CHAPTER VII. THE MIRAGE—A CITY NOT BUILT WITH HANDS...


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THE MIRAGE—A CITY NOT BUILT WITH HANDS—ONWARD FROM GILA—THE SAGUARA—THE STURDY SENTINEL OF THE PLAIN THE MESQUITE—THE PALO-VERDE—A DESERT RIFE WITH GROWTH.

IT was just past noon. The nearest elevation was the Montezuma Mountain, jutting up from the level sandy plain which everywhere surrounded us, To our left, over the endless sandy loam covered with a stunted growth of grass weed, mesquite and cacti, we looked out upon what seemed to be the ocean's deep with a sandy beach. To the left down the shore was ‘‘round tower’’ and a fortress extending out into the sea. Above was a round turretted building, massive, with ships anchored near it, and others approaching.

Between the two a line of ships, with silver sails were coursing along the shore, while lower down again, and off the great fort, came slowly up a ponderous


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man-of-war with its broadsides to, flying the American flag. Beyond, out on the mighty deep, rose an island profusely decorated with houses, castles, churches, whose spires lifted their lofty heads well into the silver clouds that floated above, and the whole capped by a huge white cloud. On the shore numerous persons could be indistinctly seen gliding phantom-like to and fro. This was the great picture painted on this canvas of Nature's immense firmament by the great Natural Painter.

Never had I witnessed such a system of looming. Hardly had we feasted our soul's desire on this charming picture of nature, than nature despoiled our dreamy gaze only to throw us into a renewed ecstacy by a transformation. Castles were converted into farm houses with orchards and meadowed lawns. Ships were converted into palaces, and launched upon some islands on the sea which had now changed into a charming crystal lake, with borders of forest and evergreen trees. Men were transformed into roaming beasts, or lifted into the air by aid of soaring wings. Phantom-like, ships would rise from the water's edge and gracefully glide on some new sheet of water formed in mid-air, or upon some floating sheets of ice, as if in


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[From Hinton's Handbook to Arizona.] VALLEY OF SANTA CRUZ FROM SANTA RITAS.


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Arctic explorations. Cities would float before you in distant mid-air, in lofty grandeur; and regiments of soldiers, and palm tree's, and plants of distant climes, and ancient castles and Indian huts; and lakes and rivers aud mountains would dot here and there the whole, making up this picture of super-human grandeur and beauty. You look upon the mist before you, watching each transformation as eagerly as the boy at his first panorama, until your imagination is unwittingly taken possession of and you labor under the phantasm that you are beholding a charming Fatamorgana on the straits of Messina in Italy: and like that boy, you are for the time lost to all the outside world. Then in an instant a thin gauze is dropped over this phantom spectre, and it begins to fade gently, until this panorama has faded into oblivion, and your eye again stretches over the great plains of Arizona until it is lost.

You spur your mules or asses on, take a sandwich from the bottom of the wagon and then begin the controversy concerning your opinions and delights of the vision just passed, which is the chief topic the rest of the day.

Onward east from the station Gila—we cannot call


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it much else—and along the river of the same name, one is attracted by the broad expanse of the valley; and subsequently when he investigates further into the interests—into the fertility and characteristics of this great arroya, he is amazed at his own credulity of its future resources. The Gila valley resembles very much the valley of the river Nile. Alex. H. Wilden, Esq., who was one of our party, a venerable gentleman and an extensive traveler, nick-named it the American Nile. The properties of its soil like those of the great Columbia and Umpqua Rivers of Oregon and Washington Territories, and the famous Sacramento River of California, are fast becoming a leading consideration for all those giving their attention to the coast. Here is a valley which has been, for centuries back, as far at least as the fourteenth century, when the Aztecs were in their prime (and perhaps further, as but very few evidences suggest that they cultivated it to any extent) that has been, I say, serving as a collossal receptacle for a vast rich deposit of the decompositions of the surrounding mountains, which has been carried and swept into it by the rains and winds. Professor Atkinson has accounted for the luxuriant growths of the wonderful Walla Walla and Umpqua valleys, by


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certain mineral deposits from the mountains. He says:—

‘‘“The volcanic overflows, traceable in the Cascade mountains, that formed on cooling their basaltdykes and cliffs, with their peculiar columnar crystallization, added much to the soil. Immense quantities of volcanic ashes doubtless were blown by winds or carried by streams into those ancient lakes, giving like valuable deposits.”’’

‘‘These deposits’’ he continues further, ‘‘“consist of potash, soda, lime, magnesia, and phosphoric and silicia acids.”’’ All of these constituents abound largely in the Gila valley lands—the proportions varying with the location.

We give below a table of analyzed mud taken from the Colorado River:

As you go east, the evidences of rich vegetable


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properties show themselves in the prolific growth of grasses abundant on every hand, and the nutrition of those in the interior as you approach the mountain ranges of the West, attest the richness of the soil. The famous gramma grass which is abundant in the interior, is a valuable pasture for cattle and sheep. The bunch grasses, all of which are very nutritious, that abound, are also evidences of fertile soil. Besides these, there is a prolific growth of shrub or under trees. The palo-verde is an evergreen and leafless tree, which varies in height from a good-sized bush to a large apple tree. It is described by a writer as a beautiful tree; I should rather term it an interesting one. Being odd and curious it attracts one's attention until in its strange contrast one is apt to call it beautiful. Criss-crossing each other at irregular angles, the branches of these trees, straight or slightly curved, form a curious network. They resemble somewhat the willow stalk shorn of all its leaves. Not a leaf of any kind adorns this gracefully rigid tree. Where the leaves should be, is the same barren stem or stalk jutting out from the petiole or branch, a facsimile of the petiole itself: in short, a tree in which the stem (or trunk), the branch, the petiole and the leaf, are all


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facsimile productions of one and the same thing, decreasing in size until the leaf is simply a perfect semblance of a huge thorn, or as though the mid-rib of the leaf had been pushed out—nature forgetting to supply it with its veins and flesh. The whole structure is a curious and interesting study in itself.

These peculiar growths of the deserts of Arizona are one of the leading features of interest to the traveler. The innumerable cacti, the palo-verde, the deer bush, a squad of branches shooting up from a common centre and resembling somewhat, high deer horns; and the famous and productive mesquite tree cover the desert. Of the innumerable cacti, we will simply refer to the one great species confronting you everywhere in this great cacti Territory—the Saguara. These specimens will often grow a straight, upright stalk to the height of fifty feet; a stiff mass of green pulp and frame work, with a most beautiful system of net work resembling crocheting with spangled stars, and with prongs and coloring matter running through the whole length of the structure. As a support to these immense giant structures against the storms and hurricanes of the desert, nature has furnished a frame of immense strength, consisting of series of stalks of


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hard wood running from the root to the top forming a perpendicular cylinder in its course. In the hollow of this cylinder there is contained a vast quantity of milky substance, upon the principle of the milk of the cocoanut, often amounting to many gallons. This has often served as a life-preserving element to the traveler over these deserts. Many a pioneer's life has been saved by these ‘‘useless growths’’ as some have been wont to call the cacti. Besides this, the wood of the frame being strong and tough, has often served too, to furnish material for The building of many a miner's or ranchman's house. The strips of wood resemble, very much hickory and oak and I have seen whole towns in Arizona, where the roof, sides and partitions of the house were built of this material, provided there was not more than one house in the town, and the occupants did not expect to stay more than six months or a year. (People must get an idea of what the word ‘‘town’’ means in Arizona.) What we would convey is, that this material is very useful in building temporary abodes; and in the absence of the larger timber, as is almost the universal rule in Arizona. The Saguara is another species of the cacti family, which contradicts the too often applied


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THE PROPOSED HOTEL AND PLAZA AT CALABASAS, IN THE SANTA CRUZ VALLEY, NOW BEING CONSTRUCTED BY COL. C. P. SYKES, ON HIS GROUNDS.


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epithet of ‘‘uselessness,’’ and is verifying the more rational proverb that ‘‘there is good in all things.’’ In relation to this we might pertinently refer to the cacti of the great Mojavé desert in California, properly known as the Tucca Palm. Here is a strip of land averaging in the aggregate three hundred by four hundred miles each way, in length lying obliquely southeast and northwest. The main area is profusely covered with the Tucca Palm. For miles and miles, and for hours, the train rushes through this orchard of cacti; and to all appearances, it is the very embodiment of an orchard laid out upon a large scale (each tree averaging about the size of a peach tree) except than being laid out in rows they are scattered promiscuously over the land; but at such regular distances from each other that the whole forms a pleasing symmetry. The tree is a unique, interesting structure. It is composed of a trunk averaging a half to three quarters of a foot in diameter with only a limited number of heavy stalky branches jutting from or near the top, and on the end of which protrudes a huge, round ball (or oblong speroid) gracefully beset with porcupine-like thorns. For years and years, and for aught we know for centuries, this product has faced


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the hurricanes, tornadoes, sand storms, and drouths of the desert, stretching their sway over an area greater than the States of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, and baffling the enterprise of men of science to use them, until within the past few years, since when, a company has been formed for the purpose of converting the Tucca Palm into paper. It produces a fine quality of paper in almost every grade; is found to be suitable for any purpose, and is consequently finding a ready market. One enterprising house in San Francisco, contracted, (after testing specimens, and but a short time after the establishing of the company) for all the company could make; and we learn now that several newspapers in San Francisco are being printed upon it. Thus we see, there is ‘‘good in all things;’’ and we will concede that the great army of Saguaro that have been for ages—perhaps since the world was created—holding sovereign sway over the deserts of the Territory, will at some time serve a more hospitable and genial misson to man than is now accredited to it.

So our travels through this land of the cacti is, as every one's must be, essentially through deserts, until


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the industry and civilization of man turn mountains into mole-hills, and heaps of sand into the river, to get at the valuable (not filthy) lucre that lives in its very bowels.

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