Geography Features The Crocker Lands Mirage

About the Crocker Land Mirage in geography and history, a continent sized mirage spotted in the arctic.

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THE CROCKER LAND MIRAGE

The largest mirage on record--an entire continent--was sighted twice in the Arctic at latitude 83 deg. N and longitude 103 deg. W.

In 1906 Adm. Robert E. Peary stood on a high hill on the western shore of Grant Land, the northern area of Ellesmere Island. Looking west over the ice of the Polar Sea, he saw the "snow-clad summits" of what looked to be a far-off continent, whose presence in that forsaken, unexplored area of the world had long been part of Eskimo lore. Estimating the continent to be about 120 mi. west of Grant Land, Admiral Peary called his discovery Crocker Land. "My heart leaped the intervening miles of ice," he later wrote," as I looked longingly at this land, and in fancy, I trod its shores and climbed its summits."

Oceanographers and geographers, however, doubted Peary's discovery and claimed that Crocker Land couldn't exist. It was the same response that had been accorded Royal Navy Commander John Ross in 1818 when he reported sighting a formidable mountain range approximately 1,000 mi. from where Peary later was to make his discovery. Ross dubbed the range Croker Mountains in honor of an Admiralty secretary. An 1819 expedition led by William Parry failed to corroborate Ross's finding, and Croker Mountains were dismissed as an optical illusion. The myth lived on, however, and Admiral Peary may have had Ross's story in mind when he named the new continent Crocker Land.

In 1913 Donald MacMillan, a Peary Lieutenant who would eventually spend half a century exploring the world's poles, launched a search for Crocker Land. He reached Cape Thomas Hubbard on the northern tip of Axel Heiberg Island in 1914, and when the ice froze solid on the Polar Sea, he led his tiny expedition west. When they climbed a small mound 52 mi. off the cape, they saw the same hills, valleys, and snowcapped peaks extending through at least 120 deg. of the horizon that Peary had seen. But as they trekked westward toward Crocker Land, the peaks and valleys changed appearance. The extent of the continent varied with the sun's changes in direction, and at night when the sun hung in the northwest, Crocker Land disappeared altogether. Nonetheless, the expedition sledded on till it reached a point 156 mi. due northwest of Cape Thomas Hubbard, which theoretically put them "inland" of Crocker Land. But the continent had vanished.

MacMillan turned around, led his men back to Grant Land, and found the hill marked by Peary as the point from which he'd made his discovery. Sure enough, on the horizon stood the snowy peaks and valleys of a far-off continent. With sadness MacMillan later had to inform his friend Peary and the world that the land did not exist, that it was a mirage of the rough and rugged surfaces of the Polar Sea.

Even though what Peary had seen was a mirage, efforts still were made to discover the icy continent that had produced the illusion. During Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett's 1925--1926 flights over the Arctic, they searched in vain for Crocker Land. Ten years later, William H. Hobbs again brought up the subject in his biography of Peary. Perhaps the real Crocker Land will be found someday in polar regions yet to be explored.

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