Deep in the interior of the American Continent –
More than a thousand miles from the
Shores of any sea – lies our scene.
Climb with me yonder mountain, and let
Us look from its summit of snow.
We have reached its highest ridge. What
Do we behold?
On the north, a chaos of mountains, that
Continues on through thirty parallels to the
Shores of the Arctic Sea! On the south, the
Same mountains, – here running in separate
Sierras, and there knotting with each other.
On the west, mountains again, profiled along
The sky, and alternating with broad tables
That stretch between their bases.
Now turn we around, and look eastward.
Not a mountain to be seen! Far as the eye
Can reach, and a thousand miles farther, not
A mountain. Yonder dark line rising above
The plain is but the rocky brow of another
Plain – a steppe of higher elevation.
Where are we?
On what summit are we
Standing? On the Sierra Blanca, known to
The hunter as the “Spanish Peaks.” We
Are upon the western rim of the Grand
Looking eastward, the eye discovers no
Signs of civilisation. There are none within
A month’s journeying. North and south, –
Westward, it is different. Through the telescope
We can see cultivated fields afar off, –
A mere strip along the banks of a shining river.
Those are the settlements of Nuevo Mexico,
An oasis irrigated by the Rio Del Norte. The
Scene of our story lies not there.
Face once more to the eastward, and you
Have it before you. The mountain upon which
We stand has its base upon a level plain that
Expands far to the east. There are no foothills.
The plain and the mountain touch, and
At a single step you pass from the naked turf
Of the one to the rocky and pine-clad declivities
Of the other.
The aspect of the plain is varied. In
Some places it is green, where the gramma
Grass has formed a sward; but in most parts
It is sterile as the Saara. Here it appears
Brown, where the sun-parched earth is bare;
There it is of a sandy, yellowish hue; and
Yonder the salt effervescence renders it as
White as the snow upon which we stand.
The scant vegetation clothes it not in a
Livery of verdure. The leaves of the agave are
Mottled with scarlet, and the dull green of
The cactus is still further obscured by its
Thickly-set spines. The blades of the yuccas
Are dimmed by dust, and resemble clusters of
Half-rusty bayonets; and the low scrubby
Copses of acacia scarce offer a shade to the
Dusky agama and the ground rattlesnake.
Here and there a solitary palmetto, with
Branchless stem and tufted crown, gives an
African aspect to the scene. The eye soon
Tires of a landscape where every object appears
Angular and thorny; and upon this plain, not
Only are the trees of that character, but the
Plants, – even the very grass carries its
With what sensations of pleasure we
Turn to gaze into a lovely valley, trending
Eastward from the base of the mountain!
What a contrast to the arid plain! Its surface
Is covered with a carpet of bright green,
Enamelled by flowers that gleam like manycoloured
Gems; while the cotton-wood, the
Wild china-tree, the live-oak, and the willow,
Mingle their foliage in soft shady groves, that
Seem to invite us. Let us descend!
We have reached the plain, yet the valley
Is still far beneath us – a thousand feet at the
Least – but, from a promontory of the bluff,
Projecting over it, we command a view of
Its entire surface to the distance of many
Miles. It is a level, like the plain above;