Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  9 (1884–85), 687–700.

Along the Rio Grande

Sylvester Baxter


Essay, Travelogue

Relevant illustrations:

eng. [8]


Physical Geography, Railways, Pollution, Mining, Geology, Imperialism, Agriculture

    Recounts a journey following the 'nearly meridional' course of the Rio Grande del Norte, observing that the 'un-American looking things' of this once 'very remote' region have now been brought within easy reach of the 'tourist' by the 'Pacific express' railway (687), which has also had the effect of 'Americanizing the Mexicans' (693). The Rio Grande is often called the 'Nile of New Mexico', but unlike the 'majestic current' of its Egyptian counterpart, the 'river often becomes very attenuated' during the summer heat, although it continues to flow for many miles without any visible tributaries (687). In fact, by 'one of nature's wise provisions [...] the streams, instead of keeping in sight to be drunk by the hot sun and the dry air with its sponge-like absorptive capacity [...] flee the thirst of their rival elements and sink to safety below their gravelly beds, under whose protection they run down into the Rio Grande unmolested', and the 'streams may thus be said to run upside down, with their beds atop'. Likewise, the fierce 'cloud-bursts' of the 'rainy season' in the mountains ensure the regular flooding of the dry bed of the river in late summer, as well as tossing about 'Great boulders [...] like eggs' that are 'crushed and ground with a boom and crashing like the thunder of artillery'. (690) Comments that in some parts of the valley 'the wind has blown spray from the Galisteo against the cliffs, and the rocks are thereby encrusted with alkali, making an effect much like that where the high buildings of London in their upper stories are incrusted with salts deposited by the atmospheric gases released through the burning of such vast quantities of soft coal' (691). Also notes that the landscape of the valley is full of 'ancient lava formations' that 'cover miles and miles of surface in Titanic accumulations, which tell that there was a hot time in the country in past eras' (692). Remarks that the 'Rocky Mountains proper end at Santa Fe', and suggests that they 'might be compared to a great glacier mass pushing down from the north until it can no longer resist the hot southern sun, but breaks up into detached fragments like icebergs' (696).

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