to those books of travel and discovery which had peopled it for him with unforgettable shades of the masters in the calling which in a humble way was to be his, too – men great in their endeavor and in hard-won successes of militant geography; men who went forth, each according to his lights and with varied motives, laudable or sinful, but each bearing in his breast a spark of the sacred fire.



The second item listed on the cover is entitled “The Lure of the Land of Ice” with a byline listing Herbert G. Ponting.  It is not an article, but a set of sixteen full-page duotones, pages 255 through 270, embedded within the first article.  Mr. Ponting is the photographer.  Duotones, formerly known as photogravures, are images transferred to paper using, acid-etched metal plates. The deeper the etch, the darker the ink transferred.

A list of the caption titles for the duotones is as follows:

  • “The Aims of Polar Explorers have been as Pure as the Air of Those High Latitudes”
  • “Pack Ice Seen from the Maintop of the “Terra Nova””
  • “Looking South Hut Point and Vince Cross”
  • “Mt. Erebus Seen Over a Water-worn Iceberg”
  • “Castle Iceberg Frozen into the Ice Near the Hut on Cape Evans”
  • “Vida, Leader of One of the Dog teams of the Scott Polar Expedition”
  • “Penguins Making for the Water”
  • “The Volcanic Pillar at Cape Barne”
  • “At the Threshold of an Iceberg Grotto”
  • “A Pressure Ridge, One of the Obstacles of Antarctic Exploration”
  • “Furrows of Frozen Spray”
  • “The “Terra Nova” in McMurdo Sound”
  • “Sitting Before a Blubber Stove in the Antarctic”
  • “The Ramparts of Mt. Erebus”
  • “A Dog Team Resting by an Iceberg”
  • “The “Terra Nova” in a Gale”



The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “Beyond the Clay Hills” and was written by Neil M. Judd, Leader of the National Geographic Society’s Pueblo Bonito Expeditions.  It has the internal subtitle: “An Account of the National Geographic Society’s Reconnaissance of a Previously Unexplored Section in Utah.”  The article contains twenty-eight black-and-white photographs, of which ten are full-page in size.  It also contains a sketch map of the southeastern corner of Utah on page 278.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Among the members of the National Geographic Society in 1924, there were very few who believed that in the U. S., in the 20th century, that there still existed places not thoroughly explored.  They were relatively small areas when compared to their parent States.  Such neglected areas required no second Lewis and Clark Expedition.  The latest U. S. map embodied a wealth of diverse information garnered from sundry sources.  [See: “United States of America” in five colors, 38 x 28 inches, April 1923, National Geographic Magazine.]  It pictured winding blue rivers and the red treads of a vast interlocking network of railroads and interurban lines; it located cities, towns, and mere filling stations; it traced transcontinental highways and many local roads; and it also disclosed certain isolated districts that exhibited none of those symbols which denoted the passing of man on his conquests.  For the most part, those latter districts were left bare simply because the mapmaker could obtain no reliable information with which to relieve their bareness – areas which were still practically unknown and unexplored.  One such area bordered the Rio Colorado in Utah.  East and west from that savage red river unmapped mesas stretched away mile after barren mile.  Securely guarded by the deep gorges of the Rio San Juan and the Colorado lied the least known section.  It remained a veritable terra incognita.  Because of the mystery wrapped about it; because it had been so purposely avoided; because all the trails led around it and none through it, that region held a peculiar fascination for the author.  Back in 1907, while searching the shadows of White Canyon for footprints of the ancient cliff-dwellers, he had gazed southward across its silent, shimmering expanse.  Again, in 1909, accompanying Dean Byron Cummings to the discovery of the Rainbow Natural Bridge, that same untamed district had lost none of its inherent mystery and charm.  [See: in the National Geographic Magazine, “The Great Natural Bridges of Utah,” February 1910; “The Great Rainbow Natural Bridge of Southern Utah,” November 1911; “Encircling Navaho Mountain with a Pack-Train – a New Route to Rainbow Natural Bridge,” February 1923.]

Still a decade later, from ridges that neighbored Kaiparowits Plateau and the Circle Cliffs, far to the west, a siren beckoned the author toward the grim silence and elusiveness of that unknown canyon country.  The desert possessed an impelling force magnified with great distance and isolation from the usual haunts of men.  The author happily accepted the National Geographic Society’s invitation to carry its banner yet farther along untrodden trails.  That unfrequented section in the angle of the Colorado and San Juan rivers boasted one upstanding landmark, the Clay Hills.  Viewed from the south and east, the Clay Hills rose as an unscalable barrier of blue and gray shale and sheer sandstone cliffs.  A single narrow gateway led through and beyond that barrier.  From their cedar-crowned heights the Clay Hills sloped gently down to the west, where lied the invisible gorge of the Rio Colorado; thence miles of pale, yellow sand lifted themselves slowly to meet a sky-band of far-away cliffs.  It was indeed a wild country and lonesome.  Its very wildness added to its solitude, as the latter emphasized its awful vastness.  There, in an area larger than the State of Connecticut, there resided no living soul.  The silence hung heavily.  Roving, four-footed beasts of the desert were rarely seen; yet their tracks recounted the world-old story of the survival of the fittest.  Even the birds seemed to have deserted that strange country, for one saw few, other than those noisy jays of the cedar ridge and the buzzards, circling ceaselessly in the sky.  Nearly half a century prior, a band of Mormon colonists cut a bold path from Western Utah, across the Rio Colorado and the Clay Hill divide, to found Bluff.  Descendants of the cattle those pioneers drove now foraged the more favored uplands.  Seekers of gold followed.  At San Juan ford some seventeen years prior, the author met a grizzled prospector with an unhurried burro, bound for the Henry Mountains.  Neither the old man nor his diminutive mule were ever seen again.

But however deserted and silent that untamed country seemed, there was a time, uncounted centuries ago, when human voices echoed through the canyons, when sandaled feet stalked deer and sheep along the rocky rims.  The crumbling walls of crude stone dwellings, blending with the variegated colors of the cliffs against which they clung, marked the temporary homes of prehistoric peoples.  Fragments of ancient pottery and flint chips discarded by the arrow-maker snapped underfoot as one climbed the talus to some yawning cave.  And there, in the cool shadows, one observed the scattered ashes of former campfires, the angular wall drawings of primitive artists, and daubs of mud thrown against the walls by children at play.  Those ancient folk, safely cloistered in murky canyons, tarried but a short while; then moved on to a happier environment.  To the neighboring Indians of 1924, the uninhabited region west of the Clay Hills was a fearful place, the home of all-powerful unseen forces.  With the mountain sheep gone and the deer fast disappearing, few Navajo could be induced to venture north of the Rio San Juan.  When the author’s party left Kayenta, early last October [1923], the Arizona sands were soaked with unseasonable rains.  Flood waters were racing down the San Juan.  So, they started for the swinging bridge near Mexican Hat.  Seven mules were packed with oats, and four carried enough rice and flour and coffee and bacon to assure each of them two meals a day for thirty days.  One extra mule was included in the train.  Forced from their intended path by unexpected floods, they trailed through Monument Valley and across endless mesas to Rio San Jaun.  Even in October the valley was oppressively hot.  Wind and sand and water had there been locked in ceaseless rivalry since the world was young.  Hundreds of square miles of solid rock had been worn and washed away, leaving a rear guard of lofty red buttes.

Ten days and 150 miles of trail brought them to a dripping seep on the west rim of Grand Gulch, with the red walls of the Clay hills standing out boldly a short day’s ride away.  From that camp, the party’s guide, John Wetherill, turned down to the San Juan for a half ton of oats which the Indians had agreed to deliver there.  But he found no cache at the crossing.  Without additional grain, the party could go no farther.  Wetherill crossed the treacherous river on a log; then walked 20 miles to a borrowed flivver and continued to Kayenta.  Three days later, Wetherill was back at the ford with the much-needed grain, and a new recruit.  He had persuaded an Indian to accompany him back.  However dubious the Indian was as to the wisdom of their venture; he soon proved a faithful and willing assistant.  He found water in the most unpromising places, and he knew odd corners where their weary mules might graze contently for the night.  And when, a few days after they had forded the San Juan on their homeward journey, he galloped away light-hearted and happy to his hogan and family, he had returned in safety from the dwelling place of Evil!  There was a dim, unverified tradition that the Navaho carried the bones of their dead warriors to a final resting place near the Henry Mountains.  But those sacred rites were no longer performed.  If that custom did in fact be observed in olden times, wherein lied its origin?  Were the Navaho descendants of the ancient cliff-dwellers?  The great caves, with their abandoned camp sites, their storage cysts, or their shattered ruins, told a mute tale of human struggles long before the written history of our continent began.  On that journey beyond the Clay Hills, they traversed canyons never-before visited by white men; they crawled through narrow doors into dwellings no booted foot had previously entered; they climbed canyon walls on trails unused for centuries.

The unwatered, sun-lit mesas, the shadowy canyons – the ancient cliff-dweller took those for his home and hunting grounds.  But prehistoric man did not dwell long in the parched country west of the Clay Hills.  His habitations there were mostly crude affairs; he built no colossal structures such as Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo del Arroyo.  [See the National Geographic Magazine for June 1921, March 1922, and July 1924.]  Before starting on their journey, they had been able to learn but little of the Clay Hills country, and that little proved mostly to be erroneous.  Moki Canyon, for instance, was represented as about five miles long.  They made three camps in Moki Canyon, the last fully 18 miles above its mouth and perhaps two-thirds of its total length.  They took their mules up both the north and south cliffs.  For days they climbed canyon walls and crossed tiresome mesas.  It was indeed a wild sort, that land beyond the Clay Hills, and destined always to remain so.  Moki Canyon, place of the dead!  Like the Venus Flytrap the quicksands of Moki Canyon waited to embrace the blind or heedless passerby.  Under the quick steps of their mules, those treacherous sand pockets swayed and stretched like huge yellow sheets.  But they went through – the first pack-train to dare – through 18 miles of it, building trail when necessary.  They had other experiences with quicksand, the last while fording the Rio San Juan on their homeward way.  The trail they were following had been made by hunting parties in those glorious days when game was plentiful.  The trail circled the south edge of Gray Mesa, wound through ragged canyons, and then dropped to the very edge of the drab, brutal river.  Quicksand could not be avoided entirely, but the safest path was marked.  Straight across to the big riffle, then down current with it gradually seeking the shore.  One of the mules, Bino, had both front legs go down in quicksand.  The mule was rescued, however, with great effort.

Never were rains more persistent than 1923!  They began in midsummer, which was proper, and continued until early November, which was not at all as it should have been.  At the beginning of their expedition, high water in the San Juan forced a long eastward detour.  Storm clouds camped with them frequently.  In the Southwest, summer showers were almost tropical in their intensity.  They filled arroyo banks and undermined bridges.  They loosened boulders, threw down trees, and started landslides.  They climbed the south wall of the San Jaun and their clothes were still drenched from rescuing Bino; the trail was wet and steep and a bit tricky.  In trying to make a high jump, a mule named Mac struck the corner of his pack, fell backward, and rolled over.  All hand stretched to help the stubborn animal with the Scotch name.  Afterward on the easy mesa trail, much sport was made of Mac’s narrow escape.  Two days later, they stood beneath the graceful arch of the colossal Rainbow Natural Bridge, marveling at the stupendous folly of Nature, who built temples to herself and then tore them down again.  Low-hanging clouds revealed, for seconds only, the snow-covered summit of Navajo Mountain.  Fourteen years before, the author had first seen that sublime creation of the Master Builder.  The trail of 1924 was much easier than the one they had built; its more dangerous portions had been smoothed out or avoided.  Three hundred individuals, including the late ex-President Roosevelt and a score of foreigners had followed in the footsteps of the discoverer, and few had returned disappointed.  And so, it was very gratifying to note, after those many years, that the Rainbow Bridge, alone among the natural wonders of our country, remained pretty much as the desert gods made it.  Majestic in its solitary retreat yet dwarfed by the massive cliffs that tower above it, the stone rainbow was still the mystic bridge over which the true sons of Earth might escape their mortal sorrows.



The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “Among the “Craters of the Moon”” and was written by R. W. Limbert.  It has the internal subtitle: “An Account of the First Expedition Through to Remarkable Volcanic Lava Beds of Southern Idaho.”  The article contains twenty-six black-and-white photographs, taken by Mr. Limbert, of which five are full-page in size.  The article also contains a sketch map of the “Craters of the Moon” with an inset of the State of Idaho on page 306.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

In the West, the term “Lava Beds of Idaho” had always signified a region to be shunned by even the most adventuresome travelers – a land supposedly barren of vegetation, destitute of water, devoid of animal life, and lacking in scenic interest.  In reality, the region had slight resemblance to its imagined aspect.  Its vegetation was mostly hidden in pockets, but when found consisted of pines, cedars, junipers, and sagebrush; its water was hidden deep in tanks or holes at the bottom of large “blow-outs” and was found only by following old Indian or mountain sheep trails or by watching the flight of birds.  The animal life consisted principally of migrant birds, rock rabbits, woodchucks, black and grizzly bears; its scenery was impressive in its grandeur.  A glance at a map of Idaho showed that the southern part of the State, lying between Arco and Carey and north of Minidoka, was a vast region labeled desert or rolling plateau.  Although almost totally unknown at present [in 1924], that section was destined someday to attract tourists from all over America.  The district consisted of some 63 volcanic craters, lava, and cinder cones, all extinct or dormant.  The largest and most conspicuous was 600 feet high, rising amid of a belt of craters two or three miles wide and 30 miles long.  The craters or cones were close together in the north and west; in the south they were miles apart.  That a region of such size and scenic peculiarity, in the heart of the great Northwest, could have remained practically unknown and unexplored was extraordinary.  For several years, the author had listened to stories told by fur trappers of the strange things they had seen while ranging in that region.  Some of those accounts seemed beyond belief.  The author made two hiking and camping trips into the northern end, covering the same region traversed by a Geological Survey party in 1901.  The peculiar features seen on those trips led him to take a third across the region in the hope that even more interesting phenomena might be encountered.

One morning in May W. L. Cole and the author, both of Boise, Idaho, left Minidoka, packed on their backs bedding, an aluminum cook outfit, a 5x7 camera and tripod, binoculars, and supplies sufficient for two weeks, making a total pack each of 55 pounds.  They also took with them an Airedale terrier for a camp dog.  That was a mistake, for after three days’ travel his feet were worn raw and bleeding.  In some places it was necessary to carry him or sit and wait while he picked his way across.  North of Minidoka, for about 25 miles, they crossed a rolling lava plateau, after which came comparatively later flows of lava.  They were the first white persons to cross that plateau from south to north.  For three days their travel was over the uninteresting, broken-up lava surface known as AA flow.  It was the hardest going imaginable.  Their water on that part of the trip was snow and ice which they found in crevices.  The fourth day out they sighted an Indian monument in an open flat, and 20 feet from it they found a hole about two feet in diameter, that opened downward like an immense cistern.  This was full of clear water, and they drank their fill.  They located that water hole by compass bearings on Red Top Butte and Sugar Loaf Butte.  It was the only water in the vicinity which could be depended upon the year round.  From the top of Sugar Loaf, they picked up an old Indian trail which resembled a white streak winding through the lava.  Some miles to the north was the butte called Big Dome, and a few hundred yards north of it, a crater several hundred yards in diameter and about 200 feet deep.  They camped in the bottom of that crater that night.  Half a mile east of Big Dome they found an immense crater ring that looked as if the top of a mountain had collapsed and fallen back into the volcanic throat.  The crags had magnetic properties, and the compass needle could not be depended upon when near them.

About a quarter mile to the northwest was a large fissure, which they called Vermillion Canyon.  The floor, a hundred or more feet in width, was composed mostly of cinders; the lava walls were bright red in the sunlight.  Near the center were several extinct lava spouts that resembled the geyser formations of Yellowstone Park.  Near there, they saw a pile of rock with a piece of charred sagebrush in it pointing to another water hole that probably contained water during the summer.  Working their way through the fissure for a quarter of a mile, they found it opened upon a flat, and about 600 yards to the north was another crater like the one just passed.  As they sat on the east side of its rim, they saw below them a hundred or more lava blisters or bubbles.  In many instances the tops had fallen in, disclosing rooms from 8 to 10 feet across and as high as 6 or 7 feet.  The shells of those lava bubbles were from 6 to 8 inches thick.  Their color was a grayish brown.  At all places of interest, the author set up the compass and triangulated on the more prominent buttes.  Sometimes it was necessary to move the location several hundred feet, as the needle was attracted to the rocky points.  Estimating distance was also very difficult, owing to the lack of any object of known size to use as scale.  They usually found that distances between points were about half again as far as they had estimated.  West of the crater beside Bubble Basin they saw channels winding through the lava flat.  Examination showed them to be lava gutters.  The lava had flowed down assuming the shape of a mountain stream.  Traveling northwest for a mile, they came to another Indian marker – a pile of rocks.  It had a small pile at the base and, in a line with it, about 20 feet distant, at the base of a cliff, was the entrance to a cave that opened into a room 18 feet wide and 12 feet high.  Stalactites and stalagmites of ice draped over a floor covered with ice so clear it looked like water.  They worked their way for about 50 yards until it narrowed to a crawlway.

North of that point, they found a high cinder cone whose sides were terraced with mountain sheep trails.  They stood out so prominently that they called it Sheep Trail Mount.  In climbing to the top to triangulate their position, they found it had a double crater, or rather a crater within a crater.  The sides of the crater were banded with rings of green and yellow.  That was the only Sulphur deposit found on the trip.  About 200 yards to the north was another large crater, 300 yards wide and 150 or 200 feet deep.  About 100 yards northwest of the north rim of that crater they found a blowout cone, with a throat 10 feet wide and 15 feet long, that went down 30 feet before branching off.  The north wall had a sort of lava oven about 10 feet high and hollow.  Fifteen feet north of the oven was the rim of another crater blowout, 100 feet across and 150 feet deep.  Fifty yards from the edge of that were nine small blowout craters.  After leaving that scene, their trail laid along a series of cinder cones for almost seven miles, each with a depression in its top.  The night they reached the point marked Echo Crater Cole’s feet had become so badly blistered that the pain of walking was almost unendurable.  The dog was in terrible shape as well.  They planned to camp for several days while the author worked out alone.  When morning came, Cole’s feet had swollen.  He stayed in camp and soaked his feet.  The author set out to meet Era Martin and Wes Watson, who were waiting to come back with then from the north end.  The author made the round trip of 28 miles, getting back by dark.  He carried only a gun, camera, and canteen.  It was on that trip that he had a rather odd experience.  He noticed a hole, 15 feet wide and 10 feet deep, caused by the cave-in of the roof of some underground passage.  He looked down and saw a mountain sheep’s skeleton with the horns in good condition.  He jumped in, looked over the horns, and then could not get out!

Sitting on one of the rocks that littered the floor, he rested and thought.  After a time, by rolling and lifting some of those rocks into a pile at one end, he had a mound from which he could easily reach the rim and draw himself out.  Echo Crater was one of the most beautiful in that region.  It is 700 feet deep and was one of the few craters having a growth of timber on its sides and bottom.  It was an ideal camping place and they camped near the west wall.  The acoustic properties of the site were most unusual.  The west wall produced echoes while the east wall did not.  About a quarter of a mile east of Echo Crater was the ice cave discovered on the trip the year before.  The cave was at the bottom of a pit 100 feet long and 30 feet deep.  The floor was a conglomerate of huge lava blocks.  These and the walls were encrusted with about two inches of ice as clear as glass.  There were many ice stalactites, and in spots, there were ice stalagmites building up to meet them.  Forty-five feet from the entrance, the tunnel narrowed and inclined downward.  It was unsafe to go any farther.  During the month of August, on a subsequent trip, the author visited the cave and found the cave bottom full of ice, but no icicles or ice on the walls.  At the south end of the pit, they noted another cave, which had about three feet of water over a stratum of ice.  That went off into still another cave of unguessed dimensions.  The author noticed several mourning doves flying about.  By following them with binoculars, he saw them drop down into a blowout.  It was hot that afternoon in August.  When they reached the bottom of the blowout, they were surprises that the water was ice cold.  By lining flights of doves, four other water holes were located, all as cold as the first.  On the north rim of a big sink, about 50 feet from the edge were the remains of a perfect lava geyser built up 5 feet.  The sink itself was 400 yards wide and 150 feet deep.  They named it the Big Devil.  Just north of it was a series of six smaller sinks.  They call the row the Seven Devils.

The morning after they had explored that section it was foggy.  After an hour of aimless travel, they decided to go back to camp.  It was the first time in the author’s life that he had been lost.  They got their bearings from some rocks they had passed.  About a half mile northwest of the northern end of the Seven Devils they came upon a large cinder flat a mile long and a half mile wide.  There they encountered another strange feature of that land.  Thet noticed a series of light-brown dots extending in lines crisscrossing the flats.  They were old bear tracks, into which the wind had carried seeds that had taken root and exactly filled the tracks.  It was a small grayish plant about one and a half inches high, a pigmy variety of the buckwheat family.  In a few places wild rye grass had taken root and was crowding the smaller plant out.  We called that place Bear Track Flats.  Adjoining Bear Track Flats on the north was a similar one having features all its own – more than 100 blowholes and fumaroles.  From their camp in Echo Crater, they made an excursion for nine miles out into a lava flow some 20 miles wide extending to the east.  Most of the flow had a pahoehoe surface.  [See: “The Hawaiian Islands,” February 1924, National Geographic Magazine.]  In places there were ridge after ridge and fold upon fold, with crevasses and cracks.  About four miles from Echo Crater, they came to a large black hole.  Climbing down, they entered a lava stalactite cave, each stalactite from 2 to 7 inches long and covered in moss.  They went about 75 feet.  A short distance from that they reached a second moss cave, extending to the east.  Farther on, they found another cave, with fresh bear tracks.  They went in.  About 20 feet in, the cave forked, one branch went west, the other northwest.  They entered each about 100 feet, until they narrowed down, making it necessary to crawl.  About 100 yards from the entrance to that cave, at the base of a cliff facing south, they discovered the entrance to a cave leading northwest.  It also contained bear tracks.

East of the bear caves, they came upon a natural bridge of lava arching a point where two cliffs of lava narrowed down.  It had a 50-foot span and the arch was 18 feet.  Its width was 75 feet.  There was a pine tree growing under the east entrance.  A member of the party bumped his head on the roof near the edge, so they laughingly called it the Bridge of Tears.  East of the Bridge of Tears they came to the entrance of what they afterwards decided to call amphitheater Cave.  Climbing down, they found themselves on the east side of a room some 40 feet wide and 60 feet long with a domed ceiling 20 feet high.  At the top of the dome the roof had caved in, leaving a circular skylight 6 inches in diameter.  Behind some rocks, the tunnel led away to the southeast.  They walked and crawled between a quarter and a half mile.  The coloring of those caves was red, brown, and black, with splashes of white.  While proceeding east, the author and Martin left the others to climb to a low mound in the flow.  From that vantage point they could see a lake a half a mile long and, to the south of it, a grove of willows and cottonwoods.  They decided to walk to another elevation a mile and a half farther along, where they could look down on the basin.  When they got there, the lake appeared to still be three miles off, when suddenly lake, trees, and all floated away and disappeared in the distance.  They had been victims of a mirage.  A short distance northwest of Trench Mortar Flat lied the highest of the cinder cones in that region, known as Big Cinder Butte.  As it stood in 1924, it was about half its size before the explosion blew off its top and its southwest side.  From the summit they looked south over the country they had traversed, tracing their course through the maze of lava and cinder cones.  Below them they counted six distinct lava flows, each comparatively fresh.  To the north were many sputter cones and the shadowy outlines of craters deeper and larger than they had passed.

Two miles northwest of Big Cinder Butte, they came to a row of seen lava sputter cones caused by molten lava which had been thrown out of the vent, piling up to a height of 60 feet.  The southern one was the first climbed.  Imagine finding a hole 15 feet in diameter and bottomless, so far as they could judge.  It went down 40 feet, then narrowed, after which it opened, giving the crater the shape of an hourglass.  Large rocks rolled in were never heard to strike bottom.  They called it the Bottomless Pit.  Nearby, a volcanic throat about 30 feet in diameter and 60 feet deep was found, full of snow and ice.  From the sides hung large clots of lava.  A short way from that was the entrance to the narrow tunnel of another cave.  In the vicinity there were seven lava cones in a row, three of them in a state of perfect preservation.  In climbing a high ridge to the north, the author saw three of the largest craters in the belt, one of which was a quarter of a mile across and several hundred feet deep.  The north rim of that crater was a knife-edge, the other slope being the side of another crater, almost as wide and deep, formed by two explosions which caused a double depression in the bottom.  One contained a small lake.  They called it Crater Lake and the crater, Tycho, after the large crater on the moon.  Stretching to the southwest for 11 miles they saw one of the most remarkable lava flows in the world.  Its color was a deep cobalt blue, with generally a high gloss.  The U. S. Geological Survey called it the Blue Dragon Flow.  About a mile to the north of Crater Lake was an immense cinder cone, the west side of which had breached away leaving the floor of the crater as it appeared when it erupted.  There were bubbles, rolls, folds, and twists, as if a giant frying pan of thick gravy furiously boiling had been frozen instantaneously.  That flow had broken out and traveled northwest for several hundred yards, and then, being dammed up, had broken through a low place in the cinder ridge and gone east.

About two miles southwest of Big Cinder Butte was a flow with similar formations.  Along the north side of the Ruined Pueblo flow were 14 mounds composed of rock and sagebrush, which Indians had built.  Three well-worn Indian trails came into that belt from the north.  One went in about six miles west of Martin, near the sinks of a lost stream known as Little Cottonwood.  The trail was distinct for about 11 miles, and then faded; yet they found traces of it all the way across.  Where those trails went and why, no one knew.  Northward, a mile from the Ruined Pueblo flow, were a few more low cinder cones like those they had passed.  Puzzling features along the west side of that volcanic belt were the many dead, charred trees growing in a cinder flat barren of vegetation of any kind.  In appearance the flows seemed as if they had occurred yesterday, but the latest probably occurred about 150 to 200 years prior, around the time of the eruption of Buffalo Hump, in Idaho County, Idaho, in 1866.  The total area of the six young lava flows of that region was about 300 square miles, while that extending above and below that point, along the Snake River plains, reached 27,000 square miles.  A report prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey suggested to the National Parks Service that an area of 39 square miles be set aside as the “Craters of the Moon National Monument.”  In that area occurred a fissure eruption displaying surface phenomena which were paralleled only by those in Iceland.


At the bottom of the last page of the third article in this issue (Page 328) there is a notice regarding change of address.  If a member wanted the magazine to be mailed somewhere else, the Society needed a month’s notice in advance, starting on the first of the month.  If a member wanted the May issue redirected, the Society needed to know by April first.


The fourth and final article in this month’s issue is entitled “Australia’s Wild Wonderland” and was written by M. P. Greenwood Adams.  The article contains thirty-six black-and-white photographs (eight full-page in size) taken by William Jackson, Nor’ West Scientific Expedition of Western Australia.  The article also contains a sketch map of the Northwestern Coast of Australia with an inset of the entire country on page 332.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Eleven million dollars’ worth of mother-of-pearl shell and three million dollars’ worth of pearls were taken, in a ten-year period, from the waters of the Indian Ocean which lapped the shores of Western Australia.  Pearl fishers, with their Asiatic crews and divers, scoured the coast for 1,100 miles, from Sharks Bay to the north of King Sound.  Their activities dated back to the early (eighteen-)fifties.  Western Australia produced more than three-fourths of the world’s pearl shell.  The principal center of the industry was Broome, a township of some 4,000 Asians and a few hundred whites.  The Asians were employed in the pearl fishing under a special clause in the White Australia Act, which otherwise excluded the entrance of all colored peoples into the Commonwealth.  Fifty years prior, there was not a single European settlement in that vast section of Australia, and even now [in 1924], the population was less than 7,000 souls, excluding aborigines.  From 1628, the northwest coast was visited by many bold mariners, including DeWitt and William Dampier, but it was not until 1837 that the first definitive attempt at exploration was undertaken by Captain George Grey.  The first pastoral settlement in the Roebuck Bay district was established in 1863.  In 1882, Sir John Forrest made an investigation in that division; and shortly afterward, Hall and Slattery discovered gold at Hall’s Creek.  Then, definite settlement of that great tract of country really began.  It was in Broome that the Nor’West Scientific and Exploration Company of Perth, Western Australia, chartered the 22-ton schooner, Culwulla, and secured the services of Captain Johnson for the purpose of investigating the northwest coast from Broome to Wyndham, the small township at the head of the Cambridge Gulf.  The little party of explorers sailed at daylight one morning in May.  A run of 90 miles along the coast brought them to Ledge Point, where a visit was made to Beagle Bay Mission Station.  The station consisted of 60 buildings scattered over 30 acres.

North of Beagle Bay was Chilli Creek, where there was a 28-foot tide.  At the ebb, water receded nearly seven miles.  Under the mangrove trees which fringed the coast there were millions of crabs.  Some were bright blue, others scarlet – all about the size of a 50-cent piece – while larger crabs, three inches long and yellow in color, swarmed over the sand.  The fisheries wealth of this coast was remarkable, every inlet and river teeming with valuable edible fish.  At Tyra Island, which was reached through wild and swirling tides, a Frenchman had lived among the blacks for more than 30 years.  He owned a lugger, lived in a bark hut, and had a retinue of some 50 blacks – men, women, and children.  At the entrance to King’s Sound, there was a group of islands known as the Buccaneer Archipelago.  On Sunday Island, one of that group, Sydney Hadley had a mission station, where he utilized the black women for collecting the trochus shells, which he shipped away.  It was from the trochus shells that pearl buttons were made – an industry carried on in France and Japan.  North from the Sound lied the “Graveyard,” where tiny islands and dangerous reefs were sprinkled all over the sea.  Captain Johnson took the schooner through the Graveyard and passed safely to the trickier Whirlpool Pass.  At times, that pass was quite unnavigable.  Its banks were more than 400 feet high in places, very rocky, and ran sheer down.  The rise and fall of the tide there was 35 feet.  At Dugong Bay, an inlet in Collier Bay, several sea cows, or dugong, were captured.  The dugong industry was being rapidly developed in the State of Queensland and was proving a most important asset.  Butcher Island provided another illustration of the power of the tides on the northwest coast, as fifty miles inland the rise and fall was 18 feet, while at the entrance the fluctuation was 30 feet.  It was near there that the Charnley River poured out its waters.  A run up that stream provided plenty of excitement, as here and there great mud-covered crocodiles, with which the waters swarmed, slide down the banks.

The country was timbered and ranges of hills nearly enclosed the river.  At almost any point on the coast, dugong could be speared, while a sailfish was captured.  It was beautifully colored and measured 8 feet in length.  Another strange creature was the sucker fish, or shark sucker, which clung to larger fish solely for the purpose of “stealing a ride.”  Montgomery Island was one of several small bits of land dotting among the dangerous coral reefs which strewed the coast for miles north of Butcher Inlet.  One reef had an area of 20 square miles and was completely covered at high tide, but when the turn came, the sea rushed from the reef like a waterfall, leaving it high and dry.  On the adjacent Montgomery Island, the blacks were noted for the way they ornament their bodies by means of cicatrices.  Their markings were said to be the most unusual in Australia.  The skin was cut with a sharp shell, then mud and salt water were rubbed into the wound.  Tribal marks were made thus, and each man carried his visiting card on his body.  Some excellent pioneer work was accomplished at Port George Mission; they had produced a veritable Garden of Eden, with tropical fruits, flowers, and vegetables.  They had many goats and fowls.  Sea snakes were frequently seen curled up asleep on the surface of the water.  Those reptiles were poisonous and grew to about 12 feet in length.  The run from Admiralty Gulf to Napier Broome Bay was full of navigation difficulties, since many reefs and small islands abounded.  At Long Island, several wild men were induced to come aboard the schooner.  They were very tall and wore no clothes whatsoever, their only adornment being well-defined tribal markings and long chin whiskers.  Later, when nearly all hand went ashore, the attitude of the Long Islanders changed from one of friendliness to threatening hostility.  The Sunday Island boys explained that that change took place because their offer of women was neither appreciated nor accepted.

On the shores of Napier Broome Bay there was a small mission station, founded 20 years prior by Spaniards of the same order which founded Beagle Bay Station.  Rice, tobacco, sugar, and tropical fruits were grown with success by the four Brothers.  The Brothers were often attacked by hostile blacks, and two of them bore spear wounds received in those encounters.  Wild dogs – dingoes – also troubled the little settlement.  Several great stingrays and shovel-nosed sharks were speared in the shallow waters of the bay.  Stingrays reached a weight of 600 pounds, while sharks on that coast often attained a length of 30 feet.  In Cambridge Gulf, a small uninhabited island, known as Lacrosse, was the home of giant turtles.  At the head of gulf lied Wyndham, the port for the great cattle country of the hinterland.  From Wyndham the ranches were served by camel trains, which carried supplies for hundreds of miles into the interior.  The camels were driven by Afghans.  Camel teams were familiar sights in the little township, hauling in great wagonloads of firewood from the outlying district.  Wyndham was a typical Australian outback town – it boasted a hotel, hospital, butcher’s shop, several stores, post office, and savings bank.  The Western Australia Government had built a fine refrigerating plant there.  The Forrest River flowed into Cambridge Gulf.  Unlike many tribes to the south, who threw their spears like javelins, the Forrest River men used a throwing-stick, or lever, known as a womerah.  A good spear-thrower could hurl the weapon as many yards as he could throw it in feet when hurling it javelin-fashion.  That tribe had never seen a boomerang, not all blacks used them.  The trip from Broome to Wyndham and return required six months.  The expedition obtained much valuable information regarding pastoral, fisheries, timber, and mineral wealth of that wonderland of the State.  William Jackson secured the first comprehensive pictorial record by means of the “movie” and still cameras.


At the bottom of the last page of the last article, page 356, the is a notice boldly entitled “IMPORTANT NOTICE TO MEMBERS.”  The text reads: “Those authorized to secure detailed information and photographs in the name of the National Geographic Society and its Magazine are supplied with official credentials in the form of letters specifying the object in view.  Upon presentation of such identification, the fullest co-operation is respectfully requested.  This notice to members is necessary, unfortunately, because of the fraudulent operations of persons claiming official connection with The Society or the Magazine.  All membership fees should be made payable to the National Geographic Society.”



Tom Wilson

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On August 2, 2017, my wife and I were in the midst of our Eclipse/National Parks Expedition.  On that day we stopped by the Craters of the Moon National Park, the one explored in this issue.  Here are a few photos from the experience.

Yours in collecting,

Tom Wilson



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