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By the Same Author 

In and Around the Grand Canyon of the Colo- 
rado River in Arizona. Illustrated. 8vo. $2.50. 

Indians of the Painted Desert Region. Illustrated. 
Crown 8vo. $2.00 net. 

In and Out of the Old Missions of California. 

Illustrated. 8vo. $3. 00 net. 

The Story of Scraggles. Illustrated. i6mo. 

Indian Basketry. Third edition. 420 pages. 
Nearly 600 illustrations. $2.50 net. 

In and Out of the Old Missions of New Mexico, 
Arizona, Texas, and Lower California. (In 

The Influence of the Mission Style in Modern 
Architecture. ( In preparation.) 

The Wonders j 


The Colorado Desert 

(Southern California) 

Its Rivers and its Mountains, its Canyons and its Springs, 
its Life and its History, Pictured and Described 

Including an Account of a Recent Journey made down the Overflow 
of the Colorado River to the Mysterious Salton Sea 


Author of" In and Around the Grand Canyon," " The Old Missions of California, " etc. 

With upivards of Three Hundred Pen-and-ink Sketches 
from Nature, by 


Vol. I. 


Little, Brown, and Company ^^4>-^.^^ utOK 


Copyright, 1906, 
Edith E. Farnsworth. 

All rights reserved 

Published December, 1906 

Typography by Griffith-Stillings Press, Boston, U.S.A. 

u/ ■ 


■ ; 




Silent Voices have spoken, 
Peace has come, 
Joy has flowed, 
Courage has grown, 
Health been regained. 

To the SOURCE, the Maker of Deserts, with a 
thankful heart, I dedicate this book. 


Thou brown, bare-breasted, voiceless mystery, 

Hot Sphinx of nature, cactus-crowned, what hast thou done ? 

Unclothed and mute as when the groans of chaos turned 

Thy naked, burning bosom to the sun. 

The mountain silences have speech, the rivers sing; 

Thou answerest never unto anything. 

Pink-throated lizards pant in thy slim shade; 

The horned toad runs rustling in the heat; 

The shadowy, gray coyote, born afraid, 

Steals to some brackish spring and laps, and prowls 

Away, and howls, and howls, and howls, and howls, 

Until the solitude is shaken with an added loneliness. 

Thy sharp mescal shoots up a giant stalk, 

Its century of yearning, to the sunburnt skies, 

And drips rare honey from the lips 

Of yellow waxen flowers, and dies. 

Some lengthwise sun-dried shapes with feet and hands, 

And thirsty mouths pressed on the sweltering sands, 

Mark here and there a gruesome, graveless spot, 

Where some one drank thy scorching hotness, and is not. 

God must have made thee in his anger, and forgot. 

— Madge Morris Wagner. 


Volume One 

Chapter P a K e 

I. A General View of the Desert I 

II. The Physical History of the Desert 23 

III. Desert Surprises 33 

IV. The Rivers of the Desert 49 

V. The Mountains of the Desert 69 

VI. The Volcanoes of the Desert 81 

VII. Explorers and Pathfinders 87 

VIII. The Colorado River Ferry 117 

IX. Storms, Mirages, Desert Illusions, and Temperatures 123 

X. The Colors of the Desert 139 

XL Some Wild Animals of the Desert 145 

XII. Some Desert Birds 157 

XIII. Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 169 

XIV. Plant Life on the Desert 207 

XV. The Indians of the Desert 233 

XVI. The Stage Line Across the Desert 253 

XVII. Water on the Desert 263 


Volume One 
Mirage in the Desert Frontispiece 

Reproduction in color of a painting by Carl Eytel. 

Mr. Carl Eytel, the Desert Artist, Mr. Lea Van Anderson, 

and the Author's Faithful Pack-burros P Q g e xxxix 

Mr. Eytel at work on the Desert " xliii 

In the Sand-dunes on the Colorado Desert " 15 

Colorado Desert from Andreas Canyon 25 

Palms climbing the Ridges on the Colorado Desert ... 72 

Palms in the Open, Colorado Desert 96 

Tauquitch Canyon and San Jacinto Mountains near Palm 

Springs, Colorado Desert 120 

Palms in the Canyon near Indio, Colorado Desert . . . 140 

Mesquite Trees on the Colorado Desert 208 

The Ocatilla in Leaf 215 

Specimens of Cactuses 222 

Mamillaria Grahami, Mamillarta Wrightu, Mamillaria 
Pusilla var. Texana. 

Specimens of Cactuses " 224 

Echinocactus H onzonthalonicus , Mamillaria Macromens. 

Specimens of Cactuses 231 

Cereus Chloranthus, Mamillaria Tuberculosa, Cereus 

Coahuilla Indian and Granary 244 

In Thousand Palm Canyon, Colorado Desert 264 


Volume One 

Entrance to Murray Canyon Page xx 

Indian Woman carrying Palm Leaves " xxiii 

A "Well-dressed" Palm in Andreas Canyon " xxiv 

Church at Palm Springs " xxvi 

Aqueduct rounding one of the Spurs of the San Jacinto 

Range " xxviii 

Volcanic Upthrust of San Jacinto Mountains " xxxi 

Outlook from the Author's Home in Chino Canyon ... " xxxiii 

The Author's Desert Home " xxxiv 

Hot Spring where the Author bathes in Chino Canyon . " xxxv 

Saturnino, a Palm Springs Indian ' xxxviii 

Mountain-Sheep in their Haunts " xli 

Banning. Mounts San Jacinto on the Left and San 

Gorgonio on the Right " 2 

Entrance to Tauquitch, or West Canyon " 3 

Near the Mouth of Chino Canyon " 5 

The Left Wall at Entrance to Tauquitch Canyon .... 6 

The Ancient Beach Line near Torres 8 

The Fierce Winds tear the Sand away from the Roots . . " II 

In the Canyon of Five Hundred Palms " 12 

Sand-hills at Rimlon " 14 

Prickly Pear " 16 

Freaks of Erosion in the Yuha Country " ij 

Picacho Peak and Ocatilla 19 

A Yuma Indian building his House 21 

Arrow-heads 22 

The San Gorgonio Pass 25 

Salton Sea by Moonlight 31 

Palms in the Foot-hills near Indio 34 

A Lone Palm in Andreas Canyon " 36 



Yuma Woman 

The Smoke Tree (Dalea spinosa) 

An Artesian Well on the Desert 

Chuckwalla with Banded Tail 


Desert Tortoise, side view 

Horned Toad {Phrynosoma platyrhino) 

An Indian "Kish" with Granary on Roof 

Idyllwild, in San Jacinto Mountains 

The Author's Boat 

Yuma Indian using Metate 

Colorado River below Needles Bridge 

The San Bernardino Mountains 

A Glimpse of San Jacinto Peak 

In the West Fork of Palm Canyon 

The San Bernardino Mountains 

A Side Gorge on San Jacinto Mountains 

Bats' Caves near Durmid 

Mount San Jacinto from Whitewater 

Ravine near Mud Volcanoes 

Approaching the Mud Volcanoes 

The Seething Caldron of Boiling Mud and Quicksand 
Built-up Cone of one of the Aiud Volcanoes .... 

Juan Segondo at Torres 

Pounding Mesquite Beans 

Padre Garces at his Camp-fire . . . , 

Rafael Amador's Ride 

The Weary March of Kearney's Soldiers , 

The San Felipe Pass 

A Desert-worn Animal 

He was found dying, and near by his Mule, dead . . 

The Way the Pioneers crossed the Desert , 

View of the Desert from the "Hidden Lake" Trail . 
Canyon on the Colorado River above Yuma .... 

The Colorado River near Picacho 

Railway Bridge and Steamer at Yuma 

A Settler's Home on the Desert 



Moving Sand-hills near Indian Well Pa 

A Wind-storm in the Desert 

Part of the Great Sand-hills 

A Desert Graveyard 

Mirage. Inverted Mountains in the Sky 

A Desert Mirage 

Pack-burros on the Desert 

Group of Palms on the Desert 

A Large Palm Group in Palm Canyon 

A Coahuilla Basket of Beautiful Natural Colors .... 

On the Trail to San Gorgonio Mountain 

Mountain Lion 

"Just about to leap upon my Unconscious Friend" . . . 

Mountain Lion 

Mountain Lion watching his Prey 

Mountain Lion asleep 

Desert Wildcat 

American Deer 

Don Coyote 

A Dim, Shadowy Figure 

A Mere Outline 

Humming-bird and Nest 


Eagle eating Bird 

The Elf-owl 



Road-runner sunning himself 

Blue Heron 

Flying Herons 

Brown Eagle 


A Quiet and Cool Retreat in Andreas Canyon 

A Desert Rattlesnake 

Tiger Rattlesnake 

A Traveling Rattlesnake 


xvi Illustrations 

Open Mouth of Sidewinder P a g e 1 75 

Diagram showing Rattlesnake's Fangs and Poison Glands 177 

Gila Monster 180 

Chuckwalla " 182 

Chuckwalla " 184 

My Chuckwalla showing Fight " 186 

Burnett's Alligator Lizard " 188 

Small Desert Sand Lizard " 189 

The Banded Gekho Lizard " 190 

Horned Toad " 191 

Horned Toad 192 

Desert Tortoise, top view 195 

Desert Tortoise, bottom view " 196 

Scorpions " 198 

Centipede " 199 

Tarantulas " 200 

Tarantula " 201 

Tarantula Hawk " 202 

The Dinapate wrightii, the large Beetle found in the Desert 

Palms " 203 

The Dinapate wrightii, top view " 205 

Gila Monster 206 

Wild Heliotrope " 208 

"Hen and Chickens" 209 

Gum Plant " 211 

Desert Thistle Poppy " 212 

A Group of Old Mesquites " 213 

The Mesquite " 214 

Ocatilla, or the Devil's Claw " 215 

The Screw-bean Mesquite 216 

False Tidytips 217 

Sprigs of the Creosote Bush 218 

Sunshine 219 

Queen of the Night Cactus 220 

Pentachceta aura 222 

Tidytips " 223 

Blue-and-white Lupin 225 

Illustrations xvii 

The Creosote Bush P a g e 226 

Blue Larkspur " 227 

Tarweed " 229 

Ehia " 230 

Evolution of Indian Dwellings " 232 

"Salesladies" " 234 

Indian Dogs " 234 

Cocopah Indians, near Calexico " 235 

Potrero Indian Reservation at Banning " 236 

Granaries at Torres " 236 

Old Indian Well " 237 

Indian Boy on Horseback 238 

A Coahuilla Basket " 239 

Indian Pony " 240 

Indian Horse " 241 

Indian Burro 242 

Indian Granary " 242 

Brush Shelter 243 

Evolution of Indian Dwellings " 243 

A Coahuilla Squaw " 245 

Indian Dogs " 246 

Indian Chicken House " 247 

Indian Horses 248 

Corral at Martinez " 250 

Watering Place at Torres " 251 

Indian Baskets " 252 

An Early-day Stage-coach " 254 

An abandoned Light Stage for Swift Work " 257 

Later-day Stage-coach 259 

Modern Visitors on the Desert " 260 

Old Stage-station at Vallecito " 262 

An Ancient Indian Well 264 

Our Canteens " 266 

The Modern Artesian Well " 268 

Mexican hauling Water at Mexicali " 270 

xviii Illustrations 


Plan of the Rio Colorado P°g e xxvii 

The Colorado Desert Facing page I 

Mouth of the Colorado River P°g e 53 


HAT is a desert ? Does any one know ? The 
dictionary says it is "a deserted place or re- 
gion; a waste; a wilderness; or, specifically, 

g^glj in geology, a region of considerable extent 
• which is almost if not quite destitute of vege- 
tation, and hence uninhabited, chiefly on 
account of an insufficient supply of rain." 

This, doubtless, is an accurate definition, yet all of the region 
described in these pages, though commonly included in the 
boundaries of the Colorado Desert, by no means comes under 
so rigid a description. 

Indeed, in actual fact, there are no such regions known upon 
our earth; for the Great Sahara, the desert of all known deserts, 
which covers an area of 3,500,000 square miles, "though dis- 
tinguished by aridity of climate, scarcity of running water, dry- 
ness of atmosphere, and a comparative paucity of vegetable and 
animal life, has rainfall, streamways, vegetation, and diversity 
of configuration." Furthermore, far from being uninhabited, it 
has a population of 2,500,000 people, or an average of seven- 
tenths of one person to the square mile. 

Few people, even those who live within a few miles of the 
desert, have any right understanding of what it is. The popular 
conception is that a desert is all sand, — barren, desolate, un- 
fruitful, shifting sands, where the heat is frightful and where 
nothing can live save horned toads, lizards, snakes, chuckwallas, 
and gila monsters. This is far from the truth. Read the fol- 
lowing descriptions of the mountains. This is all desert region, 
except on the higher parts of the snow and tree clad San Jacinto 
and San Bernardino ranges. Read the account of the flowers 
seen between Mecca and the Brooklyn Mine in April, 1906. 


xx Introductory 

Yet this is all desert. In a month after April the flowers were 
practically gone, and some years few flowers are to be seen. 

In the year 1905 twenty-two inches of rain fell on one part 
of the Colorado Desert. Such is the desolation, the treelessness, 
the "soil-lessness'' of the region that in a few hours after a 
rain, that would be productive of great good for weeks in a well- 
wooded and good-soiled country, scarcely a trace remains. The 
water sinks out of sight to be lost in the shattered rock strata, 
or even where there is sand there is no solid rock or clay sub- 
stratum to make water-pockets, so that the water rapidly seeps 
away. In places the slope of the country and the lack of soil 

Entrance to Murray Canyon 

and verdure allow the water to flow rapidly and uninterruptedly 
to the nearest "wash," from whence it dashes in increased 
volume, power, and speed to the nearest river or "sink," there 
to evaporate in the fierce heat of the sun. 

To most people the Colorado Desert is not only a place devoid 
of interest, but absolutely to be shunned, feared, dreaded. If they 
must journey across it, they do so as hastily as possible in the fastest 
train, surrounded by all the luxuries modern travel can give: the 
blinds of the car drawn down if the journey is made by day, and 
with a sigh of relief and thankfulness if it is made by night. 

In other words, civilization has taught us to dread a place 
that we should often seek. The Arabs speak of the desert as 
"The Garden of Allah," and he who has lived unworthily must 

Introductory xxi 

not desecrate it by treading in its holy precincts, unless he goes 
with penitence and prayer. In the desert the soul of man finds 
itself as nowhere else on earth. Here are solitude and God, 
both necessary, and the only necessaries to the full awakening 
of the human soul. The Arab has learned this. He has a 
keener spiritual sense than his material occidental brother. The 
footsteps of Allah are often heard in His desert garden, and the 
Arab goes to seek and follow them. He sits in the silence and 
listens for the voices that speak to his soul in the absolute still- 
ness of the desert at the midnight hour. And what these voices 
declare he verily believes and obeys. 

But in the material sense the Colorado Desert is a place of 
fascination and surprises. On every hand are strange, wonderful, 
and beautiful things, — things that are unknown to cities and to the 
unobservant anywhere. No hall of necromancers can equal the 
desert in its marvels and revelations. Wonder follows wonder in 
quick succession. And though constant association changes the 
surprise and amazement of first impressions to a steady and ever- 
growing affection, the wonder and marvel of it never grow dim. 

Yet it is true that the desert is not for everybody. He who 
loves comfort and ease more than knowledge and power; who 
is afraid of hardship, solitude, heat, and general discomfort; who 
values the neatness of his appearance and cleanliness of his 
apparel more than filling himself with experiences strange and 
novel, and coming in contact with some of the most wonderful 
things of nature, had better remain away. The desert will 
flout him. Its winds will toss his well-combed locks astray and 
disarrange his dainty apparel; its storms will beat upon him and 
make him fear the deluge, as well as wash the starch out of his 
collar; its alkali and bitter waters will nauseate and disgust him, 
and its sands make his bed a place of unrest and mourning. 
Its lack of all native foods (except in a few favored localities) 
will offend his epicureanism, for to live on "condemned" foods 
is not agreeable to a pampered palate. Here are no smoking, 
lounging, or writing rooms. Out-of-doors has to answer for 

xxii Introductory 

every purpose, and many scores of pages have I had to write on 
my knee, or on a box, or even my suit case converted into an 
extemporized writing desk. 

No! No! Pampered and feasted sons and daughters of 
cities, don't come to the desert. It is not for you. You have 
deliberately chosen your mode of life. It shuts you out from 
much of what is great and grand and educative and real; but 
having thus shut yourselves out, don't try to break down the 
barrier. If you do you will have a "hard time" and return 
home wearied, disgusted, and disgruntled. Far better read the 
desert through the eyes of those who, while appreciating what 
your life has to give to the hungry soul, prefer the larger, fuller, 
realer life of contact with uncontaminated nature. 

The name, Colorado Desert, was first applied to this region by 
Professor W. P. Blake, when, as geologist of the expedition for 
determining the best railroad route from the Mississippi River to 
the Pacific Ocean, he made a comprehensive study of the desert. 
There is no denying that the use of the word "Colorado" has 
been a great source of misleading to those who jump to con- 
clusions. Just as the "Grand Canyon of the Colorado" has 
been supposed (and still is) by thousands to be located in Col- 
orado, so is the Colorado Desert supposed to occupy a portion 
of that great state of mineral wealth. For that reason, therefore, 
the use of the name is to be deplored, though Professor Blake is 
deserving of the thanks of the world of intelligent readers and 
students for giving this section of the great Sonoranian Desert 
a name which positively identifies it. 

Dr. Walter T. Swingle, in his monograph on the Date Palm, 
advocates a change in the name. Here is his argument in full: 

"In the United States the term ' desert' is applied to unirrigated 
or uncultivated arid regions, and as fast as such areas are re- 
claimed and put to profitable culture by means of irrigation, they 
cease to be called deserts and receive some other name. The ap- 
pellation 'desert' is a hindrance to real-estate transactions, and is 


felt to be unjust and opprobrious by those who live in the midst of 
flourishing fruit orchards and alfalfa fields. Doubtless the same 
change of name will take place in the case of the Colorado Des- 
ert, and indeed the misleading term 'Colorado Delta' has already 
been applied to the newly irrigated lands about Imperial and Cal- 
exico. The true delta of the Colorado River lies to the southward, 
where this stream enters the Gulf of California. The region in 
question might very appropriately be called the Salton Basin, in- 
asmuch as it is a true basin, an area surrounded on all sides by 
mountains or higher lands and 
depressed far below sea-level 
in the center, where its most 
prominent topographical fea- 
ture, Salton Lake or Salton 
Sink, is located. Throughout 
this bulletin Salton Basin is 
used instead of Colorado Des- 
ert to designate the lower parts 
of the lands sloping toward 
Salton Lake, a region limited 
on the north by the San Ber- Indian woman carrying palm leaves 
nardino Mountains, on the 

west by the San Jacinto Mountains, and extending southward 
into Mexico to the line beyond which the delta lands slope toward 
the Gulf of California." 

The difficulty with Dr. Swingle's suggestion is that it applies 
to a portion, only, of the region under consideration, and not to the 
whole. The San Bernardino Mountains and the detached ranges 
north, which lead to the Mohave Desert, are a part of the Colorado 
Desert, and they could not be included in the Salton Basin. 

A very common and erroneous impression is that one can 
stand in the Colorado Desert, at say Palm Springs station, and see 
the range of mountains that separates the Colorado Desert from 
that of the Mohave. Such is not the case. There is not only 
no mountain range dividing them, but there is nothing else that 


divides them. There is no authority yet who has divided them, 
or said where one begins and the other ends. There is no 
natural boundary whatever, and, therefore, should one be estab- 
lished, it would be as purely arbitrary as are the lines of merid- 
ian. For the purpose of this book I have established such an 

arbitrary boundary. Taking the 
San Gorgonio Pass as the north- 
west entrance to the Colorado 
Desert, and Mounts San Gorgonio 
and San Jacinto as its northwest- 
ern sentinels, I have 
placed the boundary line 
between San Bernardino 
and Riverside Counties as 
the northern limit, the 
Colorado River as the 
eastern limit, the bound- 
j^Js ary line between the 
United States and Mexico 
it/ , as the southern limit, and 
the San Jacinto range, 
with its southern exten- 
sions, going down into 
Mexico, as the western 

From these lines it 
will be seen that the 
Colorado Desert is con- 
fined within the two 
counties of San Diego and Riverside. That it extends beyond 
the Colorado River into Arizona, and also below the boundary 
line into Mexico, all are well aware, but I shall practically 
ignore these extensions in the following pages. 

There being so much of vague mystery about the desert, and 
so few really knowing anything about it, one need not wonder 

A "well 
dressed ' 

Andreas Canyon 

Introductory xxv 

that many untrue and silly things have been circulated about it. 
For instance, not long ago a Los Angeles newspaper published a 
brief account of the "Palm Grove" in Palm Canyon, and with 
fine flourishes told that the palms, being dependent upon the 
heat from the live volcano "that stands near," will soon die. 
Here is the sage statement: "There is coming a time, however, 
when the grove will be no more. The heated conditions of the 
volcano which are necessary for the growth of the palm are 
gradually subsiding, though internal disturbances show that it 
has some fire, and recent earthquakes of but a few years past pro- 
claim the powers of eruption not yet quenched, yet these are 
gradually becoming extinct. They are in fact scarce worthy of con- 
sideration; the time will not be long distant when this mountain 
will be perfectly quiet. The reduction of its temperature, which 
is necessary for perfect and gigantic Washingtonia, is the means of 
causing the death of this noble grove. The trees nourished by 
the volcano of San Jacinto are now dying with the mountain." 

This whole quotation is folly, pure and simple, from beginning 
to end. San Jacinto shows no more volcanic heat than Wall 
Street in New York, and the idea that such heat, which burns 
and destroys, should be necessary for the preservation of the 
life of the palms is neither based upon observation nor reason. 

As recently as 1882 a namesake of my own wrote an article 
in the Popular Science Monthly, which, while giving a fair 
general account of the desert, stated several "facts that are not 
so," as, for instance: "Men can only be induced to work on the 
railroad by offering them increased wages," — "Rain never falls 
on this desert in the natural manner," — and after describing 
certain gullies, — "These are caused by the rush of water from 
cloudbursts and waterspouts." Speaking of the sand-dunes 
and the effect of the shifting sands upon the railway tracks, "It 
has been found necessary to have a relay of men constantly on the 
ground, and every day they are engaged in clearing the track." 

It has been the persistence of such erroneous statements that 
has so misled people in regard to the facts. 

xxvi Introductory 

During the excitement caused by the overflow of the Colorado 
River into the Salton Sink, in 1890, readers of the newspapers 
saw many references to the river known as Hardy's Colorado. 
A vast amount of mmnformation has been generally disseminated 
about this river and how it came by its name. 

R. W. H. Hardy was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy of Eng- 
land. In 1825 he was engaged in the capacity of a Commissioner 
by the General Pearl and Coral Fishery Association of London 
to visit Mexico and report upon the pearl and coral fisheries of 
that country. In the discharge of that duty he made extensive 
travels in Mexico from 1825 to 1828, and in 1829 published in 

Church at Palm Springs 

London a full account of his experiences. He embarked at 
Guaymas and investigated the pearl fisheries of the Gulf of Cali- 
fornia. He was interested in exploring the head of the gulf, 
as he had been informed that an Italian priest had brought 
away, as the result of two months' work, $200,000 in native 
gold and pearls. The gold had been washed down by the 
Colorado River and was to be picked up by the bucketful. 
As he neared the head of the gulf, Lieutenant Hardy says he 
determined to "stand out more into the middle of the gulf, 
by which means I hoped, at daylight, to get sight of the Rio 
Colorado, into which I wished to enter for the purpose of procur- 
ing a supply of provisions from the Indians, and of picking up 
gold dust at the same time." The poor lieutenant had a hard 



Q & 

<t Jo 









Rio Co 


xxviii Introductory 

time. His captain and crew were about useless, and in spite of 
all his endeavors he came near having a shipwreck, owing to the 
sandy shoals at the mouth of the river. These shoals bothered 
him exceedingly, as they have done every other navigator of the 
region. He could not realize that the vast amount of sandy 
silt being constantly brought down by the Colorado rendered 
charts of ten years or more ago useless. Finally he reached what 
he supposed was the Rio Colorado, and he describes its three 
mouths and also the troubles he had with the strong ebb and 
flow of the tides. He also gives a map, here reproduced, showing 
what he conceived to be the Colorado with 
the Gila River flowing into it. In the lieu- 
tenant's troubles and worries over the tide 
and the wretched seamanship of his sailors he 
confused the Colorado with the Gila, which 
latter was yet scores of miles above, and took 
for the Colorado a 
smaller and, as yet, 
unnamed stream 
coming in on the west. 
When, after the pub- 
lication of his map, 
it was found what an 
error he had made, it 
became customary to 
refer to this unnamed 
river as Hardy s Colorado, a name it has retained to this day. 

It is scarcely necessary to add that the distinguished lieutenant 
did not get the gold he expected. He reports the sand to be 
"full of a glittering sort of tinsel, which shines beautifully when 
the sun is upon it." For twenty-six days he navigated the 
"Rio Colorado" and departed at length satisfied that he knew a 
great deal about the region. Such is fame, and such is the 
history of the origin of the name "Hardy's Colorado." 

Perhaps I may be pardoned for here calling attention to a 

Aqueduct rounding one of the spurs 
of the San Jacinto range 

Introductory xxix 

matter that is somewhat personal. In one sense it is so, yet in 
another it is more than personal. It is in regard to pictures of 
the desert used by other authors to illustrate their works. The 
one picture that appears as a frontispiece to John C. Van Dyke's 
"The Desert" was made by my photographer, George L. Rose, 
under my direction, when he accompanied me to the Hopi 
villages. It is of that part of the Painted Desert overlooked 
by the road which ascends from the valley of the Little Colorado 
River between Volz's Crossing and his store at The Lakes. 

In Burdick's "Mystic Mid Region" the photograph on page 
3 was made under similar circumstances by my friend C. C. 
Pierce of Los Angeles, who accompanied me to photograph the 
Hopis and the Snake Dance at a later date. The picture was 
first used by me as the frontispiece to my "Indians of the Painted 
Desert Region." In this same book of Mr. Burdick's are sixteen 
other photographs of my own taking. 

These facts serve to indicate that I have helped others make 
this fascinating region known to the world at large. 

Some words on the desert have a meaning peculiarly their 
own. For instance, the word "inside" refers to the region away 
from the desert. "Where did you get these eggs?" you ask. 
"They came from inside!" is the reply. If you inquire where 
the miners buy their provisions they will tell you, "I don't often 
buy on the desert, I generally buy from inside," thereby meaning 
the towns of the inner country, as Colton, Riverside, San Ber- 
nardino, Los Angeles, etc. 

These pages gather together the loose threads of twenty-five 
years of desert observations and experiences, — not all of them con- 
fined to the Colorado Desert. In making this book, however, I 
found such a wealth of material, much of it peculiar to the Colorado 
Desert, that I decided to confine myself, as far as geographical 
boundaries were concerned, to its comparatively limited area. 

From many sources I have received help. Miners and pros- 
pectors, railway section-men, homesteaders, farmers, woodmen, 


students, artists, naturalists, editors, county officials, and sur- 
veyors, as well as various writers, have given valuable suggestions, 
and to all of these I tender my hearty and cordial thanks. 

Especially do I wish to record my gratitude to my venerable 
friend, Dr. Wellwood Murray of Palm Springs, the friend of 
Thomas Carlyle, Adam and Charles Black, the Chambers broth- 
ers and other literary notables of the Edinburgh of fifty years ago. 
From this center of culture he came to the desert, and for thirty 
years has studied it, worked over it, and sought to understand its 
mysteries and penetrate its secrets. Without reserve Dr. Murray 
has poured forth the wealth of his personal experiences and 
given of his valuable suggestions. 

To Dr. Walter T. Swingle, Physiologist in charge 
of the Laboratory of Plant Life Industry in Wash- 
ington, D.C., I am also indebted. Dr. Swingle is 
much interested in the Salton Basin, and it is to 
this interest we owe the establishment at Mecca 
of the government's experimental date farm. 

The desert itself, however, has been my chief 
inspiration. Upon its northwestern edge I have a 
camp of my own. Within five and a half hours' 
ride from my Pasadena home, where library and 
pictures and piano and flowers and birds and con- 
genial society all conspire to keep me (even were 
there no loved ones in the home itself), I have found 
this desert a resting place. Up in a canyon, on the northeastern 
slope of the great San Jacinto range, where seeping water makes a 
"cienega" and gives life to a good sized patch of grass; where a 
little extra pasturage can be found for my mules and burros; where ' 
some one, sometime, planted a fig tree, which has grown to rugged 
maturity and rich bearing; where there is a hot spring to bathe in, 
and a cold spring to drink from; sheltered on one side by one of 
the steepest, if not the steepest and highest wall in the world, and 
on the other with an outlook over illimitable wastes of desert land, 
here is where I love to come and rest, think, and write. 

Introductory xxxi 

Solitary? No! Why should I be solitary, even though no 
other human beings are with me ? Solitary in company with a 
majestic mountain that speaks a mystic tongue 

that I am slowly learning to comprehend; with 
a hot spring gurgling 


upthrust of 
San Jacinto Mountains ^ 

ib£ „£ft. >o" gp. 

every moment of wonders in the earth's interior that I can only guess 
at; with a cold spring not a hundred yards away that tells of cool 

xxxii Introductory 

mountain heights, where snow-banks lie all the year around, even 
though the hot blasts from the desert try to reach and destroy 
them; with friendly burros to come and seek for titbits from the 
table and act more human than most of the humans who have 
become over-civilized in cities; with the coyotes looking so wise 
and yet cowardly, so impertinently yet so sneakingly at you; with 
tiny lizards darting to and fro and perking their heads on one 
side so cunningly at you; with an occasional rattlesnake to watch, 
to follow, and to kill; with the mountain-sheep to peer down upon 
you from inaccessible mountain heights as if despising you for 
being so civilized as to be content to live in places where you can 
move about with ease; with the hoarse growl of the mountain 
lion occasionally in your ears, and the sniff, snuff, woof of the 
bear now and again as an accompaniment; with the murmur of 
the tiny stream flowing away from the springs and pathetically 
telling of its own speedy death in the sandy wastes below; with 
the quaint palms, standing like graceful sentinels making pro- 
found obeisance, near by, — can one be solitary with such com- 
panions as these, especially when, in addition, he has such stars 
and skies as the city dweller never sees; such an horizon as only 
the desert dweller knows; such sunrises and sunsets and morning 
and evening glows as only angels can understand the glory of; 
such silences; such voices out of the far away; such weirdness; 
such mystery; such winds; such storms; such calms ? Ah, no! 
there is no solitude in such presences, for is not one with himself, 
with his ideals, with his dreams, with his ambitions, with the 
great ones of the past and the great ones of the future, with 
the achievements and life of the ages, and, better than all, with 
the source and origin of it all, with God ? 

No! No! I have felt more solitary and alone, more utterly 
desolate and forsaken, when walking through the streets of London 
and Paris, New York and Chicago, than I have ever felt in all 
my years of desert experiences. 

I go to the desert with specific objects in view. I go for health, 
for inspiration, for work. The desert is God's great health-giving 

Introductory xxxiii 

laboratory. It is the manufactory of health where are to be 
found purest sunshine, purest air, purest soil. Disease flees 
away in such presences. With the freedom of the wild animals 
one sleeps on mother Earth's bosom and absolutely, literally, 
positively draws life and vigor from her maternal founts, — 
draws it in through every possible avenue; every pore of the 
skin drinking it in with eager avidity. 

Come with me to my desert home. The house is only a rude 
lumber shack with one room, in which is a cook-stove, a table, 
a few utensils, and a couple of chairs, — the latter rude, home- 

"'^^*^!fe^£>^fe-i WfC\'-i> K ^*^ ^ 


'€^^<jMs:^ : y ' Outlook from the author's 
„^« ■. ^■'^■i/> home in Chino Canyon 

made affairs. " But," you ask, " don't you have a sleeping-room ? " 
Certainly! Here it is! Did you ever see a more wonderful one ? 
I have been in the palaces of Windsor and Buckingham and 
Sandringham and Versailles. I have slept in the palace bed- 
rooms made by kings for their queens and mistresses, where 
costly decorations worth a great general's ransom give rich grace 
and elegance to the scene. Yet not all of them combined can 
compare in perfect beauty and profuse adornment with this of 
mine. And large ? It is so large that these kingly palace bed- 
rooms appear mean and insignificant beside it. It reaches for 
miles and miles to the north, even as far as the Aurora Borealis; 
to the south, to its pole; to the east, to the rising sun; to the west, 

xxxi'v Introductory 

to where the sun bathes in the ocean of the sunset, and its ceil- 
ing is millions of miles high, decorated by the Master Artist him- 
self with moons and planets and wandering stars set in a vault 
of such matchless blue as makes pale and faded the Tyrian blue 
of which Solomon was so proud. And its ventilation! How 
often have I longed for that system of ventilation when vainly 
tossing to and fro on comfortable beds in rooms equipped with 
the most elaborate and expensive of man's artificial ventilating 
apparatus. Here the air is always fresh and pure, bracing and 
stimulating, and at night-time, except in the heat of summer, can 

The author's desert home 

be described only by the one word, "delicious." It feels good to 
be alive in such air; every part of the body responds to the good 
feeling, the hands and arms are allowed to rest outside the bed- 
clothes, the head and neck are exposed, the feet kick away the 
covers, and both before and after going to sleep one again and 
again lets the air flow in and caress the whole body. This is to 
take in life and energy in large quantities, this is to drink in vim 
and creative power from the fountain-head. 

Then my morning, afternoon, and evening bath! There is 
nothing like it that I know of anywhere else in the world. We 
have read of Cleopatra's baths in asses' and camels' milk, and 

Introductory xxxv 

various sybarites of all time have indulged in costly luxuries in 
the way of baths, but none of them ever equaled mine. The water 
is always on tap and always hot. It comes bubbling up out of 
the rocks and sand at the rate of several score gallons an hour. 
The rocks form a natural bath-tub which the Indians of the 
region have thoroughly cleaned out; then we have had it covered 
with beautiful palm-leaves, — great, flat-surfaced, natural thatch, 
— and now ten or fifteen people can bathe in it at one time. For a 
dressing-room Nature 
has also been good. 
There are several tall 
and stately palms close 

1 1 iii 



^ mm 


Hot spring where the author bathes in 
Chino Canyon 

by, the leaves of which make as good flooring and carpeting as one 
desires out in the desert, and the palms are so large and outspread- 
ing and are so arranged that several dressing-rooms are provided, 
where, in perfect seclusion, one may don his (or her) bathing suit. 
But when I am alone I need no other suit than that provided at my 
birth. Now, into the bath! Gently at first, for the water is over 
ioo Fahrenheit, and that is hot, but the body soon becomes accus- 
tomed to it. Yes! accustomed to and delio-hted with it. You lie 

xxxvi Introductory 

down, and the water, charged with gases and bubbling up from be- 
low, strikes your body, and you feel as if you were having a bath in 
hot champagne. The pool is large enough to float in, and with the 
body partially in and partially out of the water the sensations are 
delicious. When you have had enough, out you come, and oh, 
what a surprise! The difference in the temperature of the air 
and that of the water seems as if it would chill you through. 
For as long a time as a plunge in and out of a swimming tank 
after you have taken a Turkish bath, you feel the cold shock of 
the air, then, gradually, there diffuses over the whole body, even 
while you are still drying yourself and exposed fully to the at- 
mosphere, a delicious sensation of warmth and stimulus that can 
be neither described nor imagined. I never felt anything like 
it in any bath I have ever had, and I have been through com- 
plete courses in various hydropathic establishments of Europe 
and America as well as shared in the varied baths of our abo- 
rigines. The whole being seems exhilarated; you want to run 
and shout and work; your brain is as alert and active and anxious 
for work as is the body of a chamois, and when night comes 
you feel that that day at least has been full of physical and mental 
joy. You compare your lot with that of Bismarck, who, at 
eighty, wrote that in the whole of his life he had never known 
twenty-four hours' happiness. Poor fellow! Poor wretch! Here 
have you had almost twelve hours of pure, unadulterated hap- 
piness in one single day. 

Chino Canyon, 

Colorado Desert, 
October, igo6. 


The Artist of the Colorado Desert 

J&L, - SfcttP^^ a S° m t ^ ie R°y a l Library at Stuttgart, Ger- 
mtf: <i •'•■'■ ' '■• P& many, a quiet, studious, reflective boy, the son 

SfPlH | of a Lutheran minister of an adjacent village, 

\ ili^^ might have been seen poring over Hum- 

^H^ ^JlHMr "' _J boldt's vivid descriptions of California and 
the deserts he had to cross to reach it. The 
impressions then received remained deeply lodged in his inmost 

He had the artistic instinct, had this lad. He was especially 
fond of cattle, and two of the ambitions of his earliest years were, 
first, that he might see the great deserts of the West; and second, 
that he might paint them and his beloved cattle. 

It was not strange, therefore, that when he left home he should 
aim as directly as he could for the region of his many dreams. 

His first year and a half in the United States were spent in 
Kansas, where he worked on a cattle ranch, gaining that infinite 
knowledge of cattle which he knew he must attain for his art 
Then he struck out for California, still keeping his ambitions in 
mind. He followed the plow, drove the hay-wagon, pitched 
hay, and did all the thousand and one little things that a handy 
man is set to do on a ranch, all the time longing for the day to 
come when he should be free to devote more time to the study 
of art. Secretly and with inward trepidation lest he be found 
out, for he was always shy and retiring, he spent his evenings, 
when possible, in sketching and trying to teach himself how to 
paint. Like Lincoln, reading by the light of his open fire, he 
spent many an hour, when he should have been in bed, grappling 
unaided with the first problems of drawing and painting. 


The Artist of the Colorado Desert 

For a year and a half he engaged himself to work in a slaughter- 
house, as he could find no other occupation where he could 
earn his livelihood and study cattle at the same time. Here 
he rode after them as a cowboy, — went on the roads, — as- 
sisted in cutting them out, branding and separating them, and 
many a bout has he had with the wild Texas steer when driving 
them to the slaughter. 

A more congenial though less exciting occupation was found 
when he was engaged to drive the mule that pumps water for 
the cattle on the great Miller and Lux ranch near Bakersfield. 

For six months he followed this 
monotonous daily round, but his 
eyes were ever on the cattle. He 
studied them under every condi- 
tion, and at every stage in their 
history from birth until they were 
driven to the cars or the slaugh- 
ter-house. And when night-time 
came, with pen or brush, he 
would seek faithfully to repro- 
duce on paper or canvas what 
had most impressed him during 
the day. 

As soon as he had saved up a little money he bought a stock 
of colors, brushes, canvases, pencils, draw 7 ing-paper, and pro- 
visions and made a bee-line for the desert. There he roamed 
and painted, sketched and studied, until food and funds gave 
out, when he went on to Arizona and there resumed his occupa- 
tion. Every time his wages seemed large enough to justify an- 
other desert trip he resigned his employment and w T ent back to 
his painting and rambling, and this continued for another two 
and a half years. 

With this interesting territory, so new in all its life to the gently 
nurtured boy, he soon became fascinated. He loved its great 
plateaus, its forests, its vast plains, its marvelous canyons, its 

Saturnino, a Palm Springs Indian 

The Artist of the Colorado Desert xxxix 

glowing colors, its majestic mountains, and its singular plant 
life. The wildly picturesque life of the cowboy appealed to him, 
though he naturally revolted at the coarseness and excess too 
many of the fraternity indulged in. He began to write sketches 
to his home papers in Germany of this life as he found it, and 
illustrated his stories with drawings from his own pen and brush. 
Then he began to send articles and sketches regularly to the 
New Yorker Staats Zeitung, and he soon gained a host of friends 
by these simple and unpretentious, but real and truthful ac- 
counts of life on the frontier. 

His own life, however, still remained strenuous and arduous. 
Many a time the battle seemed to be too hard, the difficulties to 
be overcome too great, for the poor and almost friendless youth. 
For, while he was friendly enough, his reserved habits and 
refusal to enter into the gay and extravagant carousals of his 
fellows did not tend to make him popular with them, and he 
was as shy about revealing his secret as a maiden is about telling 
of her first love, so that they could not have sympathy with a 
longing they might have admired had they known of its existence. 
Sometimes he felt inclined to give up his ambitions. The years 
were rolling along and he was accomplishing so little. Still 
he kept at it. Then doubt and despair tugged at his heart- 
strings until he was utterly despondent. But brighter days 
would come when all his resolutions and hopes would return. 
And so he has gone on until now, for fourteen years, he has lived 
much of the time on the desert. He has traversed its plains and 
climbed its mountains, breathed its parched atmosphere, mingled 
with its children, — the desert Indians, — studied its features, 
its plants, its birds, its reptiles, and its animals, and has become 
familiar with it in all its moods. In fact he has become a veri- 
table "son of the desert," as much as any Bedouin that roams 
the Sinai peninsula, or a camel-rider who journeys from the 
Oued Souf to the Mediterranean. 

From the heights of its mountains he looked into the great soli- 
tudes of the desert below and watched the changing colors revealed 

xl The Artist of the Colorado Desert 

in tawny sand, green oasis, or rocky slope on the opposite side. 
He saw such shadows as only God and the angels see; for man 
seldom thinks of such unsubstantial things as shadows, save and 
except such men as Eytel. 

He studied the desert animals, the mountain lion, mountain- 
sheep, wildcat, coyote, chipmunk, and squirrel, and then watched 
the birds, the eagles, the hawks, the herons, the pelicans, the gulls, 
the mocking-birds, the doves, the vultures, and even the rare 
and seldom seen, almost extinct condor. He also learned the 
peculiarities and habits of the chaparral cock, or road-runner, 
that singular bird that is generally seen only when running away 
from human beings. With outspread wings and long rapid strides 
he rushes with great speed away from the stranger, stopping once 
in a while to give his tail a characteristic upward jerk, as much 
as to say, "I'll wave you a parting salute," then he dodges behind 
a bush or a sand-hill and is lost to sight. But Eytel followed and 
made friends with him, and was thus able to watch him at his 
toilet, when he preens his feathers, takes a sun or sand bath, etc. 

Together Mr. Eytel and I have made trips where few white 
men have ever been and where our only trails were made by moun- 
tain-sheep, deer, or antelope. 

Scores of the sketches in the following pages were made when 
he went alone, hundreds of miles at a time, over our American 
Sahara. Afoot, last midwinter, he made one trip of 400 miles, — 
thirty days of weary trails, of danger, hardship, hunger, thirst, 
solitude, and arduous toil. His itinerary was through a region 
largely devoid of vegetation or water. He had to provide for food, 
drink, and sleeping accommodation at the beginning of his journey. 
This meant the carrying of a pack which included provisions, 
water, and blankets. The water-holes and wells are from twenty 
to forty miles apart on the Colorado Desert, and a canteen of 
water is a heavy load to a walking man, especially when he has 
sandy or steep, rocky trails to go over. 

In speaking of his experiences he is always modest and reserved. 
Yet they have been varied and exciting. Once he was seeking a 

The Artist of the Colorado Desert 


little Indian village for the pur- 
pose of making sketches of its 
rumored picturesqueness. He 
left the ranch at which he had 
been passing a few days, loaded 
with directions for finding the 
village — and with nothing else. 
He was assured that he could 
not miss the way and that 
he could get to the village 
that day, so he took neither 
food nor water, weapons nor 

There was a trail to follow 
which was to lead him straight 
to his destination, but the path 
forked, and his friends had for- 
gotten to tell him of it and to 
instruct him as to which branch 
of the trail to follow. This led 
him down into a deep canyon, 
and the canyon tolled him 
on to finally bring him to an 
\ insurmountable wall. The 
greater part of the day was passed in getting out of this granite 

in their haunts 

xlii The Artist of the Colorado Desert 

When once again he found himself upon the level plain he was 
thirsty, hungry, and nearly exhausted from climbing the steep 
walls of the canyon. He felt that the safest plan to pursue was 
to return to the ranch which he had that morning left, and start 
anew for the Indian village another day. 

. Near this ranch was a mountain of peculiar formation. He 
saw before him such a peak and mistook it for the one near the 
ranch. He started on a bee-line for this mountain. A couple 
of hours' brisk walking brought him to the rim of another canyon 
which blocked his way. The canyon extended as far as he could 
see in either direction, so he sought and found a point where he 
could descend into it, thinking to clamber up on the other side 
and pursue his way toward the mountain. 

Night came on and he was obliged to wait for morning to prose- 
cute his search for a place of exit. When daylight came he wan- 
dered up and down the canyon vainly seeking a point which he 
could scale. He was finally obliged to retrace his steps and climb 
out on the side he had entered. He then followed down the rim 
of the canyon, hoping to find a trail which would lead him to some 
habitation. About this time his light shoes gave out and he was 
forced to discard them. The way was rough and the stones cut his 
feet till they bled freely and he found it impossible to proceed in 
that manner. He then removed his undershirt, cut it in two 
pieces and bound them about his feet. He found it difficult to 
keep these makeshifts in place and his progress was exceedingly 
slow. The torture from hunger and thirst was becoming fearful, 
and to cap the climax of his misfortunes he lost his knife, the only 
implement he possessed. 

That night he stretched himself out upon the plain to obtain 
such rest as he could and to await the light of another morning. 
Before sleep came to him a wild turkey came strutting near and 
passed within a dozen feet of him. This display of live meat was 
very tantalizing to the famishing man, but he was powerless to 
kill or capture the bird. 

The fourth day of his wanderings he came to a deserted ranch- 

The Artist of the Colorado Desert xliii 

house near which was a water-hole where he quenched his tor- 
menting thirst. Then he approached the house and looked in at 
the open door. Half a dozen wild doves had taken refuge therein. 
Startled at the appearance of a human being they darted out, 
almost in his face. Eytel leaped in and closed the door in time 
to make one prisoner. After a lively chase he succeeded in 
cornering the bird and capturing it. It was but the work of a 
moment to wring its neck and strip it of its feathers, and he then 
proceeded to devour it raw. He declares it the best meal he 
ever ate. 

While he was yet at this repast he heard the clatter of hoofs, 
and hurrying to the door he beheld one of the cowboys from the 
ranch he was seeking. He hailed him and learned that the ranch 
was but a few miles distant. The cowboy gave him his horse 
to return with, and in a short time he was safely housed among his 
friends. It took him two weeks to recover from the effects of 
his experience. 

On another occasion he was taken for a noted desperado and 
horse thief and came near being hanged. He had been sketching 
in the mountains and was overtaken by night. He was just 
approaching a ranch-house in the valley and was about to enter 
the gateway and ask for food and lodging when a pack of dogs 
rushed out and with loud barking surrounded him. The dogs 
were followed by several men and boys, all armed, and he was 
commanded to "throw up his hands!" which he promptly did. 
A light was brought and he was closely questioned as to his busi- 
ness in that locality at that time of night. His explanations were 
received with scorn. In vain he showed his sketches. They 
were mere attempts to "throw dust into the eyes of the fools who 
could be thus easily deceived." Then one of the men recognized 
him as a noted desperado, and still another was sure that the 
horse he was riding belonged to a neighboring rancher. This 
was enough. To be a horse thief on the desert is to court certain 
death. A vigilance court was organized and a speedy trial held. 
Eytel's pleas were in vain. He was condemned to death. Then 

xliv The Artist of the Colorado Desert 

some one suggested that the owner of the horse, as a matter of 
courtesy, should be invited to the hanging, and the execution was 
stayed while a messenger went for him. In due time he arrived, 
bringing with him another half-dozen men and boys to assist in 
the operations, but when everything was ready, and the culprit 
was brought forth, the astonished rancher exclaimed, "Why, this 
is not the man!" When the supposedly stolen horse was brought 
he likewise disclaimed all knowledge of it. This put a stop to the 
execution for that night. The "court" thought it would better 
suspend sentence until morning. Fortunately the sheriff of the 
county arrived the next day hot on the trail of the noted horse thief. 
In a moment he quenched all doubt as to Eytel being the man he 
wanted by calling the wiseacres "a set of very blank fools." The 
prisoner was therefore released with many and abject apologies 
and allowed to resume his rudely interrupted journey. 

In regard to Mr. Eytel's work, it should be said that he is almost 
entirely self-taught. As such his work must be judged. The 
pictures of this book are his first pretentious attempt. I think 
they reveal genius as surely as they give proof that he has a per- 
sistence in the face of obstacles that would daunt most men. He 
knows the Colorado Desert as no other man knows it, and his 
sketches are faithful portrayals of objects he has seen and lived 
with. I could tell many stories of his persistence in obtaining the 
knowledge he sought, of days and nights of hungry, thirsty, weary 
following of trails to see a rare sight, or learn a new thing. 

While Mr. Eytel (with the modesty that is one of the flowers 
pf his character) would disclaim any right to be regarded as other 
than the artist of the book, I cannot do him the injustice to allow 
its readers to assume that I am the sole author of its literary con- 
tents. While I have done the actual writing, many pages of that 
which is written belong to Mr. Eytel, and I wish him fully to share 
in any praise which that portion of the book receives just as much 
as I wish him to be the sole recipient of all the praise for his 
beautiful sketches. 

The Wonders 

of the 

Colorado Desert 


A General View of the Desert 

EFORE entering upon a detailed description of the 
desert in its various aspects it is well to obtain a 
broad and cursory survey of its general appearance. 
It must not be supposed that the Colorado Desert 
is a flat, level plain of barren sand. It is more di- 
versified in feature than many of the Middle States. 
Approached from its northwestern side over the 
San Gorgonio Pass the desert presents a far more 
barren, desolate, and forsaken appearance than when the traveler 
has been prepared by crossing the long sandv stretches of \\ est- 
ern Texas and Arizona. The contrasts are very marked between 
the alkali flats, sand areas, and sand mountains, colorless desert 
verdure, volcanic peaks, unclothed foot-hills, and mountains that 
seem to be absolutely barren, and the orange and lemon groves, 
peach and apricot orchards, stock ranches, alfalfa farms, and 
bright, cultivated, flower-bedecked areas of Southern California. 

The ascent from Colton is easy and gradual for about thirty 
miles until the summit is reached. Here let Clarence King tell 
us what is to be seen: 

"There are but few points in America where such extremes of 
physical condition meet. W hat contrasts, what opposing senti- 

VOL. I. — 1 1 

2 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

merits, the two views awakened! Spread out below us lay the 
desert, stark and glaring, its rigid hill chains lying in disordered 
grouping, in attitudes of the dead. The bare hills are cut out with 
sharp gorges, and over their stone skeletons scanty earth clings 
in folds, like shrunken flesh; they are emaciated corpses of once 
noble ranges now lifeless, outstretched as in a long sleep. Ghastly 
colors define them from the ashen plain in which their feet are 
buried. Far in the south were a procession of whirlwind columns 
slowly moving across the desert in spectral dimness. A white 
light beat down, dispelling the last trace of shadow, and above 
hung the shield of hard, pitiless sky. 

"Sinking to the west from our feet the gentle golden-green glacis 
sloped away, flanked by rolling hills covered with a fresh, 
vernal carpet of grass, and relieved by scattered groves of dark 

Mounts San Jacinto on the right and San Gorgonio on the left 

oak trees. Upon the distant valley were checkered fields of grass 
and grain just tinged with the first ripening yellow. The bound- 
ing coast ranges lay in the cool shadow of a bank of mist which 
drifted in from the Pacific, covering their heights. Flocks of 
bright clouds floated across the sky, whose blue was palpitating 
with light, and seemed to rise with infinite perspective. Tran- 
quillity, abundance, the slow, beautiful unfolding of plant life, 
dark, shadowed spots to rest our tired eyes upon, the shade of 
giant oaks to lie down under while listening to brooks, contralto 
larks, and the soft, distant lowing of cattle." 

Thus wrote the poetic geologist after journeying over the desert. 

Let us now begin our journey, but in the opposite direction from 
that which he took. Flanking the pass along its northern side 
stands the peak of San Bernardino with its glorious companion, 
San Gorgonio, their granite framework crowded up above the 

A General View of the Desert 

beds of more recent rock about their bases, bearing aloft tattered 
fragments of pine forest, the summits piercing through a marbling 
of perpetual snow, up to a height of over eleven thousand feet. 
Fronting them on the opposite wall rises their compeer, San 
Jacinto, a dark crag of granite, with upthrusts of lava, whose flanks 
are cracked, riven, and waterworn into innumerable ravines, each 
catching a share of the drainage from the snow-cap in springtime, 
but in summer and autumn dry and thirsty looking. 

Both these mountains have extensions which trend from the 
northwest to southeast, and which form the two elongated sides 

of the irregularly 
HI elliptical "bowl" 

of the depressed 


Entrance to Tauquitch, or West Canyon 

portion of the desert. The northwestern end of the ellipse is the 
San Gorgonio Pass. The southeastern end has no very elevated 
edge, though there is a slight ridge of sand here and there which 
gives the appearance of completing the ellipse. 

Mount San Jacinto begins a grand range of mountains that 
edges the desert down to the boundary line between the United 
States and Mexico and then forms the backbone of the peninsula 
of Lower California, while the Sierra San Bernardino continues 
in broken-up masses to within twenty or thirty miles west of the 
Colorado River near Yuma. 

Geologists tell us there is a distinct difference between the rocks 

4 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

on each side of the San Gorgonio Pass, thus clearly suggesting 
that they are not of similar origin or age and are, consequently, 
of different systems. The pass, therefore, is not a low ridge in 
a homogeneous mountain chain, but the point of contact between 
two different ranges. 

The slope on the eastern side into the desert is gradual and 
covered with rocky detritus washed down from the mountains. 
For over twenty miles the pass is so filled with boulders, pebbles, 
and gravel that it might almost be taken for the course of a vast 
waterspout. At about Whitewater Station, on the line of the 
Southern Pacific, the desert seems to begin in earnest, though 
there are still many shrubs and plants, and after a heavy rain the 
ground is fairly bespangled with beautiful flowers. 

Standing here, too, one first becomes familiar with that breeze 
of the desert that comes as out of the very Dawn, pure, undefiled, 
and with the power of God in it, and one drinks in its celestial 
purity with eagerness and gratitude. 

On the left the peaks of the San Bernardino range seem to 
retire farther away from us in solemn majesty, snow-clad, serene 
and sublime, while the lower hills that help make the pass are 
broad and wide, reaching to the other side with a gentle and 
beautiful slope. 

On the right, the massive bulk of San Jacinto seems to have been 
thrust up right from the floor of the desert and arrested the quiet 
slope of the opposite range. Great spurs are thrust out from 
the base of the mountain, as if the intention had been to make 
arresting barriers to our farther progress, but they do not project 
far enough, so our train passes them and the far stretch of the 
desert ahead is exposed to our view. 

It is a sandy waste, dotted everywhere with a variety of un- 
familiar shrubs and plants, yet we find its features are strange 
and diversified in spite of its desert character. The two great 
ranges of mountains are seamed with canyons and ravines, and 
the irregularities of their surfaces cast purple shadows, giving 
to the masses a peculiar dimpled appearance which is exceed- 
ingly vivid. As we progress farther down the slope we find that 
for a distance of possibly fifteen miles, namely, from Indio to 
Mecca, the whole region is a beautiful oasis, owing to the fact 

A General View of the Desert 5 

that artesian wells in large numbers have been bored, and the 
soil is of such fertile character as to grow most productively 
when under irrigation. This is the world-famed Coachella 
Valley, yet the name "Coachella Valley" is a misnomer. It was 
originally Conchilla Valley, and is so named on the maps of the 
United States Geological Survey. Conchilla means "little shells," 
and the name was given in early days from the fact that the 
whole valley of the Salton from the Mexican line as far north as 
Indio is covered with tiny fresh-water shells. Strangers, unfa- 
miliar with the name and unacquainted with the Spanish tongue, 
mispronounced and misspelled the name, and, as they were the 
earliest white settlers, their methods soon established the custom, 
which it is not likely any one will now try to disturb. 

Near the 

mouth of Chino Canyon 

Below Mecca the whole scene changes and the eye is fascinated 
and charmed with the presence of a vast inland sea. Can this 
really be a body of water or is it only a fiction of a disordered brain ? 
We have long seen that we have been below sea-level, and the 
levels of the old beaches are clearly visible at more or less irregular 
intervals on each side of the valley. 

We are now in the region known as the Salton Sink, and the 
body of water before us is the Salton Sea, the mysterious inland 
ocean which has given rise to so much foolish and imaginative 
writing by those who have never taken the trouble to investigate 
its origin. 

At the present time of writing (June, 1906), this inland sea is 
over forty miles long and from five to twenty miles broad. At 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

its southern end are three or four small islands, 
which used to stand as isolated rocky buttes 
on the sandy face of the desert. Flowing 
into this sea in a somewhat irregular and 
winding fashion, but with a general north- 
ward flow, are two rivers, — the Alamo 
and the New. These rivers both cross 
a section of the desert known as the 
Imperial Valley, which, in the short 
space of four years, has been con- 
verted from uninhabitable desert 
to a fertile and well- 

The left wall at entrance to Tauquitch Canyon 

A General View of the Desert 7 

by means of irrigation. All around this valley, as well as the 
upper portion of the desert, aligning and above the Salton Sea, 
the limits of the ancient beach line are to be seen. In some places 
this beach is composed of immense sand-dunes and ridges, and 
in a few cases these sand masses are large and imposing enough 
to be entitled mountains. 

It is commonly believed that the valley region I have here 
described, from the San Gorgonio Pass to the Mexican line, 
bounded by the San Bernardino and San Jacinto ranges, com- 
prises the whole of the Colorado Desert. This is a mistake. The 
desert conditions exist far beyond the confines of this limited area. 
The mountains of the San Bernardino range, though they seem 
to present insurmountable barriers, in reality have a number ot 
passes, through and over which one may enter into the regions 
beyond. And what of these ? They comprise a succession of 
mountains and valleys of all sizes, contours and forms. The 
valleys separate these mountains in most irregular and haphazard 
fashion. Some are narrow, some are broad and all are of different 
lengths, yet all alike are barren and desolate save when the winter 
rains bring forth marvelous carpets of flowers. Here, away from 
the vivifying water, everything is gaunt, harsh, and desolate. 
There are few signs of life. Everything is silent and still. During 
nine months of the year, save for the solitary eagle and the almost 
forgotten condor, which float noiselessly in the serene blue abyss 
above, there is never a sign of life, except when the weary pros- 
pector and his patient burro take up their plodding march Trom 
one water-hole to another. 

On the opposite side the San Jacinto Mountains are not quite 
so barren and sterile as those of San Bernardino, yet they are 
desert enough, as the chapters devoted to our trips over them will 

The appearance of the desert from the divide on the old stage 
road running from Yuma through the San Gorgonio Pass is thus 
graphically described by Clarence King. He was looking up 
the desert to the northwest from a point a little south of Imperial 

"We were on the margin of a great basin whose gently shelving 
rim sank from our feet to a perfectly level plain, which stretched 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

southward as far as the eye could reach, bounded by a dim level 
horizon, like the sea, but walled in to the west, at a distance of 
about forty miles, by the high, frowning wall of the Sierras. This 
plain was a level floor, as white as marble, and into it the rocky 
spurs from our own mountain range descended like promontories 
into the sea. Wide, deeply indented white bays wound in and 
out among the foot-hills, and, traced upon the barren slopes of 
this rocky coast, was marked, at a considerable elevation above 
the plain, the shore-line of an ancient sea, — a white 
stain defining its former margin as clearly as if the 
water had but just receded. On 
the dim, distant 



The ancient beach line 
near Torres 

base of the Sierras the same primeval beach could be seen. This 
water-mark, the level, white valley and the utter absence upon its 
surface of any vegetation, gave a strange and weird aspect to the 
country as if a vast tide had just ebbed and the brilliant, scorch- 
ing sun had hurriedly dried up its last traces of moisture." 

Another remarkable desert view may be had from the summit 
of Pilot Knob. To the left and flowing almost due west the Colo- 
rado River leads the eye along to the sand-hills which begin a little 
to the south and then sweep far away to the north. To the west 
of the sand-hills lies the floor of the desert, including the fertile 

A General View of the Desert 9 

region of the Imperial Valley; to the south lies the great alluvial 
deposit brought down by the Colorado during past centuries 
with, in the far distance, the portion of it subject to inundation, 
where dense jungles and forests of deepest green relieve the eye. 
Beyond to the far west are the Cocopah and San Jacinto ranges 
fading away in their bath of shimmering haze and suggesting 
that here, at last, the end has come, for beyond them is the home 
of the setting sun. 

An equally vivid picture by another writer, J. Ross Browne, 
from the opposite, or southwestern, angle of the desert, and look- 
ing across almost due east, is well worth quoting: 

"I scarcely remember to have seen a wilder country than the 
first eight miles beyond Carrizo. Barren hills of gravel and sand- 
stone flung up at random out of the earth, strange jagged moun- 
tain peaks in the distance; yellow banks serrated by floods; sea- 
shells glittering in the wavy sand fields that lie between; these 
overhung by a rich glowing atmosphere, with glimpses of Indian 
smokes far off in the horizon, inspired us with a vague feeling of 
the wonders and characteristic features of the desert region through 
which we were about to pass. I could not but think of the brave 
old Spaniards and their heroic explorations across the Colorado. 
Here was a glowing and mvstic land of sunshine and burning 
sands where human enterprise had in centuries past battled with 
hunger and thirst and savage races, where the silence of utter 
desolation now reigned supreme. There was a peculiar charm 
to me in the rich atmospheric tints that hung over the strange 
land and the boundless wastes that lav outspread before us; and 
I drank in with an almost childish delight the delicate and exquisite 
odors that filled the air, and thought of mv earlv wanderings, 
years long past, amid the deserts and palms of Araby the Blest. 

"As we advanced into the desert each shifting scene developed 
its peculiar beauties. The face of the countrv for the most part 
is well covered with mesquite trees, sage-bushes, greasewood, 
weeds and cactus. Mountains are in sight all the way across 
and the old stage-houses of the Overland Mail Company still 
stand by the watering places. Many indications of the dread- 
ful sufferings of emigrant parties and drovers still mark the road; 
the wrecks of wagons half covered in the drifting sands, skeletons 

io The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

of horses and mules and the skulls and bones of many a herd of 
cattle that perished by thirst on the way or fell victims to the 
terrible sand-storms that sweep the desert. Only in a few instances, 
when we struck out upon the arid sand belts that lie between the 
alluvial beds of earth, did we encounter anything resembling the 
deserts of Arabia, and then only for ten or twelve miles at a time. 

"The climate in winter is indescribably delightful; in summer 
the heat is excessive and travelers and animals suffer much on 
the journey. It was a perfect luxury to breathe such pure, soft 
air as we enjoyed in the middle of December when our Atlantic 
friends were freezing amid the ice and snow-banks of that wretched 
part of the world. 

"The entire distance from Carrizo across the desert to Fort 
Yuma is one hundred and sixteen miles. Four stations where 
water can be had intervene on the road, — Indian Wells, Alamo 
Mocho, Gardners and Cookes Wells. At all those points the 
water is tolerably good and there are other points where brackish 
water can be had by digging a few feet. 

"About fifteen miles beyond Cookes Wells after coursing along 
the belt of the great sand desert on the left, we struck into the 
Colorado bottom. Indications of our approach to water were 
everywhere perceptible. Thickets of arrow-weed lined the way 
and forests of cottonwood loomed up ahead over which geese and 
cranes uttered their wild notes. Soon we passed some deserted 
rancherias and in a little while more our eyes were rejoiced with 
a refreshing view of the great Colorado of the West as it swept 
like a mighty serpent over the desert." 

On the western slopes, and also on the northeastern edge of 
the desert, where the mountains are high and tree-clad, the ravines 
and canyons, in their higher reaches, are enlivened with small 
streams and occasional waterfalls. But as they approach the 
desert they flow more quietly, then sluggishly, as if fearful of the 
fate that surely awaits them. For, as soon as the devouring sands 
are reached, they are swallowed up, never to appear again, except 
perhaps in the alkali and brackish springs farther down which 
mock and tantalize thirsty men and animals. The Whitewater, 
in winter, often flows with enough volume and force to wash away 
roads and barriers erected to direct its course, and empties into 

A General View of the Desert 11 

the Salton Sea. The overflow from the artesian wells at Mecca 
also unites to form a small stream which adds its tiny volume to 
the desert sea. 

To the west of Indio and the oasis of the Coachella Valley 
there is natural verdure enough to attract attention, and this I 
have termed "Mesquite Land," for this interesting desert tree 
abounds there. 

From the San Gorgonio Pass downward, and everywhere on 
the desert where the winds blow, the plants and shrubs present 
themselves in a new aspect to the stranger who sees the desert 
for the first time. On the windward side the sand is seen to be 
piled up in a peculiar conical ridge, the base of the cone being 
at the root of the plant or shrub. As the wind blows steadily 
and fiercely down the pass it carries away the sand except where 

The fierce winds tear the sand away from the roots 

the particles pile up around the farther side of the roots. This, 
better than anything else, tells the story of strong winds rushing 
in to replace the heated air which ascends from the scorched face 
of the desert within. In many places the mesquite and other 
trees are completely buried in the sand, except where the tips of 
the branches protrude. The effect of this is most peculiar, and 
yet beautiful and interesting. 

In some of the canyons, especially near Palm Springs, and east 
and north of Indio, and even on the open desert, are groves of 
palms, indigenous to this region. In the presence of these ancient 
desert monarchs it is easy to forget the activity of American life, 
and all association with the occidental world, and imagine one- 
self in the heart of the Sahara. 

Two solitary and detached mountains in the south attract our 

,s -i /*:' 


A General View of the Desert 13 

attention. These are Signal Mountain, over the Mexican line, 
and Pilot Knob, both well-known landmarks to Indians and 
whites, while Castle Dome and Picacho or Chimney Peak — the 
latter a sharp peak near the Colorado River a few miles above 
Yuma — are equally well-known and striking landmarks, though 
not so large as the other two. 

Near the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea are four volcanic 
buttes (now made into islands), all of which are covered with 
lava float or pumice-stone. Tons of this material might be 
gained from these buttes, one of which is said to be the eminence 
on which the fabled Pegleg Smith mine is located. The island 
butte nearest to the railway is now the Pelican Island of the Salton 
Sea, for thousands of pelicans have made it their nesting and breed- 
ing place since the rising of the Salton. 

While there is a large amount of sand on the desert, it does not, 
as is so generally conceived, cover the ground with particles so that 
little else is to be seen. There are scores of miles where there 
is no sand. In several regions it is piled up by the wind into 
hills of considerable extent and magnitude. The principal sand 
masses are found in the San Gorgonio Pass, east of the railway 
track below Palm Springs, west and north of Indio, in various 
parts of the old beach line east of Salton, Frink, and Volcano, 
along the line of the railway from about thirteen miles east of 
Imperial Junction to Pilot Knob, and on the line of the old emi- 
grant road from Yuma to San Diego between Salt Creek and Car- 
rizo Creek. This last-named mass is so important that of late 
years it has been known as Superstition Mountain. While it 
appears to be composed entirely of sand, there is a rocky mass 
below, and over this the sand plays, constantly shifting to and fro 
in the desert winds, and because of this instability the Indians of 
the region speak ill of it, hence its name. The great mass which 
makes a divide between the Salton Basin and the valley of the 
Colorado north of Yuma is the most extensive of all the sand 
deposits of the desert. This is the true Sahara of sand. On 
coming east from Yuma the traveler sees at Pilot Knob a line of 
sand-hills to the left, which continues for upward of thirty miles. 
At the station of Ruthven the smaller hills are close at hand, 
while a mile or so away are the larger hills. They are of every 

A General View of the Desert 15 

moving grains. They generally rise to the slope, and when they 
reach the highest point fall down the steep bank to leeward. 
Several times on sleeping out among these hills I have had good 
opportunity to watch these phenomena. Lying down long 
before sunset I could see the constant movement of the grains, 
as if a slight moving mist of peculiar quality hung over the sand- 
hills, and, as I always stretched out my blankets on the lee side of 
the hill, I found a fair accumulation of sand deposited by the 
wind around and in my blankets before morning. 

These dunes, from the security of a Pullman car or even from 
the safety of a wagon on a near-by road, seem very harmless objects, 
but let one unused to the desert beware how he risks his life in 
their dread wilderness. Once well in the heart of them one 
becomes utterly confused, for the wind completely destroys all 
tracks in a few minutes and it is impossible to retrace one's steps. 
While dissimilar when seen from a place of safety they appear all 
alike when one is in them. The heat is stifling, for the sands 
reflect the glare and heat, and one is almost blinded, and though 
there is wind it seldom reaches the secret recesses and little shut- 
in valleys of the dunes. It floats the sand over and upon you, 
and this heated sand irritates nostrils and mouth until one opens 
his mouth and pants like a dog, only to get more air so sand-laden 
that he cannot bear it. Many a poor wretch has been lost to 
the world forever in the treacherous secrecy of these sand-hills. 
Unthinkingly he has gone to his death, — been overpowered by 
the heat and thirst, and unable to find his way out, has fallen, 
to be covered almost immediately by the drifting sand and thus 
suffocated while unconscious. 

The only safe plan I know of when thus caught is to take off 
one's coat and throw it over the head. Resolutely refuse to 
breathe through the mouth and by constant clearing of the nostrils 
compel inhalation by that channel. Sit down and make no 
attempt to escape during the heat of the day. If the sand begins 
to cover you, rise, and as it falls under you make it your new couch, 
and keep doing this so long as it is necessary. Then, when night 
falls, guide yourself back to safety by the stars. And one who 
cannot travel by the stars, and does not know the general direction 
of places in the desert, ought never to travel alone on it. He 

16 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

does it constantly at the peril of his life, as half a thousand, at 
least, I doubt not, in the past fifty years have found out. 

It is interesting here to note that in the sand-hills north and 
west of Indio, Mr. Fred Johnson is contemplating the planting 
of a sunken garden of date-palms similar to those found in the 
oases of the African Sahara. Part of his land reaches into these 
hills, and as he has an abundance of water he purposes to see if 
these apparently useless masses cannot be utilized for a good and 
profitable purpose. 

Save for the Salton Sea, the Colorado, Alamo, and New Rivers, 
the flowing artesian wells in the Coachella Valley, and the streams 
like the Whitewater, Carrizo, and Salt, which run only in the rainy 
season or when the snows melt, there is no water to be seen on 
the desert. Here and there are the old Indian wells, dug deep in 
the ground, with one side sloped down to the very edge 
of the water to allow of easy access for man and beast, 
and all along the line are the railway water-tanks. 
Here and there are tiny springs, the water of which 
is carefully conserved, and along the roads to the north 
and east over the mountains and in the canyons occa- 
sional seepages, water-tanks in the rocks and bored 
wells are to be found. But in general appearance it 
p car is a waterless expanse, and one does not know how 
much he loves the sight of flowing water, whether 
in large or small bodies, until he finds himself upon the desert. 

In two or three places on the desert, but especially at the south- 
ern end, there are several large areas covered with small pebbles 
of various hard rocks, principally of volcanic origin, including 
different-colored porphyries, agates, and carnelians. These are 
beautifully rounded and polished, showing they have been subjected 
not only to transportation for long distances, which has caused 
marked attrition, but also to the smoothing influences of wind- 
driven sand. The wind has carried away all the sand particles 
from the interstices and the pebbles are left, packed together 
so closely and evenly, owing to their uniformity in size, that they 
seem as if pressed into a yielding surface by a heavy roller. This 
surface of pebbles is found to cover a mass of sand which lies 
below. Its protective value is obvious. Without it the sand 

A General View of the Desert 17 

would be blown to and fro by the winds and thus add to the dis- 
comfort of residents and travelers. 

It should be noted in this connection that the polishing of these 
pebbles is not accomplished by a steady wind blast in one direc- 
tion, as that of the San Gorgonio Pass, but by the action of a 
finer-grained sand and dust, blown to and fro by the varying 

On the Yuma and San Diego road after leaving Cameron 
Lake lies the Yuha Plain, the most desolate, forbidding, barren, 
and terrible part of the whole desert. It is largely volcanic, 
several cone-shaped peaks rising from the blackened plain be- 
neath. It is below sea-level and the rocks of the plain and the 

of erosion 
in the Yuha country 

bases of the near-by western mountains are washed and eroded 
in a wonderful manner. A recent writer thus describes them : 
"Mingling with the burnt stones and volcanic debris are rocks 
worn by the waves and shaped into hundreds of fantastic forms. 
There are many acres of these stone curiosities, and certain sections 
of the fields seem devoted to certain shapes and figures. 

"For instance, one passes through a region which he at once 
names the cabbage patch, for it presents the appearance of a field 
of those vegetables which have turned to stone. The waves 
have worn the rocks into round boulders about the size of the 
vegetable which they so much resemble, and have cut into the 
globes, laminating them in perfect imitation of the leafy layers 
of the garden vegetable. 

Vol. I. — 2 

18 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

"Another locality is devoted almost exclusively to dinner-plates. 
Thousands of rounded, thin disks are scattered over the plain or 
are piled scores deep in singular piles, each piece shaped exactly 
like the crockery which adorns our tables, and quite as thin and 

"Another section of this truly wonderful region is given almost 
wholly to dumb-bells. These vary in size from pieces weighing 
one or two pounds up to those seemingly calculated for exer- 
cising the muscles of a giant, and weighing thirty or forty pounds 
each. In almost every instance these natural dumb-bells are 
well balanced, the balls at either end of the connecting piece being 
of the same size and weight. 

"There is, in this plain, an arsenal, also. While guns and swords 
and bayonets and powder were not there to be found, there are 
thousands of cannon-balls varying in size from two- and three-inch 
balls to those fit for the big thirteen-inch guns of modern warfare. 
And all are of stone. All formed in Nature's workshop. 

"There are other objects innumerable. There are stone roses, 
stone lilies, stone tulips, stone leaves, stone birds, stone animals, 
stone quoits, stone ornaments in varied and unique designs, stone 
canes — in fact, an immense variety of things imitated in stone 
on the plain of Yuha. 

" In the direction of Carrizo Creek, in one portion of Yuha, rise 
two hills, or small mountains. One might mistake them, in the 
distance, for ancient craters, but when he approaches the eminences 
he discovers them to be monuments to an ancient life — the records 
of species now extinct. They are shell mountains; great beds of 
prehistoric bivalves which were left stranded when that ancient 
sea swept back from the region and left a dry and desolate land. 

"One of these mountains, the larger one, is composed wholly of 
large rough shells, much larger but less elongated than the shells 
of the modern oyster, which, in some respects, they so much re- 
semble as to lead to the suspicion that they are the remains of the 
ancestors of our much-prized bivalve. 

"The lesser hill is composed of tiny shells of a prehistoric type of 
brachiopoda. Like the larger shells, they are found, except on 
the surface, in an undisturbed state, both valves of nearly every 
shell being found in position. Although the mollusk dwellers of 

A General View of the Desert 19 

these shells vanished several centuries ago, so perfect are the shells 
one almost expects, when he opens the valves of the shell, to find 
the living creature within." 

Until the Salton Sea covered them in May, 1906, one of the most 
interesting and peculiar features oi the desert was the so-called 
"Mud Volcanoes." There is another group of these below the 
Mexican line in the vicinity of Volcano Lake. While the upper 
group were first noticed after the earthquake of 1852, they are un- 
doubtedly of much prior existence. They were boiling springs of 
quicksand and mud that had thrown up their own cones to a height 
varying from a few inches to fifteen or more feet. They are now 
drowned out by the Salton a few miles southwest of the station 
of Volcano. 

On the southwest side of the 

, , t-- -r- t 1 » 1 \/\ > Ptcacho Peak 

point below rig iree John s, about ¥ \ i « , 

twelve or fifteen miles toward the j ] | j, j f ocatilla 

mountains, is an area over half a 
mile square, covered with the cones 
of a mud volcanic region similar 
to the one I have just described. 
But these are all dead. The ces- ~ 
sation of activity left the cones to 
the forces of erosion. Wind, storm, "Z^S--^^-^^ 
rain, and sand are playing havoc 

with them, and they are now rapidly succumbing and weathering 
away. In exploring the region, however, one must be exceedingly 
careful to avoid serious injury, or, perhaps, death, for the chemical 
and aqueous agencies long ago at work here have tunneled strangely 
into the crust of the earth. Great chambers, long galleries, far- 
reaching corridors, tall chimneys, sloping chutes, and yawning 
abysses lie in wait, merely covered by the calcareous and other de- 
posits of the volcanoes. In treading one is liable to step on one of 
these covered pitfalls and drop to disaster or death below. Being 
out of the line of any travel and in a region not at all alluring or 
suggestive even to a prospector, this "devil's half-mile" is practi- 
cally unknown, save to a small handful of the adventurous spirits 
that love to penetrate even into mysteries that seem to be profitless. 
All through the summer and occasionally during the winter dust 

20 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

whirlwinds may be seen in different parts of the desert. These 
spiral shafts of whirling sand rise to the height of one, two, even 
three thousand feet, and while to be in their course is to be covered 
with dust and to have one's hat and clothing and hair tousled 
and roughly handled, to stand apart and witness them, like shining 
shafts of marble, glistening in the sun, moving along with stately 
majesty, is to witness that which is as inspiring as it is novel. 

Distances on the desert seem much shorter than they really are. 
In the early days the government surveyors, familiar with distances, 
estimated the distance of the termination of the San Bernardino 
range from the Colorado River at four miles. They found it to 
be thirteen. Every party of prospectors has a similar experience. 
Its members start out to reach a given spot. In the cool morning 
air they are exhilarated and confident. They ride or drive or 
walk and the object gets no nearer. The hot sun comes out and 
scorches all exuberance out of them and they plod on in weary 
desperation, and yet they seem to be little, if any, nearer. Their 
water gives out and they suffer agony, but still drag one foot after 
another, and yet their destination is far away, and, unless some one 
has had intuitive foresight or unusual precautions have been taken, 
another party returns to civilization with one or more of its mem- 
bers left dead on the desert. 

The clarity of the atmosphere has much to do with this deception, 
for it enables one to see as if through field-glasses, but the chief 
reason is found in the lack of moisture in the atmosphere. Moist- 
ure sets out the various parts of a mountain range in true perspec- 
tive; each ridge has a moist atmosphere, so to speak, to float in and 
make it stand out from every other ridge. This enables the eye 
to judge of comparative distances. But on the desert one ridge 
is superposed upon another, one range upon another, and the eye 
is unable to segregate them. Not until one is close upon them 
are the separations noticeable. Then, too, the clarity of the 
atmosphere, combined with the rarity of objects of comparison, 
aids in the deception. The very barrenness of the desert aids in 
making distances illusive. Were its vast spaces filled up with 
towns and cities, forests and rivers, even though its atmospheric 
conditions could be preserved (which, of course, they could not), 
the illusions of distance would be materially decreased. 

A General View of the Desert 


As to the heat of the desert, the temperature has a wide range. 
In winter the climate is delicious beyond compare, but in summer 
it is hot, 120° Fahrenheit being not uncommon. 

Hot ? Yes. So hot that in the fertile part of the desert many 
of the workmen, plowing, harrowing, sowing, reaping, or what 
not, go two or three times a day and incontinently tumble them- 
selves, clothes and all, into the irrigation reservoirs, then walk out 
and coolly go on with their work. 

Hot ? Yes. So hot that I know men who turn the hose upon 
their bed and sprinkle it down about five or six o'clock in the even- 
ing in order to cool it off before they retire. 

In the summer months it behooves every stranger upon the 


s -ft~fe - '- : r°"¥— *-* * — — »i 

.4 Yuma Indian bulletins his house 

desert to beware how he tempts Providence. Many a man, who 
had even become somewhat acclimated, has lost his life by being 
too bold, too confident. 

There are several regions that may be termed the oases of the 
desert, such as Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley — which includes 
Indio on the north and Mecca on the south — and the Imperial 
Valley. These are all caused by irrigation and are beauty spots, 
indeed, when compared with the barrenness of the surrounding 
country. Their origin and growth and the marvelous results that 
experience has demonstrated are to be looked for by further efforts 
are worthy of the more extended observation that will be accorded 
in other chapters. 

Between Parker, Arizona, and Picacho, California, lies the great 

22 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

valley of the Colorado River. This is an alluvial valley one hun- 
dred miles long and about eight miles wide. It contains not less 
than five hundred thousand acres of good and fertile land needing 
only irrigation to make it as productive as any in the country. 

There are comparatively few Indians in the desert region. The 
group of villages of Coahuillas in "Mesquite Land" and the con- 
tiguous mountains, the Chemehuevis and Yumas on the Col- 
orado River, and a few nomad Cocopahs now and again located 
near to Calexico, with their primitive dwellings, are the only 

These, in the main, are the physical features that characterize 
the Colorado Desert. Though, in the following pages, I have 
confined my descriptions to the region north of the Mexican line, 
it must not be forgotten that no arbitrary political boundary sets 
off the Colorado Desert. The same conditions exist to a greater 
or lesser extent below the line as above. 

The Physical History of the Desert 



The Physical History of the Desert 

iESERTS are made, not born. Like Topsy they 
'grow." The sands and beaches and min- 
eral deposits and mountains of a desert like 
the Colorado are an accretion, a more or less 
slow growth, not a sudden birth. The geolo- 
gists have discussed the problems involved in 
the birth of the mountain ranges of the desert, 
and seem to be agreed that they are of a later 
date than either the Coast Range or the Sierra 

Beyond the San Bernardino ranges to the north and east are 
numberless smaller ranges, most of which are volcanic. These 
and the consequent valleys between fill up the space between 
the sands of the Colorado Desert and those of the Mohave. 
These volcanic ranges are scattered in careless confusion over 
the whole area. There is no parallelism, no uniformity of direc- 
tion or size. They are alike in their rugged barrenness, their 
inhospitable character, their almost freedom from verdure, and 
the scarcity of water. Almost the whole region east and west of 
the Colorado River for six hundred miles of its course above the 
gulf may be said to'have the same singular characteristics. The 
plains and valleys between the mountains are low, hot, arid, and 
scantily clad. The exceptions from these generalizations, both 
in place and time, are fully noted elsewhere. During the summer 
months the sun pours down its fierce heat upon the sands and 
rocks untempered by clouds above or forest shades beneath. 
Rains fall seldom, and when they do come they generally fall with 
such suddenness and large volume that they sweep over the country 
with uncontrolled force, dashing down the bare mountains in 
unrestrained torrents and over the plains in floods which carry 

24 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

everything before them. Disappearing almost as rapidly as 
they come, they leave no nourishing moisture behind; indeed their 
sudden onslaught seems to do more harm than good, for they 
wash away a large part of the humus that, with pathetic patience, 
the sand and rocks seek to accumulate from the few desert plants 
and shrubs that desperately cling to the inhospitable region, re- 
fusing to be ejected. 

Originally here were but few springs, and though I have written 
a chapter on the rivers of the desert only the Colorado is reliable 
in its constant flow. The others are intermittent, now flooding 
the regions through which they pass, washing out roads, carrying 
away bridges and railway tracks, destroying irrigating aqueducts 
and ditches and ruining growing crops, and then ceasing entirely, 
so that a stranger passing over their course is apt to deny their 
very existence. Capricious, uncertain, wilful, and destructive, 
they are not like the beneficent rivers of the East that flow placidly 
along through fertile meadows, friendly to man and beast and 
yielding themselves to the general aspects of civilized countries. 
Like the wild animals that lave in their waters and the sterile 
country through which they pass, they must be tamed and made 
subject to the will of man ere they will yield anything of beauty 
to the landscape, nourishment to the soil, or comfort to mankind. 
The few springs have been fostered and cherished by dusky 
aborigine and white settler alike, though their waters are for the 
most part either saline or alkaline. Few, if any, of the older 
known springs, save in the higher reaches of the mountains, but 
contain minerals in solution in distinct quantities, so that both 
man and beast, used to the purer water of more hospitable regions, 
seek in vain to quench their thirst. Only habitude renders the 
waters palatable and acceptable. The story of how many of 
the wells came to be dug is told in the chapter on the pathfinders, 
and when one stands by the side of these pathetic scenes of man's 
struggle to wrest this necessary element from the hostile desert 
he feels to the full the measure of will power, of indomitable 
energy, of dauntless courage, of persistent effort his fellows are 
capable of making in order to carry out their inflexible will. 
Recently artesian wells have been bored in the upper portion of 
the desert, from Indio to Mecca, and this one factor has changed 

The Physical History of the Desert 25 

the region from barren and waste sand to fertile and rich farms, 
where melons, cantaloupes, figs, oranges, grapes, and small fruits 
grow to perfection and are ready for market many weeks ahead 
of those grown on the seacoast side of the mountain ranges. 

There are three principal soil levels. The first is best seen 
when descending into the desert over the San Gorgonio Pass. 
It is formed of great masses of rock, gravel, and detritus, washed 
by cloudbursts down the canyons and sides of the steep moun- 
tains and swept far out over the sands. Standing at Palm Springs 
station and looking to the northwest a great "fan" of this rocky 
detritus is seen, many scores of feet high and extending for two 
or more miles into the heart of the desert. The second level 
is of sand, representing the former beaches and bed of the ancient 

The San Gorgonio Pass 

sea, while the third is composed of layers of clay, fine sand, and 
silt, laid down in the still water of a fresh-water lake. The evi- 
dences of this fresh-water lake are as abundant in its beaches and 
shells as are the evidences of the occupancy of the region by the 
gulf. All along the foot-hills, seen to the right after the train leaves 
Palm Springs station, and approaching Indio, are discolorations 
in an even, horizontal line and extending for a long distance. 
These are calcareous incrustations which cover the surface of 
the rocks and enter into every cavity and crevice. At Indio the 
people speak of them as "the coral reef" and take their friends 
and visitors to see them as a great curiosity. This crust was 
undoubtedly deposited under water, and on examination is 
found to be cellular and full of small spiral shells. These shells 

20 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

also are found in vast quantities on the clay and are scattered all 
over the region from Indio to the Salton Sea and below. In 
some places they actually whiten the ground and can be shoveled 
up by the millions. They are all fresh-water shells of the Planor- 
bis, Anodonta {A. Calif orniensis Lea), now found in the Colorado 
River, Physa (P. humorosa), and Amnicola {A. protea and A. 
longinqua). The Physa is still found in some of the springs on 
the New River. 

While the surrounding mountains have contributed their quota 
to the sands, gravels, and clays that constitute the floor of the 
desert, they have yielded but an infinitesimal part of the vast 
quantities that have here found lodgment and home. The history 
of these sands and their removal to this region is one of the most 
fascinating chapters of dynamic geology and one which more 
fully, perhaps, than any other manifestation bf natural power sets 
off its majesty as compared with the pygmy endeavors of man. 
The full history can be read only by years of study in the mountains 
where the Colorado River has its birth and in the plateau regions 
through which it and its tributaries flow, but a good substitute 
for these years of personal investigation and study may be found 
in Major Powell's great book on the "Canyons of the Colorado." 
Here he traces, step by step, the growth of the mountains, their 
steady uplift out of the primeval oceans, the birth of the river, 
the slow cutting down of its mountain channel to correspond 
with the land's uplift, and the denudation and degradation of 
the rocky strata of the country for many hundreds of miles. All 
the rocks and sand and debris of these strata found their way 
into the Colorado river-bed, there to be tumbled and tossed, 
rolled and crushed, battered and pounded out of all resemblance 
to their original rocky form and carried either bodily, by the 
force of the stream, or in solution, to be voided violently at its 
mouth or deposited gently as the flow of the river grew more 

See, then, this native bowl of the Colorado Desert. Com- 
paratively little of rocky debris had flowed into it from its own 
immediate mountains. The waters of the Gulf of California 
reached up as far as the slopes of Mounts San Jacinto and San 
Bernardino, taking in all the region now known as the Imperial 

The Physical History of the Desert 27 

Valley, the Salton Basin, and the Coachella Valley. It stretched 
away to the south as far west as the Cocopah Mountains, which 
are an eastern offshoot of the Sierra San Jacinto. Beyond the 
Cocopahs, also, the gulf extended, over what is now called the 
Maquata Basin, to the slopes of the main range and up in the 
direction of San Diego. The whole of the present delta of the 
river was included, so that there was an area of over three thou- 
sand square miles which, in those prehistoric days, was included 
in the Gulf of California and covered by its waters. And this 
area does not include the Mohave Desert. How came about 
the change, and whence all this vast volume of sand to fill up so 
large an area ? As I have elsewhere shown, the Colorado River 
is the answer. It was the excavator, the steam shovel, the power 
dredger, the carrier, the depositor of it all. Unaided it has accom- 
plished what all the men of all time with all the machines ever 
invented could not have done. 

From many evidences it is assumed that the river, at this time, 
emptied into the gulf not far from Pilot Knob, pouring out its 
waters in a southwesterly direction against the Cocopah peninsula. 
Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after 
year, the surcharged river voided its load into the open gulf. It 
is more than probable that the coarser and heavier materials 
were deposited near the mouth of the stream, thus forming a 
perpetually growing encroachment upon the waters of the gulf. 
Little by little the bowl was filled up, until at last the material 
brought down by the river began to show above the face of the 
water at low tide. This deposited material then asserted its 
will over that of the river. It said in effect, "You shall not deposit 
all you bring right here. You must carry it farther down," and 
in sullen anger the river slowly and sluggishly obeyed. 

But when the snows of the winter were melted by the summer's 
sun in the high mountainous regions and "a million cascade brooks 
united to form a thousand torrent creeks; a thousand torrent 
creeks united to form half a hundred rivers beset with cataracts; 
and half a hundred rivers united to form the Colorado," and all 
these brought their large quota of mud, sand, pebbles, and rocky 
debris and poured them into this one great river, it occasionally 
rose in its mad, wild fury and shot its unwelcome load wherever 

28 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

it would. At such times it broke all the bounds it had made for 
itself by previous depositions in the gulf. 

During one of these floods it voided so vast an amount of sedi- 
ment that the area directly in front of its mouth was covered to 
a height much above that which the water itself attained when the 
flow was normal. As a result, when the flood subsided, a great 
dam was found to have been built which shut off the northern 
portion of the gulf, that which included the Imperial, Salton, and 
Coachella Valleys. "Under these conditions," says Professor 
Blake, "the channel connecting the upper and lower portions of 
the gulf must have gradually become more and more shallow, and 
the continued growth of the delta must have filled it up, so that 
the tide could no longer ebb and flow to the upper end, thus form- 
ing a lake, its only barrier on the south being the silt and mud of 
the Colorado. This barrier was probably an extended flat, and 
not a narrow bar, for the silt was undoubtedly much spread about 
by the tides and the current caused by influx of the river. A very 
considerable portion of the silt was doubtless carried to the extreme 
northern part of the gulf, forming the foundation for the super- 
stratum of clay of lacustrine origin which we now find there. The 
accumulation, however, was undoubtedly most rapid and deep 
opposite the mouth of the river, and it must have formed an effec- 
tual barrier between one part of the gulf and the other. It must 
have been covered by only a few feet of water, and was thus left 
entirely bare at low tides. Such conditions were most favorable 
for the rapid growth and transformation of the flats to dry land 
or salt marsh. Every great freshet in the stream must have made 
great additions to it, until at length it was submerged only when 
the tides were very high and the river much swollen. In that 
climate, a surface of mud exposed to the sun and air, and so well 
watered, must have been covered with a luxuriant growth of tule, 
grass, and other vegetation; and it doubtless existed for a long time 
as a low swamp, traversed in every direction by sloughs and 

"It is probable that even after the delta had so far grown as to 
be above the water, there were numerous narrow canal-like 
channels between the river and the lake, or between the lake and 
the gulf; so that the water in the lake was constantly retained at 

The Physical History of the Desert 29 

the same level. That the lake received its supply of water, in 
great part, from the river is shown by the fact that it was fresh 
water, or but slightly saline; the presence of salt or brackish water 
being proved by the fossil shell Gnathodon Lecontei. The great 
deposition of clay containing the shells probably took place in 
this way; the current of the river being at times, if not constantly, 
turned in that direction. In this case the excess of water, if not 
removed by evaporation, must have flowed out into the gulf by 
some channel farther south. It is not impossible that the Colo- 
rado once flowed along the line of banks or terraces near Cookes 
Well and the Alamo, and after depositing its silt in the quiet water 
of the lake, escaped to the gulf, at some point near or below the 
present entrances to New River. With the immense quantities 
of silt that the Colorado brings down, even now, such conditions 
could not long remain, and the river must have been turned 
toward the more open waters of the gulf by the resistance of its 
own depositions. After the lake had become deprived of its sup- 
ply of water from the river, and its communication with the gulf 
became closed, except, perhaps, at seasons of freshets, it must have 
undergone rapid evaporation, especially in that region of violent 
arid winds, pouring in from the surrounding deserts and over the 
mountains from the sea. It is not difficult to comprehend that 
this cause was sufficient to remove all the water from the lake in 
the course of a few years. 

"Some of the conditions which have been detailed as probable 
are still found to exist. The Colorado yet continues to overflow 
at seasons of high water, and the water runs backward for sixty 
miles, and forms a chain of small lakes or ponds; the water in these 
evaporates rapidly, and disappears soon after the supply ceases. 
We find an extensive area of low and marshy land around the 
head of the gulf, which is annually overflowed and covered by 
quantities of silt spread out upon it by the Colorado. Father 
Consag, who made the first survey of the gulf in 1746, ascending 
as far as the mouth of the Colorado, describes the land about it 
as low and marshy; the mud being red, and so soft that it would 
not support the men when they stepped out upon it. The enor- 
mous quantities of silt carried down by the river is shown not only 
by the dark-red color of its water, but by the discoloration that 

30 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

it produces in the water of the gulf, which was formerly called 
the Vermilion Sea, probably from its red color." 

I have thus presented in full Mr. Blake's theory of the formation 
of the Salton Basin. It was the first, and so far has been the only 
scientific presentation of the subject. I am inclined to think, 
however, that slight divergences from his theories may be noted, 
based upon my recent studies of the Alamo and New Rivers. 
These differences will be noted as the careful observer reads what 

Assuming the casting up of the natural dam and the isolation of 
the northern portion of the gulf, it will be seen that it was still full 
of salt water, — water brought in by the tides that rise and fall in 
the gulf. Being thus shut off from the gulf and receiving no ma- 
terial inflow from any other source, evaporation soon dried it up. 

Some geologists in accounting for this shutting ofF of the desert 
from the Gulf of California assert that it was partially attributable 
to one of the slow uplifts of which we have so many evidences 
throughout the geological world. This seems to be more an 
assumption than a scientific deduction, for careful measurement 
of the old beach lines, which are found all along the walls of the 
desert, shows that they have the same elevation as the present-day 
sea-level. It would appear, therefore, that there has been no 
uplift of the region since the gulf occupied it, but rather that the 
river itself caused its isolation, and evaporation carried ofF the 
imprisoned waters. In the meantime the river built up a channel 
for itself higher than the surrounding country which it had made, — 
a channel which flowed to the east of the great dam it had formed 
and with a general trend southward. Floods still continued to be 
made by the melting snows of the mountains, and possibly each 
year the river overflowed its self-made channel into the low-lying 
country beyond. By this time — for it would take but a few 
short years to completely dry out all the salt water from the iso- 
lated basin — the desert bowl possessed somewhat the appearance 
it has for us to-day. The sea beach line was formed, and the great 
piles of sand were being dried out and carried to and fro by the 
winds as they are now. 

Then came a flood which broke over channel and dam alike 
and formed the course of what we call the Alamo River. This was 

The Physical History of the Desert Si 

the channel through which a portion of the waters of the Colorado 
was poured into the basin and made of it a fresh-water lake. Year 
after year it flowed, and maintained the fresh-water character of 
what had, in comparatively recent times, been an arm of the gulf, 
then a salt lake, then a dry basin. It was at this time that the 
fresh-water shells were deposited of which millions are now found, 
and the calcareous matter deposited which forms the "coral reef" 
west of Indio. 

Possibly it was while the bed of the basin was dry that the abo- 
rigines first came and dwelt in it. If so, this would account for 
their tradition that long after they had occupied the region the 
floods came and drove them out. But I am inclined to the opinion 

Salton Sea by moonlight 

that this occurred not once, but many times. The new channel of 
the Alamo may have conducted the waters for many scores of 
years or even centuries into the fresh-water lake, — for, of course, 
its waters would now be fresh owing to its isolation from the 
gulf, — and during this period another overflow cut the channel 
we call the New River. For there is no reason to assume that 
the New River is a recent creation, any more than that the Alamo 
is. The same conditions that caused the Alamo may also have 
created the New, and the geological history of both confirms this 
theory. Both have been fresh-water channels to the Salton Basin 
from long before historic times. 

Then came another flood epoch, which built a dam across the 
Alamo channel. This closed part of the fresh-water supply and 

32 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

finally, when another flood closed the New River channel, the 
Salton Sea again dried up, this time leaving the evidences of its 
fresh-water history. 

The evidences are clear that the Alamo channel had its entrance 
not far — a few miles to the north or the south — of the intake 
cut by Engineer Rockwood of the California Development Com- 
pany, so that he was merely doing what Nature had done centuries 
before, and at the same time undoing some of Nature's later work. 
Thus we have the spectacle again presented to us of the Salton 
Basin filling up with the fresh water of the Colorado River. Un- 
fortunately the conditions now are not so simple as when none but 
a few nomad Indians occupied the dried-out sea bed. Miles and 
miles of railway, a score or more of towns, and fully fifteen thou- 
sand inhabitants, with their homes, their orchards, their farms, 
their all, live in the bowl of what in turn has been gulf, salt sea, 
and fresh-water lake. Hence what man can do to arrest what 
would once have been regarded as the simple and natural course 
of nature he will do with energy, persistence, and success, and the 
Salton will erelong revert to its former condition as the Colorado 
is forced back into its old channel. 

While there are many other dynamic problems connected with 
the desert, these will be found discussed elsewhere to prevent 
repetition, my chief aim, in this chapter, being to make clear the 
theories I hold as to the successive steps in the history of the 
peculiar and distinctive below-sea-level feature of the Colorado 

Desert Surprises 



Desert Surprises 

■rfgSJSP^fP^BP^ te k H E horrors, terrors, discomforts, and harsh 
^ BBfel^^ % /ffikmffl** conditions of the desert have so largely been 
dwelt upon bywriters and others that there 
are few people who are not filled with mis- 
conceptions as to what the desert really is. 
To such the desert — as it is — is a place 
of perpetual surprises. One morning I 
found myself recounting these surprises. 
The long list of them amazed me. This chapter is the result. 
It is merely a condensation of what will be found treated more 
fully elsewhere in these pages. 

One of the first great surprises is the clarity of the atmosphere. 
Even to those well acquainted with the clearness of Southern 
California — the peopled portions usually known by that name — 
the especial transparency of the desert atmosphere comes as a 
delight and a surprise. Everything stands out with startling 
vividness. Every line of the mountains is as sharply defined as 
if newly cut; each dent and dimple, canyon and peak, is clear and 
clean cut. In the early morning when there are no heat waves, 
no haze, no flying sand, there seems to be no limit to one's vision. 
Size, of course, suffers, but everything, no matter how far distant, 
is clearly to be seen. 

The large, bright beauty of the stars is a surprise. Only on the 
desert are such stars and such evening skies ever seen. In a vault 
of pure, deep, turquoise blue each star stands out with a vivid lu- 
minosity that is startling. They seem larger as well as clearer. In 
the presence of such stars one can better understand the story of 
the wise men who came to see the infant Jesus, led by the star in 
the East. In such a desert atmosphere a large star would blaze 
with a power of attractiveness no intelligent mind could resist. 

Vol. I. — 3 


■ The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

And, oh! the surprises of the night. Heat, fierce, blazing, 
scorching, intense all day! Then, as soon as the shadows fall, 
how soothing, how restful, how delicious everything becomes! 
The coolness, like a silent dream river, flows all over and around 
you, and then into you and you feel the restful influences as a 
real thing entering into your being. The calm quietude seems 
a foretaste of that future we think of, "where the wicked cease 
from troubling and the weary are at rest." 

The heat of the desert is a matter of great surprise to most 
people. Temperatures, in the shade, of i io° Fahrenheit, 120°, and 
even 130 are not uncommon, and once in a while it reaches 140 
and even higher. Out in the sun the thermometer must be 
much higher. I well remem- 
ber one night — a very 
unusual case — 

Palms in the foot-hills near India 

where the thermometer registered 128 at midnight. To those 
familiar with the enervating and depressing heat of the moister 
atmospheres in the middle western and eastern states these 
figures seem incredible, and the wonder is not lessened when it 
is discovered that white men as well as Indians work all through 
the summer in these temperatures, without fear of sunstroke, 
which is practically unknown, and are both healthy and happy. 
Yet the heat is intense. Let this be not misunderstood. I do 
not wish to minify the frightful and scorching heat of the desert, 
and its effect upon those who are unused to it. At first it seems 
as if it would paralyze one, as if he must dry up and blow away. 
This, of course, is in the hottest days of summer. These are the 
days when it is suicide for the stranger to attempt to go out alone 
on the desert, and yet, strange to say, many a new prospector 

Desert Surprises 35 

will make his initial trip at such a time, thus giving rise to another 
of the desert surprises. For is it not surprising to a remarkable 
degree that an intelligent human being will start out on such a 
dangerous trip without due regard to his safety and without con- 
sultation with those who are able to advise him ? Many a bleached 
skeleton is all that is left to tell of the foolhardiness of those who 
have dared the fierce desert heat in this manner. 

Yet there is a very definite reason for this self-evident fool- 
hardiness. It is another of the surprises of the desert. The clar- 
ity of the atmosphere makes distances deceptive. This is now 
so well known that few are not aware that the fact is as stated, 
and yet, such is the reliance one places upon his judgment or on 
the unsupported evidence of his own senses, that he will not accept 
the warnings of those who know, but walks directly and seemingly 
with wilfulness into the greatest danger. 

This, however, is only a small part of the explanation. During 
the cool of the early morning, while the air is like champagne or 
some electric fluid coursing- through his veins and giving to nerves 
and muscles unwonted sensations of stimulus and exaltation, 
it requires a more than usually steady brain to keep one from 
forgetting the limits of his strength and the change a few hours 
will bring. Heat ? What heat can hurt him feeling as he now 
does ? Water ? He can walk thirty miles as easily as five in 
this atmosphere. And he starts out under the influence of this 
delicious desert intoxication — I have done it myself many a 
time — only to find suffering awaiting him later, and, if he be 
very ignorant of desert conditions, possibly death. Even old 
prospectors are occasionally bewitched into carelessness by these 
seductive electric conditions, and the older and wiser the pros- 
pector the less willing is he to take any chances. For the midday 
and afternoon heat are blistering and burning beyond conception 
of the mind familiar only with ordinary conditions. 

And yet, strange to say, in spite of this heat the wonderful 
range of temperature found on the desert and its environs is 
one of its greatest surprises. 

When you tell the stranger that the thermometer registers as 
low as 1 7 Fahrenheit, or fifteen degrees below freezing, a very 
much lower temperature than is found in the better known parts 

A lone 



A ndreas 



Desert Surprises 37 

of Southern California, he finds it a difficult statement to believe. 
If, in addition to this, you include the temperature of the moun- 
tains of l^ie desert in the range, the figures are more startling 
still, as it is asserted (no observations having been made) that 
on the summits of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto a temperature 
far below zero is to be found. 

Here then, given a zero temperature, we have a range from 
zero to l6o° Fahrenheit, surely a wide enough variation to satisfy 
the most exacting. 

But it is not only in the wide ranged temperature recorded at 
different times and places on the desert that surprises lurk. One 
is sometimes met with a climatic change in a short walk or drive 
that is startling in its suddenness. Some atmospheric phenome- 
non causes an immediate radiation of heat, or influx of cold air, 
that is almost paralyzing. Once in riding out from Palm Valley 
to Palm Springs station I left in a most comfortable temperature. 
It must be remembered that the valley is completely sheltered 
from the north and west by the gigantic walls of Mount San 
Jacinto. The moment we emerged from the sheltering walls 
a fierce, cold, penetrating blast, rushing with great speed down 
through the San Gorgonio Pass, struck us and ere we reached 
the station we were almost stiff with the cold. 

The reverse of this experience, where one goes from the cold or 
hot .wind of the San Gorgonio Pass into the perfect shelter of 
the spur on the way to Palm Valley, seems little short of miracu- 
lous to those who have not been informed and who do not com- 
prehend the simple explanation of the phenomenon. 

Rain on the desert is always a surprise. Strangers gaze in 
wonder at the simple event and ask in amazement, "Rain? 
Why, I thought it never rained on the desert." The desert dweller, 
who during a hot and rainless spring, summer, and fall almost 
forgets how it looks and feels to have the beneficent showers 
fall upon him and the dry and thirsty country around, and who 
feels thirsty at every pore, never gets over his surprise and delight 
when the first rains of winter come. But to see and feel it rain in 
the middle of a hot summer, who can describe that ? Yet it 
sometimes occurs. To see the thirsty ground, the shrubs and 
trees drink it in, and to feel the delicious moisture penetrating 

38 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

every pore of the skin and soothing every nerve and muscle and 
gently stealing even into the brain and easing up the dry, taut 
feeling there, while at the same time it fills the veins a«d makes 
the blood flow more fluidly, — that is surprise and delight that 
few have ever realized. 

Rain generally falls from December to February, but there are 
showers sometimes in the heart of the summer. 

And in this connection one cannot ignore the surprise he feels 
at the power of the Indians to foretell these unusual showers, or 
the abundance or scarcity of the regular rains. This past summer 
one of the Palm Springs Indians definitely assured us, "Heap 
plenty rain this winter. We catch 'em lots." And so it proved, 
for the winter of 1905-06 has seen a large rainfall. 

It will be a surprise to many to learn that in variation of altitude 
the Colorado Desert is the most remarkable place now known 
on earth. The San Jacinto Mountain is its northwestern out- 
post with an elevation of 10,805 feet. The Salton Basin is 253 
feet below sea-level. In a direct line the distance between the 
two is approximately twenty-five to thirty-five miles, so that in 
that short distance the desert gives us a variation of altitude of 
over eleven thousand feet. 

But if one should object and say the mountain summit should 
not be regarded as belonging to the desert, we will take the town 
of Banning as the highest point or outpost of the actual desert. 
Its elevation is 2,317 feet, which, added to the Salton Sink depres- 
sion, gives a variation of 2,570 feet in a distance of less than one 
hundred miles. 

There is a peculiar charm and surprise about the odors of the 
desert that needs comment. Each odor is vivid and distinct, 
and can readily be distinguished from its fellow. It is as if the 
pure atmosphere compelled a segregation of odors rather than 
a commingling of them. I remember one night walking along 
in the warm air of the virgin desert with the vivid odo<- of the 
creosote bush filling the nostrils. Suddenly we entered a stratum 
of cooler air. The creosote disappeared and that of growing 
alfalfa took its place. Fifty yards farther on there came the 
smell of burning wood — indicative of man's dwelling — then 
the odor of willows. It was not the variety that surprised but 

Desert Surprises 39 

the clear vividness of each odor as set off from all others that 
arrested the attention. 

And one may be on the desert a whole year and never have his 
senses assailed with the vile odors that are the peculiar property 
of cities. Decaying garbage, the musty smell of shut-in rooms, 
the awful air of closed-up churches, the polluted, "gassy," earth 
smells when the streets are dug into for repairs to gas-mains, etc., 
the thousand and one smells and stinks and abominations to the 
olfactory senses of civilization are never present on the desert. 
I am willing to endure the primitive conditions in order to be 
free from these apparently necessary adjuncts of our civilized 
life, for in the one are health and life and in the other are disease 
and death. 

There is another phase, too, of the odors of the desert that 
must not be overlooked. Whatever the doctors or scientists 
say of them, there can be no question but that the odors distilled 
by the sun from the numberless sages and other desert plants 
have a distinctly soothing and healing influence upon all people 
suffering from pulmonary or bronchial difficulties. To be slowly 
suffocating through the cruel action of dread disease and then 
to come here and find relief, find the lungs beginning to expand 
again, the closed passages opening, the blood beginning to cir- 
culate again, this is to experience a delightful surprise. And it 
is one that never fails if the sufferer comes early enough and is 
willing to place himself wisely under these beneficent desert 

The colors of the desert are a never-ending source of delightful 
surprise. Here where I sit in the'shade of a house, in March, 1906, 
at a little after five in the afternoon, the southeastern extension 
of the San Bernardino range and the Chocolate Mountains are 
before me. Such a mass of glowing color is never witnessed 
away from the desert. No artist could reproduce it. Its glow 
is too vivid and fiery. The hills themselves are apparently devoid 
of all verdure, and seem, from here, as if made of varicolored 
clays, — the predominant tints being reddish gray, a light sage- 
green, olive, and brick-red. At the extreme end of these hills, 
which are gradually diminished in height, is the Chocolate range, 
so named from its vivid color. As one looks at the lighter and 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

lower hills in front of the darker it. is hard to believe that the 
difference is a real one of color. It seems as if it must be that 
the eastern range is in shadow, while the foot-hills are in brilliant 
sunshine. To the left stretching far away to the north and north- 
west the San Bernardino range grows darker and less brilliant, 
and the snow-cap of the giant San Gorgonio is hidden in the haze 
of the sky. Another day it will stand out as vividly and distinctly 
as if but a mile or two away, and every canyon in the seamed and 
rugged slopes will be as clearly discernible as are the foot-hills 
just before me this afternoon. 

And so it is every day. The moun- 
tains are a never-ending source of surprise 
in the delightful color changes they offer. 
Then the sunrises and sunsets and the 
various colored sand, and the glistening 
efflorescence of the salt, the various greens 
of the trees, from the light pea-green of 
the cottonwood and willows to the olive- 
greens of the mesquite and the greenish 
Vandyke browns of the mistletoe, — these 
are to be seen nowhere else in the world 
as they are on the Colorado Desert. 

Now,- half an hour later, the hills have 
lost their glow, — they are in shadow. A 
far-away summit is glorious in a bath of 
liquid peach bloom, the Chocolate range 
is sublimated into liquid rose-madder, shading down to vivid pur- 
ple, while a range in the far distant east is bathed in every shade 
of red, from a tender blush rose to a deep and fiery glow. 

For a few hours our eyes and senses rest. We go indoors to 
eat and in the pleasures of the table forget for a while the subtler 
joys of sight. Then we step out of doors again to enjoy the cool 
of evening, and in one great, wonderful moment our very souls 
are flooded with a new and delicious sensation. The moon has 
arisen. Its soft, silvery tide has flowed over everything and there 
are no longer any harsh mountains, any barren, desolate desert. 
All is sublimated, transfused into a dream of calm, quiet, alluring 
beauty, that seems to steal into one's being through every sense 

Yuma woman 

Desert Surprises 


avenue. Nostrils, ears, touch, the pores of the skin, as well as 
eyes, take their dole of the prodigal wealth scattered broadcast 
from nadir to zenith and which has left nothing of earth untouched, 
and the soul itself seems to gently fall into a delicious restfulness 
that is a foretaste of the peace of heaven. 

A perennial source of surprise even to the desert habitant 
are the marvelous varieties and the peculiarities of the tree and 
plant life: the palo verde, that wonderful prickly "green stick" 
tree, which has no leaves, only thorns, and yet which blossoms out 
in season into a gold more rich and gorgeous than Solomon's tem- 
ple robes ; the smoke tree that, from a casual look, may readily be 
taken for the ascending smoke from a camper's fire; the mesquite, 

full of thorns, 
laden with mis- 
tletoe of richest 
browns and 

The smoke tree (Dalea spinosa) 

greens and reds, and that also has a wealth of blossoms ; the 
thousand and one varieties of cactus, each possessing its own 
colors ; the creosote bush everywhere present, and in the late 
winter one of the most beautiful shrubs I have ever seen, clothed 
in a rich, waxy, deep green, enlivened with its yellow blossoms 
and pure white, fluffy, cotton-like seed pods. Then the desert 
willow, that anomaly of desert plants, — a water plant residing 
on the desert, — with its soft green leaves and its beautiful flow- 
ers, what a surprise it is! To be riding up a narrow canyon 
with bare walls of solid and ragged rock on each side of you, a 
few shrubs and plants scattered here and there on the "floor" of 
the canyon as you journey, and then, suddenly, to find a rich green 
tree, covered with beautiful white, pink, and purple blossoms, 

42 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

is like meeting a desert friend in the crowded streets of a city 
of high walls and hot stones. 

I have often wished I had been present to observe the surprise 
and delight that must have come over the first European traveler 
who discovered the palms of the desert. How he must have thrilled! 
Even to-day I never catch sight of the groves in the foot-hills to 
the northeast of Indio, and see the stately fringed leaves swaying 
and tossing in the breeze, but a sensation comes over me as if 
I had suddenly been picked up in an air chariot and whirled 
away to some new land. Then, when one finds them in the can- 
yons, and, stranger still, right out in the heart of the desert, he 
begins to feel an affection for them that, once rooted in one's 
heart, can never be effaced. 

Another great surprise connected with the plant life of the 
desert is the way in which the flowers and Bermuda grass come 
up after the rains. There will be no indication of either literally 
for years, — neither a flower nor a blade of grass. Then, sud- 
denly, a shower will come, and as if by magic flowers and grass 
appear. Where have the seeds been all these quiescent years ? 
What has preserved them ? How have they retained their 
vitality ? 

Of the wealth of the desert flowers I have written elsewhere, as 
also of the marvelous growths of planted trees and fruiting plants. 
The way gardens and orchards spring up when intelligence guides 
their planting and the proper handling of the soil and water in 
irrigation form the subject of a complete chapter, and yet even 
there not a hundredth part of the story is told. From the wild 
plants of the desert that seem to be bleached by the heat of the 
tropical sun, to the rich green of a fig tree and vine, each of which 
I have seen bearing, the first in the second year after planting, 
and the latter three months after, the whole of the verdant life of 
the desert is a matter of surprise, and the more you know of it the 
more wonderful does it become. Think of vast crops of Ber- 
muda onions, sweet potatoes, oranges, grapes, figs, pomegranates, 
almonds, dewberries, strawberries, and car-loads of watermelons 
and Rocky Ford cantaloupes being shipped from the desert. 
Look at the groves of date-palms rapidly coming to maturity 
and telling of the time when the whole United States will be sup- 

Desert Surprises 


plied with this rich and delicious table delicacy from this region 
alone and then ask of the desert, "Is not this a surprise ?" 

Nor is this all! The speed with which trees and plants mature 
and the early ripening of the fruit are never-ending sources of 
surprise even to me, who, ere this, I suppose should have learned 
to get over being surprised. But to see fig trees three years old 
that are as large as trees elsewhere would be accounted large 
after ten years' growth, and to see grape-vines, planted as cuttings, 
at three months old bearing bunches of grapes weighing two and 

three pounds still affect me 
with great surprise 
each time I 

An artesian well on the desert 

And the greatest wonder of it all is the presence of the one 
indispensable thing that makes it possible, — water. A few years 
ago water was scarcely to be found on the desert. Then the 
railway bored a well. That one boring changed the whole char- 
acter of a part of the desert as by magic. It was a flowing artesian 
well. Since then scores of such wells have been bored and all 
throughout the Coachella Valley, down as far as the Salton Sea, 
millions of gallons are flowing away unused. Boston, Wash- 
ington, New York City, with all their wealth, do not enjoy such 
a marvelous flow of water as does this part of the "desert." 

Of course I remember that in the canyons and elsewhere there 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

Chuckwalla with banded tail 

were hot and cold springs, but these, strange though they were, 

excited not a thousandth part of the surprise that the ordinary 

observer experiences when, for the first time, he realizes the vast 

flow of water the artesian wells of the desert afford. 

Yet, on the other hand, is not this surprise in itself a source 

of surprise ? Why should there not be vast quantities of water 

underlying the desert ? 
With Mounts San Ja- 
cinto, San Bernardino, 
and San Gorgonio close 
at hand, all of them cov- 
ered with snow through- 
out the whole year and 

thus acting as feeders of inexhaustible underground reservoirs, it 

would be surprising indeed if none of this found its way into the 

bottom of the desert bowl by their side. 

With water outflowing in half a thousand wells and producing 

richest verdure and sweetest fruits one might naturally expect a 

large number of birds, and yet their presence is a never-ending 

surprise. In number of varieties, and the sweetness of their 

songs, even the ornithologist is surprised. As for the intelligent (?) 

Eastern observers who go away and spread abroad the false report 

that the birds of California have no songs, I 

should like to award them no severer penalty 

than to compel them to listen, as I have done, 

to the bubbling fountain of song 

that wells up from our desert 

mocking-birds, the "pip, pip, 

pip," of the quail, the gentle 

piping of the canyon wren, the 

sweet singing of the linnets, the 

"fine careless rapture" of the 

meadow larks, the fairy notes of 

the humming-birds, the saucy 

scolding of the jays, and the harsh call of the bluebirds, — all of 

which may be heard in one day on the Colorado Desert. 

Nor does this take into account the vast numbers of aquatic 

birds found on the flats of the Cc'orado River and the Salton Sea, 


Desert Surprises 


the millions of ducks, geese, herons, cranes, swans, and pelicans, 
none of which one would expect to find in such a desert region. 
The animal life of the desert, too, affords one plenty of surprises, 
for not only are there the coyote, the fox, the badger, the gopher, 
the chipmunk, the wildcat and the field-mouse, but we find the 

cunning trade rat that takes 
away from one's residence 
some article, but always 
leaves a stick for each ob- 
ject taken (hence his name), 
the antelope, the deer, the 
mountain sheep or bighorn, 
— which is growing more 
scarce each year in theUnited 
States, — and the brave and 
powerful mountain lion. Add to these the various reptiles, such 
as the gila monster, the rattlesnake, the side-winder, the chuck- 
walla, the lizard, the desert tortoise, and the horned toad, and 
such insects as the tarantula, the scorpion, the centipede, and a 
score of other strange "bugs" that now and again catch the eye, 
and one feels that in the animal life alone he has enough for the 
study of a lifetime. 

To say that one might step out from his back door and in a few 
minutes pick up in his hands twenty-two fine, large, edible fish 
would be regarded as a surprising statement for 

Desert tortoise, side view 

any locality. But when it is asserted of the 
heart of the Colorado Desert it becomes 
almost unbelievable. Yet it is literally 
true. On the last Saturday of March, 
1906, a rancher near Mecca actually 
picked up twenty-two fish, one of which 
I took to Professor C. F. Holder of 
Pasadena for identification. I account 
for the presence of these fish as fol- 
lows: During the outpouring of the 

Colorado River into the old Alamo channel many of the fish of 
the river found their way into the Salton Sea. In March of 1906, 
the rainfall in the San Bernardino Mountains being excessive, the 

Homed toad (Phrynosoma 
platyrhino, Girard) 

46 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

lower portion of the Whitewater River carried quite a stream 
to the Salton Sea. The fish, coming in contact with the purer, 
colder water of the Whitewater, naturally followed it and thus, 
when the unusual flow subsided, they were caught in a natural 
trap, caused by a pocket in the stream which retained water after 
the course elsewhere had dried out. 

One of the young men of the household, out shooting rats, 
mice, gophers, etc., at dusk, heard a peculiar noise in the bushes 
behind him, and seeing nothing, on hearing it again fired blindly 
in the direction of the noise. In the dim light he could find 
nothing that he had shot, but going to the spot the next morning 
he found three fish killed by his gun. Thus the presence of the 
fish was discovered and the other twenty-two captured. 

The Indians are full of surprises. To see them hard working, — 

men and women alike, — self- 
v^H^ l5^% respecting, sober, diligent, 

attentive to their own busi- 
ness, reverent churchgoers, 
faithful husbands and wives, 
loving parents, dutiful chil- 
dren, respectful citizens, some 

An Indian " kisli" with of them fi^t-class farmers, 

granary on roof good mechanics, and skilled 

laborers, and the women fine 
basket-makers, is to be filled with surprise. Then when one hears 
them tell their folk-lore stories, sees them in their fire-dance, listens 
to their songs of creation, a single rendition of which requires three 
all-night sessions, his surprise is increased to wonder. 

I suppose I ought not to be surprised at the Salton Sea, yet it is 
one of the most wonderful things the whole desert presents to me. 
Each time I see it, and every day I am upon it, or travel on its 
shores, or see it from the far-away mountains, it awakens the deep- 
est emotions ot surprise. A sea upon the desert! A sea in the 
heart of a blistering, scorching region of sand! Who can help 
being surprised, if his brain is habituated to thought ? The won- 
der of it! The strangeness of it! The beauty of it! The majesty 
of it! The novelty of it! 

It is all very well to account for its existence (as I have most 

Desert Surprises 47 

clearly done in the chapter devoted to the subject), but none the 
less the wonder and surprise remain. It is an anomaly, a physio- 
graphic anachronism, unexpected and for which the mind w T ill not 
be prepared, and to which it will not become accustomed. And 
how glad I am that there are some things to which I cannot become 
blase. To keep one's emotions and sensations of body, mind, and 
soul alert and awake, sensitive and receptive, is to live, and to live 
abundantly. May I ever be kept from the mental attitude that 
refuses to be surprised, that declines to yield to wonder, that re- 
gards enthusiasm and emotion with disfavor. 

One never gets over the clarity of the atmosphere of the desert, 
its purity and, better than all, its healing quality to those whose 
lungs or bronchial tubes are diseased. The healing power of the 
desert is one of its happy surprises. To see a man of mental power 
and activity, capable of long and continued service to his fellow 
man, anxious to work, well equipped for it in everyway, smitten by 
disease and in a few short months brought to a state of physical 
emaciation and exhaustion, mental inertness and spiritual qui- 
escence, is to be filled with sadness and sometimes with de- 
spair. But to see this poor, decrepit creature, with one foot 
apparently in the grave, and the other rapidly following its 
fellow, brought upon the desert, and there wrapped around 
day and night with the healing power of the sun-laden atmos- 
phere, subject to the direct vivification of sun, wind, and dry 
air, and then to watch his sure recovery to health, strength, 
courage, power, and usefulness, — this is to rejoice and be glad; 
this is to glorify God for this His wonder garden of health. And 
I have seen this so often in the past twenty-five years; I myself have 
shared in its joys. Is it not a surprise to enjoy, to see the dying 
brought back to life, to see despair driven back by renewed cour- 
age, to hear the lamentations of friends change to rejoicings, and 
then to catch echoes from the great outside world of business, lit- 
erature, art, science, and statesmanship of the manly work done by 
those who but a few short months before were brought to the 
desert as almost ready for their graves ? Yes, indeed, the wonder- 
ful restorations to health are among the greatest and most-to-be- 
desired of the surprises of the desert, and they will grow in number 
and power as the friends of the sick learn to send their ailing loved 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

ones earlier to this, place of recuperation, renewed strength, and 
new life. 

In concluding this necessarily hasty and cursory survey of some 
of the surprises of the desert it seems to me that one of the greatest 
surprises of all is the ignorance of well-informed people that the 
desert contains so many surprises. Yes, critic, I see the Hiberni- 
anism of the remark, but I am willing to let it go. We are a men- 
tally alert nation in some lines, yet in others we are asleep and 
inert. The desert has been here for ages, was here waiting for us 
to know and understand when we first took possession of it. Why 
have we so neglected it, so flouted it, so steadily refused to cultivate 
its acquaintance ? Is it to the honor of any man that he refuses the 
acquaintance of one who quietly and calmly offers him every oppor- 
tunity for personal association, and who later, by another, is dis- 
covered to be most worthy, noble, and exalted ? 

The desert is the friend of man. It is full to overflowing of bless- 
ings. It is no mere fiction to call it "the Garden of Allah." To 
you, my dear reader, it calls and says : "Come to me, know me, lean 
on my heart, and you shall gain new power, strength, courage, and 
wisdom. You shall learn, as never before, the way of life." 

Idyllwild, in San Jacinto Mountains 

The Rivers of the Desert 



The Rivers of the Desert 

HE chief river of the desert is the Colorado. 
Though I do not forget the wonderful interest 
l~ caused by the explorations of Major J. W. Pow- 
ell, which made the Grand Canyon system of 
the Colorado River known to the world, I venture 
the assertion that never before has the interest of 
man been so centered on the Colorado River as it 
[g. is to-day. The government is spending hundreds 
of thousands of dollars in constructing the Lacuna 
Dam, a few miles above Yuma, which is to supply 
water for irrigation to thousands of acres in Ari- 
zona. The California Development Company, five 
years ago, cut into its banks on the California side, diverted 
water into the old channel of the Alamo River, and conveyed it to 
the so-called Imperial Valley (a portion of the Colorado Desert 
below sea-level), poured it into scores of miles of canals and thus 
distributed it to thousands of acres of thirsty lands which merely 
awaited its coming to blossom as the rose and produce with mar- 
velous fecundity, and thus give homes to nearly twelve thousand 
people, with room for hundreds of thousands more. Owing to 
careless construction in the head-gate of this irrigation system, 
which caused the silting up of the canal and a consequent shortage 
of water, another harmless-looking cut was made in the Colorado's 
bank, below the Mexican line, in 1905, and surprised by unex- 
pected floods this small cut has widened until it is now nearly a 
mile across, and through it is pouring the whole of the waters of 
the Colorado, gathered in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, 
Nevada, Arizona, and California, so that the bed of the river below 
this cut to the Gulf of California, a distance of some one hundred 
and thirty-five miles, is as dry as a board. And this water, un- 

Vol. I. — 4 

50 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

tamed and uncontrolled, has remade two almost forgotten rivers, 
the New and the Alamo; has partially washed away two towns, 
Mexicali and Calexico; has entirely flooded and destroyed the 
town and salt-works of Salton; has refilled the sink of the Salton 
until it is now an inland sea, nearly fifty miles long, and five to 
twenty miles wide; has flooded and carried away forty miles of 
the track of the Southern Pacific railway, compelling the com- 
plete abandonment and rebuilding on a higher level of that distance 
of railway; and is now threatening (at this present moment of 
writing, July 9, 1906) the recently moved tracks so that engineers 
are determining where they shall be placed if the inpouring of the 
waters cannot be stopped. The unusual continuance of flood 
waters in the Colorado has been Nature's positive refusal to allow 
man — the most competent and skilled that money and science 
can command — to fill up the once harmless-looking cut in the 
Colorado bank, so that boards of noted engineers of the United 
States, Mexico, Southern Pacific, California Development Com- 
pany and others, officially and unofficially, have gravely studied 
the matter as one of international and, indeed, world-wide impor- 

These, then, are some of the reasons for the wide-spread interest 
in the Colorado River, the Nile of America, altogether leaving 
out of consideration the fact that if the flood does not cease 
the twelve thousand inhabitants of the Imperial Valley, with 
their orchards, farms, ranches, and stock ranges and their towns 
of Imperial, Brawley, Calexico, Mexicali, Holtville, Heber, El 
Centro, and Silsbee and the towns of Mecca, Thermal, Coachella, 
and Indio, with the Indian villages of Martinez, Agua Dulce, 
and Torres in the Coachella Valley will be submerged as was 
Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea. 

With these facts and fears connected with it there is no wonder 
that the Colorado River is now the most observed fiver of the 

Of the history of the discovery of the river by Alarcon from 
the Gulf of California, and Cardenas from the rim of the Grand 
Canyon, the explorations of Padre Garces, Hardy, and Ives, the 
adventures upon it of trappers and prospectors, the scientific 
and determinative explorations of Powell and Stanton, and the 

The Rivers of the Desert 


latter-day navigations of it by Captains Polhamus and Mellen, 
I have not now space to write. 

Elsewhere I have shown how it has been the carrier of all the 
sand and silt that have made the Mohave and Colorado Deserts, 
and how it is now filling up the Gulf of California so that, in ages 
yet to come, new deserts will appear where now tides and bores 
play havoc with the sand-bars and help distribute them to make 
way for more. 

It is an uncertain river, is the Colorado. Generally it runs 

quietly and sluggishly through the desert from about the end of 

July to the end of November, when the winter 

rains begin. After a month or two of higher 

Tlie author's boat 

water, it sinks back again to a low level until about the middle of 
May when the snows begin to melt in the far-away mountains 
where the winds have carried the moisture during the winter. 
Then for over two months (as a rule) the sleepy, sluggish giant 
is roused to an activity that is demoniac in its power and blind, 
undirected, uncontrollable fury. 

Few rivers have such a life-history as the Colorado. Rising 
in the snowy peaks of the mountains, the trickling rivulets of the 
purest water of earth, distilled from perpetual snow-banks, unite 
to form rills; these in turn unite and make rivulets; the rivulets 
unite and form the creeks that empty into small Alpine lakes. 

52 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

There are two rivers that join to form the Colorado, — the Grand 
and the Green. The sources of the Grand are in these Alpine 
lakes five or six miles west of Long's Peak. As the small creeks 
pour their waters into the lakes, they overflow and discharge 
into a common reservoir known as Grand Lake. Towering 
clifFs and crags of granite mark its eastern shore, and stately 
pines and firs occupy its western margin, all of which are reflected 
on its pure and placid surface. 

Green River heads in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, 
near Fremont's Peak. Small Alpine lakes by the thousand 
contribute each its quota to Green River, which being larger 
than the Grand is regarded as the upper continuation of the 
Colorado. The source of the Grand is in latitude 40 17' and 
longitude 105 43' approximately. ' The source of the Green is in 
latitude 43 15' and longitude 109 54' approximately. The 
mouth of the Colorado is in latitude 31 53' and longitude 1 1 5 . 
From the source of the Green to the mouth of the Colorado it is 
two thousand miles. The area drained by the Colorado is about 
eight hundred miles long and varies in width from two hundred 
to five hundred miles. It contains about three hundred thousand 
square miles, a territory larger than all the New England and 
Middle States with Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia added, 
or nearly as large as the five great states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, 
Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri combined. 

More than two-thirds of the length of the Colorado and Green 
Rivers pass through a mountainous or plateau region where 
the water is as pure and sweet and fresh as mountain snow water 
generally is. From under the snow it flows ; then over the rocks, 
jumping, splashing, sparkling, murmuring and "guggling" like 
a happy child. Now in the form of rapids, then in cascades, 
or falls, churned and dashed into foam, or flowing along in smooth, 
rocky channels with nothing but gentle lappings and sighings, 
sung over by the lark, vireo, linnet, and sparrow, and bathed 
in by the little folk of the earth and air, watched over by sweet- 
scented roses and larkspur and lilies, and shaded by the beautiful 
foliaged poplars, quaking aspens, sycamores, alders, and cotton- 
woods, it flows merrily and laughingly along. New streams add 
their pellucid waters to it and it grows in power and volume 

The Rivers of the Desert 


until it is a river of size and power, a stream of dignity and ap- 
pearance. Then it enters the canyon region, where it has its 
own definite waterway cut by the corrasion, erosion, and battlings 
of the centuries into massive cliffs that are the wonder and ad- 
miration of the world. Flaming Gorge, Horseshoe Canyon, 
Kingfisher Canyon, Canyon of Lodore, Echo Canyon, Whirl- 
pool Canyon, Split Mountain Canyon, Canyon of Desolation, 
Gray Canyon, Labyrinth Canyon, Stillwater Canyon, Cataract 
Canyon, Gypsum Canyon, Narrow Canyon, Glen Canyon, and 




Copied from a sketch by 
Lieutenant Derby in 1850 

Marble Canyon are names which suggest the pathway of the 
river before the Grand Canyon is reached. Of the Grand Canyon 
I have elsewhere written fully. 1 It is confessedly the most 
stupendous and awe-inspiring piece of natural scenery now known 
to man. 

Below the Grand Canyon, which terminates at the Grand 
Wash, there are Iceberg Canyon, Virgin Canyon, Boulder Canyon, 
Black Canyon, Painted Canyon, and Pyramid Canyon before 

1 In and Around the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in Arizona, 346 pages, 
too illustrations. 

54 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

the river enters the desert portion of its pathway just above Fort 
Mohave. And what a change is here! During all these miles 
of canyon travel the river has been the most impetuous, unre- 
strained, untamable, and powerful of American rivers. It has 
dashed noisily along — not rolled but dashed along with irre- 
sistible force, over roaring rapids and long cascades, with clash 
and roar keeping up its ceaseless warfare against the rocks that 
enslave and confine it. For centuries the battle has raged, — a 
conflict never at rest for a moment. Though whipped into foam, 
dashed into bubbles, churned into froth, splashed into yeast 
and shattered into mist, it has kept up its leaping, beating, strik- 
ing, and worrying, cutting into and undermining the cliffs and 
springing upon them with incalculable power and fury when, 
broken and shattered, they fell into the trough below. Ah! what 
battles the sun and moon have witnessed as, in their silent and 
stately marches, they have looked down over this region of canyon 
and gorge. 

Then the mountains to the north burst forth with melted tor- 
rents of fiery lava which flowed to the side of the canyon and over 
into the trough where a new conflict began. Water and molten 
rock! What a struggle; what a seething and boiling and hissing! 
But the river won. It was not to be defeated. The fiery lava 
was changed into cold stone, and pillars and coatings of it now 
stand and line the canyon walls while the unconquered and un- 
conquerable river still rolls on as it has done for countless centuries. 

Now the end of its warfare has come. It has reached the 
desert. There are no more rocks to battle with. It has demon- 
strated its supremacy. It is growing old. So like a lazy giant 
it stretches, and sprawls, and creeps sleepily along, heavily, 
sullenly, and so silently, that one might not know it were there 
did he not hear, now and again, the splash of a jumping fish or 
the boiling up of an undercurrent. Laden with silt and sand, 
caused by the grinding of the millions of tons of rock that have 
fallen into its canyon path, it moves heavily. Most of these rocks 
contain red oxidizations which have colored the water until it 
is a peculiar red, and Colorado means red. Though the old con- 
quistadores named and renamed the river, Alarcon calling it 
the Rio de Buena Guia (the river of good guidance), from the 

The Rivers of the Desert 55 

Viceroy Mendoza's motto ; Diaz, the Rio del Tizon, from the 
habit of the natives of carrying about with them firebrands to keep 
themselves warm in the chill autumn air, it zuas and is the Colorado, 
because it was and is the Colorado, the red, both in walls and 
water. Whatever other colors are there the red predominates, 
twenty to one, hence no one can question the appropriateness 
of the name. 

The sand and silt carried down are what have made the desert. 
Only such a river, with its origin at a tremendous elevation above 
its mouth, could have had the carrying capacity to bring down 
such a vast amount of deposit as has this river. When we watch 
the processes of man in removing earth,— the plow and the 
scraper being his implements, or even the steam shovel and the 
dredger, — and consider how slowly and on what a small scale he 
works, we begin to realize the gigantic power of natural forces. 
Nowhere are these more apparent than in the carrying ability 
of the waters of the Colorado. I have seen a mass of sand and 
silt over a mile long and from six to twelve feet high deposited 
in a few days during the flood season, and the following season I 
have seen it carried away in a few hours. Because it works 
silently and is generally sullen and still, it must not be thought 
powerless and always tractable and gentle. The engineers who, 
for over a year, have been trying to tame it below Yuma, have 
found out how mistaken such an idea is. One by one their efforts 
were demonstrated futile. Piles and steel cables, mats and 
brush filling, by the thousands of tons were whirled away as if 
in sport and derision. An island stood near the intake of the 
canal of the California Development Company less than six 
months ago. It was a mile long. The engineers tried to anchor 
one of their dams to it, but the river objected and began to cut 
away the island, and to-day not an inch of it remains. I have 
seen the engineers of the Santa Fe railway, near the Needles, 
with great gangs of men working day and night to prevent the 
river from cutting away the bluffs upon which their tracks ran, 
and that a month before one would have declared safe for a 
thousand years to come, and yet the engineers were driven back 
and trains were held up for ten, twenty, thirty, forty hours until 
the tracks could be removed and replaced. 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

It is a silent river, yet it has washed out bridges at Needles and 
Yuma and compelled both railway companies to seek places 
where their piers could be anchored deep in solid rock and 
cement, ere their new bridges could bid defiance to its power. 
I have seen a monster steamer drift down with its current 
and on to the canal made by the overflow and in two hours 
travel about twenty miles. On its return journey it required 
ten hours of hard battling to make the same distance. When I 
rowed down from Needles to Yuma it took me fifteen days (eight 
or ten only of which were spent actually on the river), but in 
flood time the three hundred miles have been 
made in a day and a half. So that even its 
silence and laziness now that it is out in 
the open of the desert cannot be de- 
pended upon. Indeed there is but one 
thing in which it can be depended 
upon, and that is its wilfulness 
and undependableness. 

Even to its dusky children, 
the Yumas and Mohaves and 
Cocopahs, it is, at times, a very 
cruel stepfather. Time and 
again it has washed over their 
whole reservation, as it did in 
1905 and 1906, flooding almost 
every " kan " of the Yumas, and 
compelling them to flee to the 
high ground for safety. Levees 
to prevent it are almost useless, for, if it takes a mind to it, in a 
few hours it will cut away the whole country on which the levees 
are built. The inhabitants of Calexico and Mexicali found that 
out during their critical time in June and July, 1906, when the river, 
running in wild flood down the Alamo and New Rivers to the Salton 
Sea, began to cut into their towns. They used dynamite to cut out 
a passage for the mad waters and tried to prevail upon them to 
flow in it, and for a while all was well, and then, suddenly, the 
river took a destructive streak and began to attack the bank 
near the town of Mexicali and in a few hours half a street of 

Yuma Indian 
using, metate 

The Rivers of the Desert 


houses tumbled into its turbulent flood, were crushed and crumbled 
to pieces as if in derision and scoffing, and in a few minutes had 
disappeared forever. 

We have seen that the flow of water in the Colorado is a most 
variable quantity. From about September first to March first 
of each year while the snow is frozen on the mountains, except 
for occasional floods, the river is low, reaching a minimum flow 
of about four thousand second-feet, or two hundred thousand 
miner's inches, during that time. A miner's inch is the amount of 
water that will pass in twenty-four hours through an open- 
ing one inch square under a pressure of six inches. In 
March and April when the snows begin to melt, the 
river begins to rise, gradually attaining its maximum, 
usually in June, when it flows fifty thousand second- 
feet, or two million five hundred thousand miner's 
inches. From this time on it gradually sinks again 

Colorado River below Needles Bridge 

to a slow stage in August and September. From time to time 
throughout the year, especially in the summer months, the river 
is subject to sudden small rises originating in torrential down- 
pours on the Arizona watershed, but the manner and character 
of these floods distinguish them from the main flow. 

So long as the Colorado River was regarded merely as a river, 
a factor in the landscape, a natural feature incapable of serving 
man except as a means of transportation and pleasure, the amount 
of sediment it contained and its character were of no great moment. 
But when it was determined to rob the river of some of its flow 

58 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

and divert it upon the land for purposes of irrigation it became 
a matter of great importance to determine these things. For upon 
the amount of sediment it carried many engineering calculations 
had to be based, and upon the quality of the salts and silts largely 
rested the life of the irrigated district. It has been found by 
expensive experience that waters containing too large a proportion 
of common salt and the sulphates of sodium, potassium, and 
magnesium render the lands they irrigate useless. To determine 
these matters, therefore, in regard to the Colorado (and other 
Arizona streams), the Arizona Experiment Station, in 1899, began 
regularly sampling its waters. The method of sampling is inter- 
esting. A stoppered tin cylinder, thirteen inches long, two inches 
in diameter, and holding about one and one-half pounds of water, 
was slung in a wooden support having a handle by means of 
which it was submerged in the river, from six inches to a foot 
below the surface and with its mouth upstream. The rubber 
stopper was then pulled out by means of a cord or wire, and as 
soon as the cylinder was filled it was withdrawn from the river 
and instantly emptied into a demijohn. A number of daily 
samples so taken were combined and the testing of them took 
place at the chemical laboratory. 

Owing to its great length and the rocky canyons through which 
the upper two-thirds of its flow occurs the amount of sediment 
contained in the Colorado is far more constant than it is in such 
rivers as the Bill Williams, the Salt and the Gila which receive 
the run-off of watersheds subject to torrential rains. These 
severe rains sweep the floor of the desert regions through which 
they pass and, at such flood times, largely determine the physical 
character of the main river's sedimentation. The sediments that 
are the result of canyon erosion form a dense mud, reddish gray 
in color. These come in April, May, and June. When the 
summer floods come from such tributaries as the San Juan, the 
Colorado Chiquito (the little Colorado), and the Havasu the 
yellow and red colors predominate, while, when the flood waters 
from the Gila predominate, the Colorado below Yuma sometimes 
becomes repulsively black. 

Conservative estimates show that in 1900 the Colorado River 
brought down not less than sixty-one million tons of silt which, 

The Rivers of the Desert 59 

condensed into solid rock, is enough to cover twenty-six and four- 
tenths square miles a foot deep; or to make fifty-three square 
miles of dry, alluvial soil one foot deep; or to make about one 
hundred and sixty-four square miles of recently settled, submerged 
mud one foot deep, reckoning the whole amount of mud for 
the year to average six and two-tenths times the bulk of the solid 

In 1903 and 1904 (September to August inclusive), ninety-five 
million tons of sediment were carried by the river past Yuma, 
and this did not include the sand pushed along the bottom. One 
day alone, when the Gila had poured a muddy flood into the 
Colorado, one million eight hundred tons were carried by. It 
will be seen, therefore, that this year far exceeded that of 1 900. 
The sediment ol 1903 and 1904 would have made a mud bar ten 
feet deep and approximately twenty-five square miles in extent; 
or about eighty square miles of dry, agricultural soil one foot deep. 

With such facts, clearly demonstrable, before us, can we wonder 
at the reach of the imagination which sees in the Colorado Desert 
sands the changed rocks of thousands of feet of plateau region 
strata, and that pictures for the future the Gulf of California 
converted into land, irrigated by the continuing waters of the 
Colorado River which conveyed the land to its present situation, 
and thus made the home of thousands of happy, contented, and 
prosperous people ? Indeed, to demonstrate the possibility of 
such a thing becoming an actuality it may be stated that the 
boatmen of the Colorado River familiar with conditions at the 
gulf assert that during the past forty years the Colorado has 
advanced some fifteen miles into the gulf. 

The amount and weight of these sediments occasionally pro- 
duce unexpected and tragic results. Poor Pete Maguire, blind 
through cataract, finding his boat drifting away from the bank, 
owing to his companion's carelessness, jumped into the river 
intending to swim ashore. But so heavy was the sediment that it 
weighted him down and before help could reach him he was 

The fertilizing value of the sediments lies mainly in the amount 
of nitrogen they contain, though potash and phosphoric acid 
are also present. Few rivers contain so large a quantity of the 

go The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

valuable nitrogen. In this particular the Colorado is analogous to 
the Nile. Its salts, too, have a decided value in neutralizing the 
sodium carbonates of black alkaline lands. 

Thus beneficent Nature works good in two ways. The irri- 
gable areas of the desert contain large spots of alkaline lands 
which, flooded with these Colorado River waters, are leached 
out, while the deposition of the nitrogenous elements in the sedi- 
ments adds needed factors of nutriment. 

Of my own trip down the Colorado River from the Needles to 
Yuma, alone, a few years ago, I cannot here write, nor of the 
wonders of the river below Yuma. 

There are other rivers on the desert as well as the Colorado. 
I know the look of credulity that will come over the faces of 
many as they read this statement. Yet I repeat it. There are 
the Alamo, the New, the Whitewater, the Carrizo, and the Mec- 
caroni. Strange rivers, indeed, all of them, yet rivers of impor- 
tance and interest, and were they not strange they would scarcely 
be appropriate to the desert and harmonious with the other 
objects found there. 


The Alamo is a prehistoric river, with a history of intermittent 
flow, and now, in part, almost as large and important as the Colo- 
rado. In prehistoric times it was the connecting link between 
the Colorado and the Salton Sea. Elsewhere I have shown 
that for a long period after the Salton region was cut off from 
the Gulf of California it must have been a fresh-water lake. The 
source of its water was the Colorado River, and if the whole of 
the flow of the Colorado entered the Salton Basin then the channel 
we know as the Alamo was the Colorado River of that day. It 
is by no means as unreasonable as it may seem to assume that 
the whole of the Colorado River once flowed into the Salton. 
When the natural alluvial dam was thrown up by the Colorado's 
flood waters it may be possible that the dam was on the lower or 
gulf side of the flow and that the river thus emptied itself into 
the basin above the dam. Or it is possible to conceive that the 
river flowed into the gulf after the natural dam was made, and 
that long after the evaporation of the isolated gulf waters had 

The Rivers of the Desert 61 

taken place, another flood broke a channel through the dam and 
thus allowed the filling up of the basin again with the fresh water 
of the Colorado. The channel by which this was effected was 
the Alamo. 

In historic times there has been no constant flow in the banks 
of the Alamo except, as I shall shortly relate, within the past 
five years. Only when the Colorado overflowed could the Alamo 
be called a river, and then its dignity as such was lost in the 
course of a few days, or as soon as the flood subsided. During 
the Sonoranian emigration in 1849 and 1850 and the later years of 
the gold excitement we often find references to the joy of the weary 
travelers in finding a stream where they did not expect it. This 
applied to both the Alamo and the New, w T hich had a similar 
history. As the overflow ceased the water in the channel of 
the Alamo subsided, but, as some portions of it were deeper than 
others, lagoons would be formed, which remained until their 
waters were carried away by evaporation. These lagoons are 
a frequent source of happy comment in the narratives of the gold 

When the engineers of the California Development Company 
made their preliminary surveys in order to determine how they 
could best convey the waters of the Colorado River for irrigation 
purposes into the Imperial Valley, they discovered this old Alamo 
channel. I say "discovered it" advisedly. They learned for 
the first time its complete course and found that it connected 
with the Salton Basin. Here then was a channel already made, 
the lower end of which would serve as a main canal to convey water 
to the region to be irrigated, and the upper end of which would 
act as a channel through which waste waters could be conveyed 
to the Salton Basin. When the system was installed the Alamo 
was thus utilized. As far as Sharps — seven miles east of Cal- 
exico — it became the "main canal." There head-gates were 
put in which diverted the water to the distributing canals, and 
what was not needed was allowed to enter the upper channel of 
the Alamo and flow to the Salton. 

When, in 1905, the upper part of the cut canal leading into the 
Alamo from the Colorado River was found to be silted up, and 
Mr. C. R. Rockwood cut the small channel from the Colorado, 

62 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

below the silted-up canal, to allow the water to flow and thus save 
the farmers of the Imperial Valley from ruin, he became the in- 
strument of fate in permitting the people of this day and generation 
to see what nature itself had done in prehistoric times, and 
had then abandoned. For, as is well known, owing to unusual 
floods, the whole of the flow of the Colorado was soon diverted 
through this cut into the Alamo channel, and for several months 
and at this present time of writing (July, 1906) there is no Colorado 
River below the lower intake, as the whole of its waters are running 
by way of the Alamo to the Salton Sea. 

But a change will doubtless soon be made. The dam will be 
constructed across the cut, the head-gates are already in place, and 
ere this book is in the hands of the public I confidently expect to 
see the Colorado restored to its old, that is, its recent historic 
channel, and then the Alamo will once again be changed from its 
estate as a great river flowing independent of the will of man, work- 
ing great injury to his schemes and plans, and made subservient to 
that will as an irrigation canal, conveying water under his control 
for the beneficent purposes of sustaining life and promoting man's 

The story of my descent of the Alamo forms an independent and 
later chapter. 


The first reference I can find to the "New River" is in Bartlett's 
Narrative of Explorations in 1850-53. Writing of his camp at 
Alamo Mocho he says: "About twenty-five miles back from this 
place we crossed a ravine or arroyo some twenty or thirty feet wide, 
and about ten feet below the surface of the desert, that forms the 
bed of what is known as 'New River.' Three or four years ago 
this ravine was filled with water, as well as a large basin connected 
with it. The water suddenly appeared here, and by passing emi- 
grants was hailed as a miracle and direct interposition of Divine 
Providence, like the manna furnished to the Israelites of old. This 
phenomenon is now well known to proceed from the Colorado 
River, which some years rises to a great height, overflowing its 
banks and the adjacent valley, and sometimes running back 
through lagoons and depressions in the desert for many miles. It 

The Rivers of the Desert 63 

was one of these great risings of the river that caused the sudden 
appearance of the mysterious 'New River' of the desert, which 
remained two years, and then dried up. By similar inundations 
the great basin at Alamo Mocho has doubtless been, and may 
again be filled. I was told by persons in California who had 
crossed the desert, that they had found pools of brackish water 
several miles from the road. These I presume to be deeper basins, 
where the water stands longer than in the 'New River' or the dry 
basins passed by us." 

Another writer of about the same time asserts the belief that this 
New River had its source in a lake "which had bubbled up spon- 

We now know that the modern history of New River is very 
similar to that of the Alamo. It has its source, however, in Vol- 
cano Lake, a variable body of water in Lower California, some 
thirty-five miles southeast of Calexico. This lake receives water 
from the Colorado by means of the Rio Paredones, for, strange to 
say, this "tributary" — as it is often regarded — really "taps" the 
Colorado and conveys its waters to Volcano Lake. During flood 
seasons the Paredones not only supplies Volcano Lake, but spreads 
out over considerable country to the northward and contributes 
directly to New River. 

Volcano Lake is situated on a divide of slight elevation so that, 
while some of its waters flow to the north by means of New River, 
the larger amount flows south as Hardy's Colorado and empties into 
the gulf. 

This was the normal history of the New River until the advent 
of the California Development Company. The plans of this com- 
pany required that two miles beyond where the Alamo discharged 
its waters into the main canal of the Imperial country, the main 
canal in turn should empty its surplusage into New River, which 
then conveyed it to the Salton Sea. From the map it will be seen 
that New River flows in a general northwesterly direction from 
Volcano Lake to Calexico and Cameron Lake, spreading out 
above Silsbee and spasmodically feeding the small marshy lagoons 
known as Blue, Diamond, Badger, and Pelican Lakes. Then 
curving around it strikes to the northeast up to near Brawley, 
where it irregularly parallels the Alamo River at about a mile 

64 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

distance, and again curving to the northwest empties into the 
Salton Sea. 

During the high flood season of 1906 New River got on the 
rampage and half wiped out of existence the town of Mexicali and 
for many days kept the inhabitants of Calexico on the anxious seat. 
While a large portion of the flood waters were turned into the upper 
Alamo at Sharps there was still a great flood that entered the 
main canal. In addition the north fork of the Rio Paredones was 
running full. There was still another channel by which the flood 
waters of the Colorado entered New River. On the map between 
Seven Wells and Sharps will be seen, on the south side of the 
Alamo, the outlet known as the Beltran Slough. This carries off 
considerable water when the flood is high, and though it scatters 
and "flows wild" over a large area of country, much of the water 
finally reaches New River. Here, then, were three sources con- 
spiring to fill up the stream. Between Sharps and Calexico it cut 
into ranches and ate them up, converting the once fertile fields into 
scarred and gullied flood wastes. Two miles northwest of Calexico 
is Cameron Lake, and as the flood poured into it the bed of the 
river at the outfall began to "cut back." Higher and higher the 
river rose. Levees were built surrounding the towns, but the flood 
still rose and in some cases washed over them. On the thirteenth 
of June a stream was flowing through the railway depot at Calexico, 
the tank-house was an island, and the switch-bars arose above a 
turbid flood. Between the depot and the town a dike or levee was 
built on which whites and Indians worked, the former with the 
energy of desperation, the latter "like boys on the day the circus 
comes to town. They would just as soon rub sticks together or 
dip up water with a sieve — they pile sacks with just that much 
earnestness." Across from the railway track, looking toward 
the west, the river was fully seven miles wide. 

For nearly a month this flood continued. Nearly five thousand 
dollars was spent on the levees of Mexicali and Calexico. Erelong 
the water stood against these to a height of four feet. About the 
twenty-sixth of June, when the river began to "cut back" from 
Cameron Lake, it was thought this would save the towns by deep- 
ening the channel and thus helping drain off the flood. In a few 
days this seemed to be accomplished, for the water against the 
levees was drawn off. 

The Rivers of the Desert 65 

In forty-eight hours this rejoicing was changed to fear and dread. 
A small ripple appeared in the stream south and west of the Mex- 
icali depot that grew rapidly. It soon became a channel and the 
water commenced cutting away the soil with a rapidity that was as 
astonishing as it was fearful. For in a few hours the foundations 
of the depot were washed away and the building itself floated off 
down stream. 

The adjacent property became a prey to the devouring waters, 
and buildings which stood in its path were ruthlessly torn from 
their foundations and carried away. Then came a lull of thirty- 
six hours, during which dynamite was resorted to in an attempt 
to divert the channel. 

While this work was progressing Nature was preparing for the 
carrying out of plans of her own. A storm that had been brooding 
over a section of country a thousand miles away at an unusual 
time of the year broke and sent its flood down the Colorado, into 
the Alamo, down the Beltran Slough and along the canal into the 
New River. The old channel was filled with a rapidity that was 
remarkable. Building after building succumbed to the action of 
the rushing waters, until it seemed that only the destruction of both 
towns would abate its fury. 

Deeper and deeper the river cut and higher and higher grew the 
banks along its side. The men were unable to cope with the sit- 
uation, although ton after ton of dynamite was used in an attempt 
to stay the destruction. Just as the water had washed away the 
first house of the group that remains in the town of Calexico, 
another change took place. The caving in of the banks became 
infrequent and then ceased. 

The flood had subsided, and to-day, July 10, 1906, as I write, 
instead of a turbulent torrent of water rushing on its way to the 
Salton Sea, a stream about seven hundred feet wide and from ten 
to twenty feet deep flows past the towns, confined within banks 
thirty feet high and with a current of not more than six miles an 

As soon as the Colorado is returned to its original channel 
the flow in New River will become normal, — that is, it will be a 
small stream depending for its main supply of water from Vol- 
cano Lake and the surplusage from the main canal of the Imperial 

Vol. I. — 5 

6G The Wonders oi the Colorado Desert 


Although one might travel over the desert many, many times 
and never see the Whitewater, it is nevertheless a most important 
desert stream. The qualifying adjective means much. A desert 
river may have as large a volume of water as an ordinary small 
Eastern river, but desert conditions are such that its largest volume 
may be underground. The Whitewater heads in the snow-banks 
and cienegas and springs of the San Bernardino Mountains and 
for a while flows almost west. It gives its name to the Whitewater 
Canyon, and also to the famous Whitewater Ranch in the San 
Gorgonio Pass. This ranch is now the property of the Bear Valley 
Water Company. It was once one of the stage stations, and many 
a weary traveler over the desert has almost wept with joy when his 

The San Bernardino Mountains 

eyes rested upon this exquisitely green oasis — the first seen since 
crossing the Colorado River. Even now, old prospectors who 
prefer to travel with their burros from the desert to civilization 
eagerly look forward to reaching the Whitewater Ranch. At White- 
water station, after a heavy rain, or when the snows begin to melt, 
the Whitewater appears as a veritable mountain torrent, dashing 
down with roar and clatter among, around, and over its boulder- 
strewn path. Then, impinging on one of the spurs of the San 
Jacinto range, it turns to the south and, hugging the western moun- 
tain bases until it passes about opposite to Indio, it turns to the 
southeast and flows into the Salton Basin. 

It is a winter stream though it flows all the year in its upper 
reaches, growing less in volume as the summer advances. Below 

The Rivers of the Desert 67 

Palm Springs, however, during the summer it has no exterior or 
apparent flow. It is, in truth, a buried river, forming in large part 
the great artesian water supply of the Coachella Valley. 

Evidences of the shifting character of the lower flow of the White- 
water are found in several abandoned beds to the north and east. 
The shifting of the desert sands during seasons of drought where 
there was no flow in the river bed has forced it to the west and south. 

In the winter of 1905-6 the Whitewater seemed to emulate its 
great desert brother, the Colorado. Its waters poured down, 
washed out the irrigation connections with Palm Springs, and 
dashed down over the Indio fields and roads to all the towns along 
the railway even as far as Mecca, washing out roads, bridges, and 
a few acres of land. It was at this flood time that the fish entered 
it from the Salton Sea as related in another chapter. 

The Whitewater is the source of the irrigation water that has 
done so much to reclaim Palm Springs. There is a constant flow 
of some one thousand inches which might be utilized. But the 
ditches and conduits are not now in good condition; a Los Angeles 
bank holds a mortgage on them, and until energetic steps are taken 
to restore things to successful working order the priceless flow of 
the Whitewater runs to waste and the farms and gardens that should 
have it suffer from its loss. 


Bartlett says of Carrizo Creek that it is "one of those remarkable 
streams which sometimes spring up in desert regions. It rises in 
the very center of barrenness, flows for about a mile, and is again 
absorbed by the desert. It has worn for itself a bed about fifteen 
feet below the plain. It is from three to nine inches in depth, and 
varies from six feet to as many yards in width. Where the banks 
have been washed away it receives, in several places, accessions 
from springs; but when these cease, the stream grows less and less, 
until it is all absorbed by the sands." 


Water! How little city dwellers, who have a sufficiency of 
water, know what those five letters stand for on the desert. Noth- 

68 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

ing is so precious as water; and yet, strange to say, on parts of the 
Colorado Desert water is not only running to waste, but is there in 
such abundance as to cause considerable trouble. Elsewhere I 
have shown the vast trouble and expense caused by the overflow 
of the Colorado River into the Desert Basin. At Mecca the ar- 
tesian wells flow so freely and continuously that the reservoirs are 
all full, and at certain periods of the year the farmers do not know 
what to do with the water save let it run where it will. It breaks 
down the paltry ditch banks, overflows the roads and makes travel- 
ing most uncomfortable. Toward the southeast some of these 
stray waters gather together, forming a small creek which flows in 
an intermittent kind of way and finally empties itself in the Salton 
Sea. A local wag, well foreseeing in the laxity of pronunciation 
of his neighbors the degeneracy of the name he coined, termed 
it the Meccaroni River, and now it is seriously and unconsciously 
spoken of by every one as the Maccaroni River. At times it is 
quite a respectable-looking small stream, and until the land of the 
region is so cultivated that all the supply of water is needed, it 
will continue to flow into the Salton Basin. 

A glimpse of San Jacinto Peak 

The Mountains of the Desert 69 


The Mountains of the Desert 

iOUNTAINS on the desert constitute one of its chief 
h$? ,\ charms, especially when to all their other sublimi- 
Y-0 ties they add the crowning glory of a cap of virgin 
: .r snow. I shall never forget the varied emotions of 
pleasure, joy, and adoration that came over me 
early one morning as I got off the west-bound 
train at Mecca. The name itself, as the brake- 
man called it out, was suggestive of pilgrims, date-palms, heat, 
sand, and desert. The morning was crystalline in its clearness 
and cool enough to be deliciously stimulating to every nerve of 
the body. One breathed in the pure, vivifying air with de- 
light and satisfaction. Walking over to camp the eyes instinc- 
tively followed the two ranges that shut in this desert basin, 
until they rested upon the towering mountains that sentinel 
the pass into the "Garden of Allah." Snow-crowned and 
pure they stood, solemn, calm, serene, immovable, — types of 
guardian spirits shedding beneficence on every hand. 

I never look upon these mountains without recalling the 
story of the sentinel angel with the flaming sword placed at the 
Garden of Eden after the expulsion of the man and woman for 
their disobedience. That angel stood as a preventing spirit, — 
not revengeful, but punitive, — and typified, in the biblical 
story and in the old conceptions of Hebrew theology, the relent- 
less justice of God that sent man forth into a world of sorrow 
and misery, of struggle and woe, of failure and despair, as well 
as of achievement and joy, because of his one act of disobe- 

Here, on the other hand, these two pure sentinel peaks 
invite one, lure one, not only to the serene and calm of the life 
of the desert, where civilization and its cruel strifes are almost 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

unknown, but they appeal also to the soul and bid it claim its 
own of purity, serenity, majesty, and peace. 

Oh! blessed mountains of allurement, of suggestion, of provoca- 
tion to the higher life, well worthy are you of the honored position 
you occupy — to stand at the gateway of the Garden of God. 

On this March morning at 
Mecca the peaks were not 
only crowned with snow, but 
their shoulder robes were 
of ermine, composed of pure 
snow, and the deep green of 
the forests which at this dis- 
tance looked perfectly black. 
Kissed by the early morning 
light, which gave a rosy glow to 
both masses, they shed a richness, 
a grandeur, a sublimity over the 
rest of the desert that glorified it. 
It requires no effort to worship at 
such a shrine. It becomes a mys- 
tic altar of marble-white approach, 
with piled-up, retreating terraces 
of color leading the eye to a grand 
choir of proud and heaven- 
aspiring pines, all surround- 
ing the snowy fane of perfect 
purity. What wonder that 
rude and profane men are 
suddenly sobered and digni- 
fied by its swift effect when 
its majesty and beauty are suddenly revealed to them! 

When you first look at the mountains they appear to be all 
alike, — big, brown, green, or red, rough and rugged, and that 
is all there is to say about them. But as you study them how 
astonishingly different they become in their outlines, shape, color, 
texture, and the material of which they are composed. And when 
the sun so shines that they become dimpled, then, indeed, there is 
no wonder that one is entranced by their bewitching beauty. 

west fork 
of Palm Canyon 

The Mountains of the Desert 71 

At sunset the mountain peaks are covered with a golden glory 
that no words can picture, and the whole of the western heavens 
are one exquisite blaze of color. Is this glory of the earth or 
of heaven ? Each revelation of new splendor below seems to 
call forth a more perfect revelation from above. The moun- 
tains are more than matched by the sky, yet they become as 
comrades, not rivals, the one setting forth the rich splendor of 
the other. We seem to realize now as never before how that 

"The emulous heaven yearned down, made effort to reach the earth, 
As the earth had done her best, in my passion, to scale the sky." 

Each was responsive to the emotion and movements of the 
other. Soon the stars came out in response to the invitation of 
the golden-tipped mountain spires, and the moon floated forth 
to caress the snowy crown. The palm trees waved their mys- 
terious messages to the silvery clouds, which bore them away 
over the misty, dreamy purple of the far-away desert. 

There are iour supreme mountain peaks that belong to the 
Colorado Desert. These are San Gorgonio, San Bernardino, 
San Jacinto, and the Cuyamaca. 

The two former are the chief peaks of the San Bernardino 
range. San Gorgonio has an elevation of 11,725 feet, and San 
Bernardino is about seven hundred feet lower. 

San Jacinto is the chief peak of the range that bears its name. 
Its elevation is 10,805 f eet - 

The San Gorgonio Pass is 2,808 feet above sea-level. The 
general altitude of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto ranges 
where they enclose the desert is approximately 5,000 feet. 

San Gorgonio Mountain is sometimes degraded by the name 
"Grayback," given to it by the early miners and trappers on 
account of its broad, flat back suggesting a louse. That thought- 
ful and dignified people should be willing to apply so degrad- 
ing a name to so noble a peak is to me incomprehensible, except 
on the ground of indifference, or ignorance as to the sources 
of the nomenclature of these mountains. The names originally 
were given by the early Spanish settlers, at the time of the 
establishment of the Franciscan missions in California, and 

72 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

later, when the priestly and other explorers traversed the desert 
region. San Bernardino is named after the saint of Clairvaux, 
and San Jacinto either after the Chamberlain of the Emperor 
Trojan, or the noted Polish saint, who was a member of the 
order of Saint Dominic, and who lived A. D. 1257. San Gorgonio 
(Saint George) was named from the saint universally honored, 
but generally known as the patron saint of England. 

From the map it will be seen that the detached mountains 
between the Salton Basin and the Mohave Desert have names, 
as the Pinto, Cottonwood, Coxcomb, etc. Of this region Lieut. 
Williamson wrote in 1853: "Between these mountains and the 
mountains on the Mohave nothing is known of the country. 
I had never heard of a white man who had penetrated it. I 
am inclined to the belief that it is a barren, mountainous desert, 
composed of a system of basins and mountain ranges. It would 
be an exceedingly difficult country to explore, on account of the 
absence of water, and there is no rainy season of any conse- 
quence. I was informed by the commanding officer at Fort 
Yuma that there they usually had but one rain during the year, 
which fell in August." 

I can confirm all that is said above, yet such is the persistent 
energy of man in the face of obstacles that it has been explored 
and the names noted on the map were given during the past 
half century by miners or prospectors and were generally used 
at first merely to distinguish them one from another. Custom 
has now hallowed the use, and most of them are commonly 
received and well known. The Pinto Mountains receive their 
name from the fact that they are "pinto" or painted, the word 
being a corruption of the Spanish pintado. The Cottonwood 
Mountains have a most beautiful oasis where several large, fine 
cottonwoods grow near what, on the desert, is considered an 
abundant supply of water. The Eagle Mountains were found 
to be the home of several eagles, and chuckwallas abound in 
the split-up rocks of the Chuckwalla Mountains. The Coxcombs 
need only to be seen, with their bold, several-thousand-feet-high 
granite imitations of coxcombs, to be identified by the most 
careless observer, and the color of the Chocolate range distin- 
guishes it the moment it is seen. 

The Mountains of the Desert 


Several years ago I made the ascent of San Gorgonio. I have 
also made it recently. For convenience I will write of the two 
trips as one. In stage we traveled from Redlands into the 
heart of the Santa Ana Canyon, where, at a well-watered ranch, 
we changed to the burro train. For several miles the trail led 
up the canyon and over the slopes until the camp of Seven Oaks 
was reached at an elevation ot five thousand feet, about twenty- 
two miles from Redlands. After a day or two of rest, riding 
over to the Great and Little Bear Valleys and seeing the great 
dam which impounds water for the thriving cities in the valleys 
below, a companion, A. H. Pratt, and I set out for San Gorgonio. 
After a delightful ride up the canyons and over the 
ridges we camped on the shore of the Dollar Lake M 

and early the next morning began the final Mft 

ascent. We soon left all trees behind J^^HW\\^-' 9 '--' 

us and had the heavy boulders -^Stf^' C W» ""'''(I 

and split granite masses to climb \?.*}M ^ •'- W'Cw' r " r ^ 


San Bernardino 


over. Pratt carried the camera and I a half-dozen eight by ten 
plates and the tripod. The altitude told somewhat on our 
breathing and the snowslides we had to climb added new diffi- 
culties. Step by step we forced our way along, now stopping 
to take breath, now lying down on the sloping snow or rugged 
rocks to rest. At last the flat summit was clearly outlined 
before us. 

A few more gasps, a few more struggles and we were on top. 
I had purposely kept my eyes from looking out before I was 
fairly on the summit. I wished to see nothing until I could see 
all. In a moment the great vast scene was given to me. It 
was mine to enjoy, to wonder over, to study, and to feel its gigantic 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

power. The first impression was that it was not, could not be 
real. It was so wonderful, so vast, so extensive, so diverse, and 
everything was so magnified — space, distances, sandy wastes, 
flat plain, water — that it seemed as if it was one of the opium or 
hasheesh dreams of De Quincey or Fitzhugh Ludlow. It was 
monstrous, enlarged beyond conception, terrific in its power. 
Then, too, it was so strange, so foreign. It was desert, yet at 
our feet was a great forest, leading down to an expansive plain of 
snow, beyond which nestled a vast lake. Yet how could it be 
snow, when heat waves were ascending from it ? It was a delu- 
sion, a mockery, a phantasm. No! it was not snow. It was 
salty efflorescence and white or gray sand. The billowy yellowish 

green of the trees, the mixed 
greens and grays of^the foot- 
hills, with their verdure and 
granite boulders, the gray 
stretch of sand from the pass 
to Indio, the oasis caused by 
the flowing wells reaching 
from Indio for twenty or 
more miles in the Coachella 
Valley, the sand-dunes to 
the left and right of Indio, 
the Salton Sea which lay like 
a turquoise mass of the sky 
prostrate upon the earth, 
the grays, chocolates, reds, and browns of the mountains on 
either side, gave a color picture as weird and startling as it was 
entrancing and bewildering. The sand-dunes from this elevation 
assumed all kinds of hideous and monstrous shapes, as if the 
pterodactyls, ichthyosauri, and terrific camels, dromedaries, 
sphynxes, whales, leviathans, wrecked .vessels covered with sand 
and mossy green stuff that crowd a nightmare with terrors had 
suddenly become transfixed here forever. The entire scene is 
vividly pictured in memory. 

The Mohave as well as the Colorado Desert is stretched out 
before us, and every one of the small desert clusters of mountains 
can clearly be distinguished and named. To the south, nine 



A side gorge on San Jacinto Mountains 

The Mountains of the Desert 75 

thousand feet below, yawns the San Gorgonio Pass, and on the 
other side we can see clearly what we never before were able to 
understand, viz., that San Jacinto on its desert side is the steepest 
mountain rise known in the world, ten thousand feet in less than 
five miles. Just around the corner there to the southwest is the 
entrance to Chino Canyon, where my desert camp is hidden. Far 
beyond the Salton is the Imperial Valley, the green making a 
delicious contrast to the fierce uprising heat from the desert in 
and around Yuha. Lower California, Arizona, and part of 
Nevada are clearly to be seen, the eye resting upon Death 
Valley and the Funeral Mountains, as it sweeps around 
to the Cajon Pass, where the mountains 


Bats' caves near Durmid 

at our feet, pine-clad and green in their beauty, 
^ drop down to a low level. Sweeping upwards again 

they form the two Cucamonga peaks, San Antonio 
* and all the lesser peaks and ridges of the Sierra 

Madre, leading the eye along to the San Fernando 
Mountains, and the Sierra Nevadas to the east, while 
to the west are the Sierra Santa Ines and the great 
placid sweep of the Ocean of Calm. 

In the immediate foreground, spread out like a vast Turkish 
rug, lined and streaked with avenues and roads, but woven into 
a pattern of such sublime grandeur and inconceivable intricacy, 
with colors so glorious and enchanting as if angels had conceived 
it for the very footprints of Deity Himself, is the fertile stretch 
of Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties, 
where all the semitropical verdure, trees, plants, shrubs, and 
flowers are gathered together to surround the dwelling-places of 

70 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

There are not many scenes that "dwell" in the mind of a con- 
stant traveler. One shuts out another. But though I have been 
"on the jump" for many years, studying and observing with care, 
yielding myself with unrestrained enthusiasm to all new scenes, 
this one stands out yet as vivid and clear as it did on that morn- 
ing a dozen or more years ago. 

The companion peak, San Bernardino, may be reached by a 
seven or eight mile climb along a rugged but wide ridge. Its view 
is somewhat similar though not as sweeping as that of San Gor- 
gonio. Snow on this summit falls as deep as twenty and twenty- 
five feet, for in June I have found wide banks from ten to twelve 
feet deep. Here is the source of the water supply of the desert, 
and not only of the desert, but of the fertile region. 

Quite recently George L. Lamy, an engineer of Riverside, re- 
ported that he had discovered an underground stream flowing 
from the slopes of San Gorgonio to the marshes at Long Beach. 
He claims to have mapped this underground flow, so that he can 
tap it at any point, and has just closed a contract with the city of 
Corona for five hundred inches of water, constant flow, at a price 
of half a million dollars. Thus these desert sentinels prove their 
utility as well as their majesty and beauty. 

There are several ways that one may reach the summit of 
Mount San Jacinto, and they are all well worth attempting. The 
most popular is that by way of Strawberry Valley. This valley 
is now a noted resort and one gains its sheltering hotel without 
more trouble than a pleasant stage ride. - The most picturesque 
trail is up Palm Canyon from Palm Springs, and this is described 
in the chapter "From Pines to Palms." The most difficult and least 
known is an old Indian trail from the hot spring in Chino Can- 
yon, but the most diversified is that from the San Gorgonio Pass 
at La Cueva. There is no trail, save here and there the track of 
the mountain sheep. Leaving La Cueva, which is at the base 
of the mountain on its northern side, we enter Falls Creek Canyon, 
passing beautiful sycamores on the way. The canyon is wild 
and rugged; a spur of the mountains rising sharply on one side 
for several thousand feet, and a sheer wall, about fifteen hundred 
feet high, lining the other side. One may stand on the top of 

The Mountains of the Desert 77 

this precipice wall and throw a pebble into the creek below. The 
slopes of the mountain are dotted here and there with a variety 
of cactus and the creosote bush, artemisia, and live-oak. Along 
the watercourses are alders, sycamores, and live-oaks with num- 
berless vines, mosses, lichens, liverworts, and grasses. To gain 
the snow ridge one now has to climb and explore. Canyon after 
canyon, and ridge after ridge are crossed, where icy waters flow 
down from the snow-fields above. The only sure plan is to reso- 
lutely edge around to the northwest; keep persistently pushing 
around, overcoming the difficulties as they arise. To attempt to 
go to the summit directly from the north is surely to court defeat, 
as every canyon seems to terminate in a waterfall, and the ridges 
are densely covered with manzanita and a chaparral of scrub- 
oak, greasewood, and buck-brush. This tangled mass varies from 
five to twelve feet high, and is often impenetrable save with an 
axe. But the charm and delight of exploring these rugged can- 
yons, enjoying the waterfalls and the clear, pellucid streams of 
si:ow-water, and the rare experience of walking into snow tunnels 
made by the flowing water, where, at a temperature near to 
freezing, one can look out to ridges upon which he baked at ioo° 
Fahrenheit a few minutes before, make this rugged north slope 
of San Jacinto the most desirable point of attack to the real 
lover of mountain climbing. 

Following one of the ridges, the parallel canyon below full of 
deep snow, we may observe the processes at work which made in 
the long ago past the immense number of granite boulders found 
in the San Gorgonio Pass. Here are the remnants of true glaciers 
— weak and feeble, it is true, still actually and easily carrying 
masses of rock a ton and more in weight and tumbling them down 
into the creek below. All the creek beds are strewn with these 
glacier-hewn and glacier-transported boulders, and day after day 
one may witness the cracking or breaking off of the rock masses 
from the face of the cliffs. 

When I think of the students in the schools and colleges in 
Southern California, — at Redlands, Riverside, Corona, San 
Bernardino, Pomona, Ontario, Pasadena, Los Angeles, Long 
Beach, etc., — none of them more than four hours by rail away 
from this point, and how they might in this grand school of Nature 

78 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

learn something of her processes by actual contact, I wonder and 
ask myself when will the teacher of the superior (!) race learn 
from the Indian, and, instead of teaching his classes about glaciers 
and soil-making from books, bring them out into the places where 
these things are actually transpiring ? A few days camping out 
here will teach lessons that ten years of books can never supply. 
Higher up we come to the smoothed rock faces, where, cen- 
turies ago, the glaciers, larger than now, glided over these granite 
fields, shaping them into curves and domes, and grooving them 
with the rocks they carried along. 

Remembering the tree growth on the eastern slope at the 
height we have now attained, here we find a somewhat different 
growth; there the single-leaved nut-pine being most in evidence, 

while here there are 

evergreen oaks, willows, 

sycamore, walnut, alder, 

and cottonwoods, with, 

now and then, a big-cone fir, 

a big-cone pine, and the yellow 


We now approach an area 
; -^ i=^^~;: where there are few trees, the 

^SS^2:[%^^ granIte being malnly ^ eVi " 

" *^^&8^.'"£> =~~'~ i0s? '- '' dence. Above this we find our- 

i " ;y* *>=• • 

,, / c- T . . , selves in the real forests where 

Mount San Jacinto from 

Whitewater the tall timber grows. And 

what a change it is from the 
scorching desert beneath! Now and then, as we have ascended 
to prominent ridges, we have had wonderful outlooks, over the 
pass, across to the San Bernardino range, with its flashing snow- 
fields and sparkling watercourses. We have been following the 
course of the railway trains from Banning down to the level of 
the desert floor; we can see the pulsing heat waves ascending as 
from an oven, and we remember our own discomfort in the heat 
but a day or two ago, and now! now! we are in the most delicious 
shade, surrounded by an atmosphere that fairly flows into every 
hidden place of our body, bringing cool refreshment and sen- 
sations of fresh vigor and new life. The pines sing joyously above 

The Mountains of the Desert 79 

us, and, as we see the bare ledges of the granite above, capped 
by the snow-streaked summit, we cry Excelsior! and joyously dash 
on ahead. It is not a hard climb, nor is it dangerous. The 
slope is comparatively easy and, while there is dense though low 
undergrowth, the chief feature of which is the chinquapin, it oc- 
curs in patches which are easily avoided. In the heart ol the pine 
forest there is no underbrush. Fires have swept it clean, but the 
floor is covered with a springing carpet of sweet-smelling spiculae, 
and large cones which we wish we might carry off to sweeten the 
rooms in our house in town. 

In the final climb of the last one thousand feet or so there are 
but few trees and when, at last, the summit is reached we feel 
■ — what ? That we are well repaid ? We have been repaid all 
the way up. Each hour's climbing has brought its own imme- 
diate reward. And the expansive view ? We have stolen so 
many views on the way up that this adds but little to what we 
have already gained, except, of course, that we have a new 
series of views to the east, south, and west. But the chief charm 
to me of being on the summit is that I learn a new respect 
for the grand mountain itself. Everything below seems to fall 
into its proper place. Proportions are better understood. I 
know now what a truly majestic mountain I am standing 
upon, and henceforth it will be different. To gain this knowl- 
edge was well worth all the labor of the arduous climb. 

Mount Cuyamaca is about six thousand five hundred feet 
above sea-level, and is one of the offshoots of the great Sierra 
San Jacinto. It is the most prominent of the mountains on the 
desert side of all the San Diego County mountains. The highest 
point is known as Lyon's Peak and is a bold, gaunt mass of 
granite, in the winter months covered with snow. It is a com- 
paratively easy mountain to ascend, though few make the trip, 
as the three peaks of the San Miguel range are nearer to San 
Diego, easier of access, and higher than Lyon's Peak. But the 
surpassing joy of this ascent is the view, which has a fuller and 
nearer combination of all the varied features of the land. Here 
there is the same wonderful combination of old and new, wild 
and tame, uncultivated and cultivated, found on the other sum- 
mits, but with the addition of the close proximity of the ocean 

80 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

on one side, and the Imperial Valley on the other. Both are 
clearly discernible, the former lying beneath the afternoon sun 
like a long golden cloud, and the latter, green almost to black- 
ness, like a vast emerald in shadow. 

From the summit of these mountains, especially those stand- 
ing between the desert and the Pacific, one can well study some 
of the phenomena of the peculiar climatology of this region. I 
have elsewhere explained the wind blast through the San Gor- 
gonio Pass, and the fact that the cooled air currents flowing from 
the ocean back eastward over the range are met by more ascend- 
ing hot air columns from the desert. This conflict of the two 
opposing columns explains the comparative coolness and dryness 
of the atmosphere on the higher slopes of the San Jacinto range 
and that few cooling breezes flow over the mountains into the 
desert in the daytime. The action of these air currents can 
speedily be determined by watching an ascending column of 
smoke from a desert fire. As it rises it flows gently to the east, 
going more and more slowly, until, when at an elevation of 
8,500 to 9,000 feet, it comes to a standstill, and then steals off 
to the west. On the summit of Mount San Gorgonio I well re- 
member the feeling of surprise at discovering the wind blowing 
westward, while in the canyons several thousand feet below it 
invariably blows to the east. 

The Volcanoes of the Desert 


The Volcanoes of the Desert 

fOLCANIC activity has made many changes 
in the Colorado Desert. Clarence Kino- calls 
San Jacinto Mountain a volcanic peak, and 
the noises heard beneath it that so frighten the 
Indians suggest some kind of internal activity. 
The mountains of the continuation of the San 
Bernardino range below the Moron go Pass are 
volcanic, and the four buttes that are now islands 
at the southeastern end of the Salton Sea are of lava and pumice. 

There are, however, in the limits to which I have confined my- 
self, no extinct volcanic craters as on the Mohave, Painted, and 
other deserts of this southwestern region. Pilot Knob may be 
taken as an illustration of evidences of former volcanic activity, 
and yet there are volcanoes (or were, until a few months ago) 
active and alive, giving forth their messages from the heated inte- 
rior of the earth. It is with these volcanoes I wish my readers 
to become acquainted. They are volcanoes, not of fiery lava, but 
of hot quicksands and mud. 

Pilot Knob is a well-known landmark that has guided many a 
weary traveler over the desert ever since it has been traversed by 
the foot of intelligent man. It rises, solitary, from the Colorado 
River plain, a few miles southeast of Yuma. The Southern 
Pacific railway, as well as the river, passes close by it. Though 
mainly composed of granite, the bent and contorted mass, which 
is traversed by dikes of basalt or some dark variety of crystalline 
trap rock, shows so clearly the effect of volcanic action that I call 
attention to it here. The Knob itself is of a jet black color, and it 
glistens in the sun as if it had been varnished or highly polished. 
Until the railway ran through the desert it is not to be wondered 
at that few knew anything of the mud volcanoes or salses. The 

Vol I. — G 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

Indians of the country have always regarded them as the abode of 
evil and malignant spirits, and to the white man the fearful heat 
of the glaring sands and clays and alkaline beds of the desert, with 
the scarcity of water, and even that of a bitter and brackish quality, 
were sufficient obstacles to prevent his willingly risking his life to 
visit them. The coyote, that desert scavenger that likes liberally 
to thrust his nose into everything, shuns these salses. His experi- 
ence has been that hot water, hotter mud, and poisonous fumes are 
not good for his nasal extremity, and the dried-up skin and bones 
of one fellow that I found on my first visit proved that one inquis- 
itive nose had led its possessor to his death. On this first visit, 


near mud volcanoes 

too, I discovered how treacherous the ground was in which the 
volcanoes occur. I was cautiously walking toward one of the 
craters from which a bubbling sound arose, when to my horror 
the ground gave way beneath me and had I not been more than 
usually quick mentally and active physically in such cases I should 
have been precipitated into I know not what beneath. I only 
know that as I threw myself backward, flat upon the earth, I 
heard an unusual activity in the several near-by craters, as if some 
demoniac spirits were expressing their anger that I had escaped the 
trap they had laid for me. 

And this was not all the work of imagination. When Professor 
Hanks, the State Geologist, visited this region some years ago, he 

The Volcanoes of the Desert 


fell through in like manner, but unfortunately did not escape as I 
did. His body was immersed nearly up to the shoulders in scald- 
ing hot water and mud, and only by the superhuman efforts of 
himself and companion was he rescued. For a time it was thought 
he was fatally scalded, but good care and the healing power of the 
desert restored him to health. 

After my experience I secured two long and broad strips of wood 
and fastened them to my feet as Norwegian snow-shoes, or skees, 
and then laboriously but safely went on with my investigations. 

On the occasion of my visit, in March, 1906, the ground seemed 
to be much firmer and these precautions were unnecessary. 

Approaching the mud volcanoes 

These mud volcanoes were first made known to the world by 
Professor Blake in the report of explorations for a railroad to the 
Pacific, though they were visited by Major Heintzelman and Dr. 
J. L. Le Conte in 1850, while the former was stationed at Fort 
Yuma. There are two areas of them, one near Sierra Prieta and 
Volcano Lake in Lower California, and the other not far from 
Pelican Island, and now covered by the Salton Sea. I shall de- 
scribe the latter only. 

On approaching the salses one can hear the wild rush of the 
steam, the hollow sounds of the mud explosions and the peculiar 
murmur of the boiling caldrons of quicksand. The space oc- 
cupied is about five hundred feet long and three hundred and fifty 
broad, slightly elevated above the clayey plain. We had to wade 
through a narrow and shallow pond of salt water to reach the 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

volcanoes. The smell of sulphur was quite strong, and the bub- 
bling, soughing, hissing, venting, and spitting of the water, steam, 
and mud filled our ears. There were over a hundred vents of 
one kind or another, most of them so small as to be perfectly 
ridiculous. It seemed as if a lot of tiny devils were playing at 
making volcanoes: watery mud, scalding hot, bubbled and gurgled 
and frothed in the same way that artesian water bubbles over 
the top of its casing. Black, ill-smelling, and fearsome it was. 
Here is Veatch's description, which in one or two particulars 
differs materially from what we saw: "The steam jets of the 
salse issue from conical mounds of mud varying from three to 

The seething caldron 
of boiling mud and 


fifteen feet in height, the sides presenting various angles, some 
being sharp and slender cones, others dome-shaped mounds that 
seem to have spread and flattened out with their own weight, 
upon the discontinuance of the action that formed them. Out 
of some of the cones the steam rushes in a continuous stream, with 
a roaring or whizzing sound, as the orifices vary in diameter or 
the jets differ in velocity. In others the action is intermittent, 
and each recurring rush oi steam is accompanied by a discharge 
of a shower of hot mud, masses of which are thrown sometimes to 
the height of a hundred feet. These discharges take place every 
few minutes from some of the mounds, while others seem to have 
been quiet for weeks or months. During our short stay we had 
specimens of the rapidity with which a sharp, conical mound 

The Volcanoes of the Desert 


could be built up and again tumbled down. In one place a 
stream of hot water was thrown up from fifteen to thirty feet, 
falling in a copious shower on every side, forming a circle within 
which one might stand without danger from the scalding drops, 
unless the wind chanced to drive them from their regular course. 
It issued from a superficial mound out of an opening about six 
inches in diameter; but the column of steam and water, immedi- 
ately upon issuing, expanded to a much greater size. The orifice 
was lined with an incrustation of carbonate of lime, and around 
it, and particularly on the southeast side, stood a 

miniature grove of ^%i^y^ slender stalagmite ar- 

borescent concre- „/S' 'W&Mfa, tions of the same 

substance. They &3\^Wi^Wk. were from half an 

inch to one and WmMSmMsth, a half inches in 


_£*3^> Built-up cone of one of the mud volcanoes 

diameter, and from four to eight inches in height. Many of them 
were branched and the tips colored red, contrasting beautifully 
with the marble whiteness of the trunk, and resembling much 
a coral grove. Some were hollow, and delicate jets of steam 
issued from their summits, and this seemed to explain the mode 
of their formation. Some were not hollow throughout, being 
closed at the summit, but when detached from their base, a small 
orifice in the center suffered hot steam to pass, and some degree 
of caution was required to remove them without scalded fingers. 
To approach the spot was a feat of some difficulty, surrounded 
as it was by a magic circle of hot rain. I retreated, scalded, from 
the only attempt I dared make; but my son, more adventurous 

86 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

or more attracted by the beauty of the specimens, succeeded in 
bringing away several. The falling water ran off into a pool a 
foot deep, but what became of it was not apparent, as it had no 
seeming outlet. I brought away a bottle of it for examination. 
It was transparent, but had an intensely bitter and saline taste. 
A little beyond, on either hand, are two huge caldron-like basins, 
sunk five or six feet below the general level, and near a hundred 
feet in diameter. Within these caldrons a bluish argillaceous 
paste is continually boiling with a dull murmur, emitting copious 
sulphurous vapors, and huge bubbles, bursting, throw masses of 
mud to the height of several feet. These kettles sometimes boil 
over, and the matter runs off in a slimy stream toward the Salt 
Lake. This seems to have been the case recently, as we encoun- 
tered the track of one of these streams, not yet dry, a mile from 
the salse." 

I have never seen the volcanoes in the high state of activity 
thus described by Dr. Veatch. There is every reason to assume 
that they have periods of greater and lesser activity. In March, 
1906, there was no hot water being thrown up to a great height. 
The evidences of greater activity than we saw, however, were 
most abundant in several quiescent craters. The tininess of some 
of the vents was a source of amusement to me, for they were so 
small that my lead pencil effectively checked their spitting and 
fizzling. I thrust it down one of them as far as it would go, and 
when it was withdrawn the little crater, or cone, like a vicious 
cat, spat and hissed at me in a very funny manner. 

When I circumnavigated the Salton Sea in June, the whole 
volcanic area was under water. Not a trace or sign of it re- 
mained save the four volcanic buttes, which are now islands. 

I now await with great interest the "going down" of the Salton 
Sea, and the uncovering of the volcanoes. Will the water have 
quenched the internal fires ? Have they been quieted forever ? 
How will the ground be affected ? These and other questions 
I hope to solve soon after the water subsides. 

Explorers and Pathfinders 87 


Explorers and Pathfinders 

jOW many centuries is it since the first man saw 
the desert ? Who first gazed upon the wastes 
of the Colorado ? What foot first trod the virgin 
sand after this new-made area was wrested from 
the Gulf of California ? Was there any horror, 
any terror, any surprise, as its wonders were re- 
vealed for the first time ? And what existed 
there then ? Was there much difference com- 
pared with what we now see ? How did it first appear ? 

Ah! these questionings of the human mind; these problems that 
are constantly arising before us and demanding solution; what a 
blessing they are to us; how they stimulate research and add to 
man's capacity and knowledge. 

Birds, doubtless, first saw the Colorado Desert as it slowly as- 
sumed the form and appearance it now possesses. In calm indif- 
ference they soared the empyrean and floated across the waste, not 
perceiving, perhaps, that change was taking place. And yet the 
water-birds must have noted a change. Those that nested in the 
mountains or foot-hills near the San Gorgonio Pass, and "fished" 
in the silent waters as the pelicans and herons now fish in the Salton 
Sea, followed the retreating waters and, if they were capable of it, 
wondered at the close of each day to find their homeward flight so 
much the more prolonged. 

Then the animals of the foot-hills, who had laved in and drank 
of the waters of the great inland sea; they walked to and fro each 
morning and night over the freshly emerged land. They were the 
first pathfinders. They made the first trails. Over the washed- 
down sands of the mountains, now and ever-henceforth-to-be 
desert sands; around the surface irregularities of the newly exposed 
area they stealthily moved, some fearful and timorous, some bold 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

and courageous, but all alike seeking the precious fluid which each 
day seemed to be going farther and farther away. 

The grizzly, the mountain lion, the antelope, deer, bighorn, 
coyote, fox, gopher, rat, jack-rabbit, cottontail, — these first dis- 
covered the desert and explored its yet virgin wastes. 

So that when man, dusky man, came on the scene, all he had to 
do was to follow the paths already made and hewould find most of 
the places and objects that were by him desired. For, on the 
desert, the needs of primitive man are not very far removed from 
those of the lower animals. Food, drink, shelter for one's self and 

one's family, — these though in- 
sistent and imperative needs are 
not large needs: they are compar- 
atively easily satisfied. 

For long centuries our brown 
brother traversed the desert alone; 
unmolested and unafraid, save 
for fear of others of his kind who 
might need the small supply of 
water upon which he and his 
were relying. He dug the wells 
that now tell of his early wander- 
ings and habitations; he found 
the quickest routes from diverse and divergent points; his 
unclad foot wrested from the reluctant soil the token of his 
journeys in the lorm of trails and paths; his eye witnessed 
the first growth of flowers, cactus, and trees. He was the first 
to realize how vast the difference between the desert covered 
with flowers after the rains, and the desert of the hot scorching 
months. He first felt the fierce and withering blasts blowing; down 
the San Gorgonio Pass, and saw the piling up of the moving 
sand-dunes. His eyes first gazed upon the spitting and fuming, 
the bubbling and soughing of the sand and mud volcanoes, and he 
first saw the deposits of salt and the millions of shells that now 
arrest the gaze of the white visitant. 

Then came the explorer of the white skin; the man with lust in 
his eye, — lust for gold, new territory, achievement, conquest. 
By 1522 Cortes had subjugated the continent from the isthmus of 

Juan Segondo at Torres 

Explorers and Pathfinders 8 9 

Tehuantepec to Panuco and Colima. Forces were sent south into 
Guatemala, while Cortes dreamed of further explorations and 
discoveries north. The activity of his enemies sent two powerful 
foes to harass and circumvent him. One of these, Nuno de Guz- 
man, was to have a large share in shaping events which led to the 
discovery of the Colorado Desert region to the Spaniard, for in 
person he went northward and discovered and subjugated much 
new territory. Then came the Viceroy Mendoza. Cabeza de 
Vaca had made his memorable trip across the continent. Marcos 
de Niza was sent on his reconnaissance which led to the discovery of 
Arizona and New Mexico, and then Cortes and Mendoza engaged 
in a strenuous political fight as to who should explore the north- 
west region further. Cortes claimed the exclusive right, and Men- 
doza naturally wanted some share in such interesting proceedings 
which were liable to bring honor, fame, and wealth to their success- 
ful prosecutor. Cortes succeeded in making the first start. He 
sent Francisco de Ulloa, with three vessels, up the coast from 
Acapulco, July 8, 1539. This was the expedition that discovered 
that there was a gulf, — now known as the Gulf of California, — 
but Ulloa, on reaching the head, made no attempt to explore it, 
contenting himself with noting that the low sandy shores, about a 
league off, united. Had he sent a boat to that "point of uniting" 
he would have discovered the Colorado River, which there enters 
the gulf. 

It was now Mendoza's turn. Coronado was sent overland on 
that great march ol his to New Mexico, and Pedro de Alarcon was 
made head of a maritime expedition which was to co-operate. 
Though Ulloa had discovered no river at the head of the Gulf of 
California, there seemed to be a general idea prevalent that there 
was such a river, for Alarcon's instructions implied that he was to 
sail up it, and keep in touch with Coronado as he journeyed to the 
regions described by Marcos de Niza. 

It was in May of 1540 that Alarcon sailed, with two vessels. At 
Culiacan he found a third vessel which had been sent on ahead 
with supplies. These three vessels then proceeded northward, and 
when he reached the spot where Ulloa had turned back he com- 
bated the wishes of those of his own company who were desirous 
of returning by sending out two pilots. These men found the 

90 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

passage up which, with great difficulty and narrow escapes from 
grounding, the vessels passed, finally coming to anchor at the 
mouth of a great river, the current of which was so rapid that they 
could scarce stem it. Here Alarcon left his vessels, and taking two 
shallops, manned by twenty men and two officers, he pushed his 
way up the river for nearly sixteen days. The Indians at first 
were troublesome, but soon became more friendly and solicited 
Alarcon to remain and become their chief. There is no definite 
data by which we can determine exactly how high up the Colorado 
River Alarcon went. He did not find any news of Coronado, 
however, and so returned, making the downward journey in two 
days and a half, owing to the swift current. A little later he as- 
cended the river again to a point beyond where the river flowed 
between high mountains, and, according to his own statement, 
eighty-five leagues from the head of the gulf. It is likely, however, 
that the doughty Spaniard measured the leagues by his feeling of 
weariness as his boats were towed up the sinuous and tortuous 
channel of the Colorado. Scores of miles are lost daily in this 
manner. The banks are winding to a degree seldom found, and 
the river itself runs its tortuous course, first on one side, then on the 
other, crossing and recrossing until one can no longer keep count 
of the times. So it is not to be wondered at that when Melchior 
Diaz came by land to the spot where Alarcon had left letters at the 
foot of a large cross, he estimated the distance as fifteen leagues 
from the mouth. There is great discrepancy between eighty-five 
and fifteen, hence we are left to conjecture as to whether Alarcon 
ever gazed upon that portion of the Colorado Desert now within 
the confines of the United States. General J. H. Simpson, how- 
ever, believes that he passed several miles beyond the junction of 
the Gila with the Colorado, although it seems reasonable to expect 
that had he done so he would have made some note of so important 
a fact. 

That Diaz and his party walked on the Colorado Desert is pretty 
well assured, and to them the honor of being the first white men 
to explore the region must be accorded. For, after reading Alar- 
con's letters, Diaz followed the course of the river upward for five 
or six days, and then concluded to cross it by means of rafts. The 
Indians of the region — the Cumanas — had not been hospitable, 

Explorers and Pathfinders 91 

by any means, and one of their medicine-men had endeavored to 
stop Alarcon'from proceeding farther up the river by placing magic 
reeds on the bank. These Indians were undoubtedly the Yumas. 
Substitute " Y " for " C " in the name " Cumanas " and the Spanish 
form of spelling the tribal name is apparent. To this day the 
Yumas are hostile. The white man is an intruder. They want to 
live alone, unmolested, undisturbed. 

Their craft and cunning in dealing with Diazwere what one now 
familiar with them might expect. They readily responded to his 
request to help make the needful rafts and assist his soldiers in 
crossing the river. What a chance was here! Get the hated 
intruders separated, some on one bank, some on the other, and 
still others on the rafts in the act of crossing, and then attack them. 
Strategy indeed, not unworthy of soldiers of greater pretensions 
than our Yumas. But Diaz was one too many for them. Danger 
had taught him to meet craft with craft, cunning with cunning. 
One of his soldiers reported suspicious circumstances; one of the 
Indians was arrested, put under torture and soon the whole plot 
was revealed. Open hostilities were now engaged in, and only by 
the use of his superior weapons was Diaz able to drive the Yumas 
away to the mountains. Then, free from interruption, he and his 
party crossed the river to the California side and the Colorado 
Desert felt the tread of its first white explorer. For four days Diaz 
wandered on the desert. It was a hard trip. The sands were like 
hot ashes, he reports; the earth trembled, and the whole country 
was desolate and forbidding. No wonder four days of it satisfied 
him. He fled from its scorching weariness and it saw him again 
no more. 

In 1604 Juan de Onate, the reconqueror and governor of New 
Mexico, marched from San Juan de los Caballeros (a small town 
near where Santa Fe now stands) to the west, with the intention of 
discovering a new portion of the Mar del Sur (South Sea, or what 
we now know as the Pacific Ocean). From this journey he hoped 
to gain fame and wealth. The conquests of Cortes and others 
inflamed the minds of the earlier explorers, and the country was 
pretty well known before hope was abandoned of startling results 
from each enterprise. Onate crossed New Mexico and left his 
autograph chiseled in stone upon the interesting rock known as 

92 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

"El Morro." He reached the Colorado River by the Bill Williams 
fork and had various adventures with the Mohaves, and on the 
twenty-third of January, 1605, reached tide-water. He christened 
the port "San Pablo" and then returned to New Mexico. It must 
have been on his return trip that he stopped at El Morro, for he 
reached San Juan on the twenty-fifth of April, and the date of the 
inscription is April 16, though the latter says 1606 while the 
records give it 1605. 

From this time on we know of no white man visiting the desert 
until after the missions in Alta California were established. The 
peninsula of California was discovered, Jesuit missions were 
founded and conducted for seventy years, and then came the 

movement for the colonization 
and missionizing of Alta California 
which I have fully treated in my 
"In and Out of the old Missions of 
California." After the Franciscans 
had established some of their mis- 
sions in Alta California it was 
found to be too long a journey to 
reach them only by way of the gulf 
and up the peninsula. The mis- 
sionaries in Northern Sonora had 
made several entradas toward the 

Colorado River, and one of them, 
Founding mesquite beans . , ' 

Francisco Garces, the most indefat- 
igable of all, save the Jesuit Padre Kino, in 1771, came from 
San Xavier del Bac, near Tucson, crossed the Colorado and 
made some confused wanderings on the desert of which it is 
impossible to give any connected account. 

It must be remembered that at this time there were no white 
men in Arizona except at the few missions among the Pimas 
and the Hopi, and none in California save at the five missions 
already established. The whole region across Arizona and 
California, until the San Gorgonio Pass was reached, was one of 
horror and desolation even to these experienced travelers. 

The first Christian to make the whole trip across the desert 
from San Gabriel to the presidio of Tubac (forty miles south of 

Explorers and Pathfinders 93 

the present Tucson, Arizona) was an Indian, Sebastian by name, 
who had fled from the mission with his parents and wife. _ He 
had wandered far to the east to avoid meeting soldiers who 
would return him as a deserter. His family all perished, either 
by hostile Indians or the hardships they had to endure, but there 
is no doubt but that Sebastian crossed the San Gorgonio Pass 
and traversed the desert to Yuma, where he was taken by the 
natives to the Pima and Papago country and came in contact 
with Captain Juan Bautista de Anza. This gallant officer was 
the commandant of the presidio of Tubac, and he had long 
expressed his desire to participate in the colonization of Cali- 

The Viceroy Bucareli at length granted him a license to explore 
the country from Tubac to the California missions to see if a 
feasible route could be made of it for subsequent travelers to and 
from the missions, and on the eighth day of January, 1774, with 
Sebastian as a guide, and Padres Font and Garces as spiritual 
advisers, the desert caravan started. There were thirty-four men in 
addition, with one hundred and forty horses and sixty-five cattle. 
On reaching the Colorado River, Anza made friends with Palma, 
a well-known Yuma chief, who accompanied the party across 
the river as far as a lagoon to the southwest which was formed 
by the Colorado in time of flood. Then for six days Anza wan- 
dered through a country so destitute of grass and water that he was 
compelled to return to the lagoon, and beg the assistance of Palma. 
Where he wandered during these six days it is impossible to tell, but 
supposing the lagoon to the southwest of Yuma to be below the 
Mexican line it is very probable that it was in what we know as 
the Imperial Valley. Palma now directed Anza which way to 
go, and the Indian followed after with the baggage, horses, and 
cattle. Thus guided Don Juan had little trouble in going from 
water-hole to water-hole over the sand-hills, and into the Salton 
Sink north until the San Gorgonio Pass was reached, which they 
called "Puerto de San Carlos." Thence over the Santa Ana 
River to San Gabriel the rest of the journey was comparatively 
uneventful and easy. 

While Anza went on to Monterey, he sent Padre Garces back, 
over the desert, to the Colorado River, there to await his return. 

94 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

Garces made the journey in twelve and a half days, — not bad 
traveling for April weather. 

Anza was not long behind, for he spent three days only at Mon- 
terey and then started back taking Garces' track at San Gabriel. 
How those old-day rollickers lived on horseback! Here is a 
leader of an expedition who has just made the terrific journey 
of a thousand miles over an untried desert from below Tucson, 
Arizona, not in a Pullman or a comfortable Southern Pacific 
chair car, but on horseback, carrying all his supplies with him, 
starting back three days after his arrival. Surely there is a vast 
difference between the endurance of the men of the present day, 
who would no more think of riding a horse a thousand miles than 
they would of walking that distance, and the old Spanish soldiers 
who regarded such trips as a part of their everyday life. 

And this journey, successfully completed, was but preliminary 
to a second one taken over the same country in 1775, when, with 
240 persons, and over a thousand horses, mules, and sheep, 
he journeyed from Tubac to San Francisco. He it was who 
located the site of the presidio and mission in the City of Destiny 
by the Golden Gate. That was a wonderful trip over the desert, 
and it required no little courage, leadership, and knowledge to 
get such a party safely over the sandy wastes. It was mid- 
winter, the cold was intense, for, strange to say, they were met 
day after day with storms of snow, hail, and rain. And when it 
is cold on the desert the thinned blood feels it more; and we 
are not surprised at the record in the commandant's diary 
that his people suffered cruelly. There was considerable sickness 
but no fatality. About a hundred head of stock were lost, 
as water was so scarce that the fevered animals could not be 
restrained from breaking away in search of it. The party 
often had to be divided so that all should not reach the 
water-holes, with their poor and scant supply, at the same 
time. Wells were dug in many places. The scarcity of 
feed for the animals was another source of great discomfort. 
There were a number of women in the party, twenty-nine of them 
being soldiers' wives, and on the journey eight infants were born. 
The route taken was about the same as before, across the Colorado 
River at Yuma, over the Salton Basin and through the Mesquite 

Explorers and Pathfinders 


country to the San Gorgonio Pass, and thence to San Gabriel 
and Monterey. 

From this time on this route was often followed, though in 1781 
it was brought into sad repute by the horrible massacre of the 
Spaniards at Yuma. In 1780, Garces had succeeded in establish- 
ing two mission pueblos there, but the influence of the friendly 
Palma was not sufficient to curb the spirit of hostility the Yumas 
had always felt at the presence of the strangers. In June, 1781, 
Rivera, who had held the offices of governor of both Lower and 
Upper California, arrived at Yuma with a band of colonists bound 
for Los Angeles and the 
Santa Barbara region. He 
crossed the Colorado, dis- 
patched his party over the 
desert and then encamped 
on the eastern bank, with 
eleven or twelve men. On 
Tuesday, July 17, the In- 
dians fell upon the white 
settlers at the two pueblo 
missions and also upon 
Rivera and his soldiers and 
succeeded in massacring 
forty-six of them, the ex- 
governor among the num- 

Ensign Limon, who had 

Padre Garces * i ~ 

at his camp-fire 

escorted the settlers to San Gabriel, was the one to discover 
the dreadful facts from the California side. He was returning 
with his nine men, when some of the desert natives informed him 
of the terrible outbreak. Leaving two men in charge of his 
animals he rushed ahead, using great care, however, in order to 
reconnoiter. Blackened ruins of buildings, dead bodies lying 
around in the plaza, and a fierce attack upon himself in which he 
and his son were wounded, were forceful corroboration of the 
hideous stories. Hastily he started to return to San Gabriel, 
only to find the two men left with the animals killed. Terror- 
stricken the wounded man made his weary way back over the 

96 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

desert to San Gabriel, where the news was received with con- 

It was determined to punish the Yumas, and two forces were 
sent out at different times, one from Sonora, and the other from 
the California side, but it was a poor-spirited campaign and next 
to nothing was accomplished. Suffice it to say the ringleaders 
were never caught or punished and the general effect of both 
efforts was to confirm the Indians in their hostility without incul- 
cating in them any fear of the Spanish power. Hence in future 
the route over the Colorado to Sonora was regarded with great 
disfavor, though we have record of its being occasionally used. 

In 1782, Don Pedro Fages, afterward governor, made the first 
trip ever recorded from the Colorado River to San Diego; a weary 
and arduous journey as all who have taken it since can testify. 
In 1783 an ensign tried to follow this route and see if it could be 
made practicable for constant use, but he came no farther than 
the mountains overlooking the desert and then returned. For 
several years desultory explorations took place from San Diego, 
but the route was too arduous to lead to its adoption and few ever 
used it until the coming of the United States Army of the West 
under Kearney in 1847, after which it became the Southern 
route for the gold seekers. 

One of the desert's notable pathfinders was Jonathan Trum- 
bull Warner (commonly known as Juan Jose Warner), from whom 
Warner's Ranch obtained its name. Born in Lyme, Connecticut, 
in 1807, ill health at the age of twenty-three forced him to seek 
a milder climate. He fell into that great current of humanity 
that was sweeping westward and the end of the year found him 
in St. Louis. The following year he formed an expedition to 
Santa Fe, and soon after his arrival there struck out, with eleven 
men, under the leadership of fackson, Waldo, and Young for 
California. He crossed the Colorado River below the Gila, and 
then in November struck across the desert to San Diego via San 
Luis Rey, which he duly reached. After merchandizing in Los 
Angeles and engaging in other ventures, he was granted the ranch 
that bears his name, having been naturalized as a Mexican citizen, 
and in 1844 he moved therewith his family, living there for thirteen 
years until driven off by an uprising of the Indians. 

Explorers and Pathfinders 97 

In November, 183 1, Dr. Thomas Coulter, an English scientist, 
visited California, and made a trip from Monterey via San Gabriel 
to the Colorado River and back. He rode over the San Felipe 
Pass and crossed the desert by the southern route. His map 
shows that he went by the way of Pala. 

Perhaps one of the most sensational and talked-about rides 
over the desert was that made in 1834, by a special courier, said 
to have been Rafael Amador, who rode from the City of Mexico 
to Monterey in forty-eight days (some say forty days). Think 
of that lonely trip, constantly beset by dangers from hostile Indians 
and never free from the dread of death by starvation, thirst, and 

Rafael Amador's ride 

losing his way. It was July when he started, and August is 
always, a terribly hot month. The Yumas caught him and threat- 
ened his life, only releasing him after stripping him of all his 
equipment and most of his clothing, besides stealing his horse. 
He crossed the Colorado Desert at that scorching time on foot, 
and for three days was without water. He took the hardest 
route and struck out over the mountains to the south and finally 
reached San Luis Rey almost dead with fatigue and the hardships 
he had undergone. 

It should be stated that he was bearing a dispatch from the 
Mexican dictator, Santa Anna, to Governor Figueroa, rescinding 
prior instructions which had been issued requiring the governor 

98 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

to hand over his office to Don Jose Maria Hijar. Whether his 
mission was suspected or not I cannot say, but it is claimed that a 
friend of Hijar's ambushed and captured the courier and then 
urged Hijar to hurry to Monterey and seize the governorship 
before the message could prevent. But Hijar refused, and the 
courier was released and allowed to proceed on his way. His 
reward for the great trip is said to have been three thousand 

It was in 1826 that the first trapper of the United States entered 
the Colorado Desert. Jedediah Smith was an adventurous spirit 
who, with fifteen companions, left Utah, near the Great Salt Lake, 
and wandered down the Gila to the Colorado. He crossed the 
river where the Mohaves dwell and was greatly impressed by their 
kind hospitality. Not only did they supply the party with fresh 
provisions, but they gave them horses which they had stolen from 
the Spaniards, and then supplied them with guides to direct their 
way over the desert to the mission of San Gabriel. There is no 
doubt that their route took them to the northern extremity of 
what is now Riverside County, as they entered the San Gabriel 
Valley over El Cajon Pass, near San Bernardino. 

Though not on this trip with Jedediah, Thomas L. Smith, 
generally known as " Pegleg" Smith, was one of his later compan- 
ions, who had many wild adven ures, some of them inseparably 
connecting his name with the Colorado Desert as is recorded in 
another chapter. 

There is no doubt that several trappers and hunters crossed 
the Colorado Desert between the time of Smith's explorations 
and the coming of Kearney's Army of the West. 

When the general reached the Colorado in November, 1846, he 
intercepted a party of Mexicans going from California to Sonora 
with five hundred horses to strengthen General Castro's forces. 
On one of these men were found dispatches telling of the revolt 
against the American occupancy of California, and this hastened 
Kearney's actions. He pushed on across the desert to Carrizo 
Creek, through the San Felipe Pass, only to meet with disaster 
and temporary defeat from the forces of Andreas Pico at San 
Pasqual. Colonel W. H. Emory's description of the desert journey 
is too interesting and valuable to lose, so I here quote largely 
from it. 

Explorers and Pathfinders 


"After crossing, we ascended the river three-quarters of a mile, 
where we encountered an immense sand drift, and from that point 
until we halted the great highway between Sonora and California 
lies along the foot of this drift, which is continually but slowly 
encroaching down the valley. 

"We halted at a dry arroyo, a few feet to the left of the road 
leading into the Colorado, where there was a hole five or six feet 
deep, which by deepening furnished sufficient water for the men. 
We tied our animals to the mesquite trees, Prosopis glandulosa, 
and remarking on the way that they showed an inclination to eat 
the bean of this plant, we sent the men to collect them; the few 
gathered were eaten with avidity. 

"November 26. — The dawn of day found every man on 


mm & 

j ~ The weary march of 
Kearney's soldiers 

horseback, and a bunch of grass from the Colorado tied behind 
him on the cantle of the saddle. After getting well under way, 
the keen air at 26 Fahrenheit made it most comfortable to walk. 
We traveled four miles along the sand butte in the same direction 
as yesterday. We mounted the buttes and found, after a short 
distance, a firmer footing covered with fragments of lava, rounded 
by water, and many agates. We were now fairly on the desert. . . . 
"After traveling twenty-four miles we reached the Alamo or 
Cottonwood. Notwithstanding the name there was no cotton- 
wood here, but Francisco said it was doubtless the place, the tree 
having probably been covered by the encroachment of the sand, 
which here terminates in a bluff forty feet high, making the arc of 
a great circle convexing to the north. 

Vol. I.— 7 

100 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

"Descending this bluff, we found in what had been the channel 
of a stream, now overgrown with a few ill-conditioned mesquite, 
a large hole where persons had evidently dug for water. It was 
necessary to halt to rest our animals, and the time was occupied 
in deepening this hole, which after a long struggle showed signs 
of water. An old champagne basket, used by one of the officers 
as a pannier, was lowered in the hole to prevent the crumbling 
of the sand. After many efforts to keep out the caving sand, a 
basketwork of willow twigs effected the object, and much to the 
joy of all the basket, which was now fifteen or twenty feet below 
the surface, filled with water. The order was now given for each 
mess to draw a camp-kettle of water, and Captain Turner was 
placed in charge of the spring to see fair distribution. 

"When the messes were supplied the firmness of the banks gave 
hopes that the animals might be watered, and each party was 
notified to have their animals in waiting; the important business 
of watering them commenced, upon the success of which depended 
the possibility of their advancing with us a foot farther. 

"Two buckets for each animal were allowed. At 10 a.m., 
when my turn came, Captain Moore had succeeded, by great 
exertions, in opening another well, and the one already opened 
began to flow more freely, in -consequence of which we could 
afford to give each animal as much as he could drink. The 
poor brutes, none of which had tasted water in forty-eight hours, 
and some not for the last sixty, clustered round the well and 
scrambled for precedence. 

"At 12 o'clock I had watered all my animals, thirty-seven in 
number, and turned over the well to Captain Moore. The 
animals still had an aching void to fill, and all night was heard the 
munching of sticks, and their piteous cries for more congenial 

"November 27 and 28. — To-day we started a few minutes after 
sunrise. Our course was a winding one, to avoid the sand- 
drifts. The Mexicans had informed us that the water of the 
salt lake, some thirty or forty miles distant, was too salt to use, 
but other information led us to think the intelligence was wrong. 
We accordingly tried to reach it; about 3 p.m. we disengaged 
ourselves from the sand and went due (magnetic) west, over an 

Explorers and Pathfinders 101 

immense level of clay detritus, hard and smooth as a bowling 

"The desert was almost destitute of vegetation, now and then 
an ephedra, Oenothera, or bunches of aristida were seen, and 
occasionally the level was covered with a growth of obione canes- 
cens and a low bush with small oval plaited leaves, unknown. 

"The heavy sand had proved too much for many horses and 
some mules, and all the efforts of their drivers could bring them 
no farther than the middle of this dreary desert. About eight 
o'clock, as we approached the lake, the stench of dead animals 
confirmed the reports of the Mexicans and put to flight all hopes 
of our being able to use the water. 

"The basin of the lake, as well as I could judge at night, is 
about three-quarters of a mile long and half a mile wide. The 
water had receded to a pool, diminished to one-half its size, and 
the approach to it was through a thick soapy quagmire. It 
was wholly unfit for man or brute, and we studiously kept the 
latter from it, thinking that the use of it would but aggravate 
their thirst. 

"One or two of the men came in late and rushing to the lake 
threw themselves down, and took many swallows before discov- 
ering their mistake; but the effect was not injurious except that 
it increased their thirst. 

"A few mesquite trees and a chenopodiaceous shrub bordered 
the lake, and on these our mules munched till they had sufficiently 
refreshed themselves, when the call to saddle was sounded and 
we groped silently our way in the dark. The stoutest animals 
now began to stagger, and when day dawned scarcely a man 
was seen mounted. 

"With the sun rose a heavy fog from the southwest, no doubt 
from the gulf, and sweeping toward us, enveloped us for two or 
three hours, wetting our blankets and giving relief to the animals. 
Before it had dispersed we came to a patch of sunburned grass. 

"When the fog had entirely dispersed we found ourselves enter- 
ing a gap in the mountains, which had been before us for four 
days. The plain was crossed but we had not found water. 
The first valley we reached was dry, and it was not till 12 o'clock M. 
that we struck Carrizo (cane) Creek, within half a mile of one of its 

102 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

sources, and although so close to the source, the sands had 
already absorbed much of its water, and left but little running. 
A mile or two below, the creek entirely disappeared. 

"We halted, having made fifty-four miles in the two days, at 
the source, a magnificent spring, twenty or thirty feet in diameter, 
highly impregnated with sulphur, and medicinal in its properties. 
No vessel could be procured to bring home some of the water for 
analysis, but I scraped a handful of the salt which had effloresced 
to the surface of the adjacent ground, and Professor Frazer finds 
it to contain sulphate of lime, magnesia, and chloride of sodium. 

"The spring consisted of a series of smaller springs or veins, 
varying in temperature from 68° to 75 . This variation, however, 
may have been owing to the different exposures of the fountains 
in which the thermometer was immersed. The growth was cane, 
rush, and a coarse grass, such as is found on the marshes near 
the seashore. 

"The desert over which we had passed, ninety miles from water 
to water, is an immense triangular plain, bounded on one side by 
the Colorado, on the west by the Cordilleras of California, the 
coast chain of mountains which now encircles us, extending 
from the Sacramento River to the southern extremity of Lower 
California, and on the northeast by a chain of mountains, a con- 
tinuation of the same spur noted on the 22d as running southeast 
and northwest. It is chiefly covered with floating sand, the 
surface of which, in various places, is white with diminutive spi- 
nelas, and everywhere over the whole surface is found the large 
and soft mussel shell. 

"I have noted the only two patches of grass found during the 
'Jornada.' There were scattered, at wide intervals, the pala- 
foxia linearis, atriplex, enceha farinosa, daleas, euphorbias, and 
a simsia described by Dr. Torrey as a new species without rays. 

"The southern termination of this desert is bounded by the 
Tecate chain of mountains and the Colorado; but its northern 
and eastern boundaries are undefined, and I should suppose from 
the accounts of trappers, and others, who have attempted the 
passage from California to the Gila by a more northern route, 
that it extends many days' travel beyond the chain of barren 
mountains which bound the horizon in that direction. 

Explorers and Pathfinders 103 

"The portal to the mountains through which we passed was 
formed by immense buttes of yellow clay and sand with large flakes 
of mica, and seams of gypsum. Nothing could be more forlorn 
and desolate in appearance. The gypsum had given some con- 
sistency to the sand buttes which were washed into fantastic 
figures. One ridge formed apparently a complete circle, giving 
it the appearance of a crater; and although some miles to the left 
I should have gone to visit it, supposing it to be a crater, but my 
mule was sinking with thirst, and water was yet at some distance. 
Many animals were left on the road to die of thirst and hunger 
in spite of the generous efforts of the men to bring them to the 
spring. More than one was brought up by one man tugging at 
the halter and another pushing up the brute by placing his 
shoulder against its buttocks." 

But though they had entered the pass their difficulties were by 
no means over. Grass was luxuriant at places but very salt, 
the water strongly resembled that at the head of Carrizo Creek, 
and the earth, which was very tremulous for many acres above 
the pools, was covered with salt. The sharp thorns terminating 
every leaf of the century plant, Agava Americana, gave great dis- 
tress to the dismounted and wearied men, whose legs were now 
almost bare. 

The middle of the day was intensely hot and the poor horses 
and mules gave out by the score. Though only sixteen miles 
were traveled one day, many did not arrive at camp until ten 
o'clock. The wolves or coyotes followed them in droves and 
made sleep impossible as they battled over the carcasses of the 
abandoned animals. Horse and mule meat were their chief 
article of food, save what they could swallow of the leaves of the 

It was on the first of December that they descended to the 
deserted Indian village of San Felipe. The mountains on either 
side, supposed to be from three thousand to five thousand feet high, 
wereincrusted on the top with snow and icicles, and they encamped 
in a grassy valley watered by a warm stream which drained through 
a canyon to the north abreast of the village. From here through 
Warner's Ranch to Agua Caliente their journey does not particu- 
larly concern us, though it was a tragical ending to their nearly two 

104 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

thousand miles of weary traveling that, at San Pasqual, eighteen 
of them, officers and men, were killed, and thirteen wounded by 
the onslaughts of the Californians. 

This party was soon afterward followed by another whose trip 
was even more arduous, as it was encumbered with a wagon train. 
When General Kearney (then Colonel) started from Fort Leaven- 
worth for New Mexico and California he succeeded in having two 
troops of dragoons attached to his command. The captain of one 
of these was P. St. George Cooke. At the same time an officer 
was sent to organize a battalion of five hundred men from the 
Mormons who had just been expelled from Nauvoo, Illinois, 
which was to follow to Santa Fe. On its arrival at Santa Fe 
Lieutenant-Colonel Cooke was appointed to its command and 
ordered to follow General Kearney with a wagon train, making its 
own road to San Diego. 

It was a frightful trip to undertake: eleven hundred miles, the 
major part of which was through an unknown wilderness without 
road or trail. Many of the soldiers of the battalion were too old, 
too young or feeble; it was undisciplined; it was already worn out, 
for it had marched, on foot, from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Santa Fe; 
clothing was scant; there was no money to pay them and no stores 
from which clothing could be issued. 

When the Gila was reached, sixty miles above the Colorado, 
Colonel Cooke sought to lighten the rest of the journey by con- 
structing a raft and allowing the wagons and men to float down. 
His experiment was most unfortunate, as it proved to be a signal 
failure, owing to the shallowness of the water on the sand-bars. 
The difficulties in taking the wagons across the Colorado almost 
overcame both men and mules, and it was a weary and sorry-look- 
ing outfit that began the trip across the hardest portion of the 
desert. When Carrizo Creek was reached some of the poor ani- 
mals had been without water for fifty hours. Men and beasts were 
almost exhausted, and could travel only a few miles a day, and to 
use an Hibernianism, those had to be traveled at night. Then 
came a great shock. After they had ascended three miles of the 
San Felipe divide with great labor the canyon was found to be 
so narrow that they could not get their wagons through. The 
advance guard, the pioneers, and guides were unable to proceed 

Explorers and Pathfinders 


and one of them coolly remarked, "I believe we are at a stand- 
still." I can well imagine the feeling of desperation that came 
over the colonel as he saw those men standing there, idly 
waiting for him to come up, instead of doing something. Snatch- 
ing up the nearest axe he began to hew away at the rocky sides, 
doubtless reinforcing his actions with emphatic words. His ex- 
ample was contagious. Axes and hammers were brought — all 
the road tools had been lost in the unfortunate experiment at 
pontooning on the Gila River — -and soon the solid rock was 
broken into enough to allow of the carrying through of the 
wagon bed, tilted on one side, followed 
by wheels, also tilted. The last two 
wagons only were taken through by the 
mules with their loads undisturbed. 

On reaching San Felipe news was 
received that led Cooke to change his 
route and aim for Los Angeles instead gj, 
of San Diego. It would be interesting M 
to follow his tracks, but space forbids. 
He was thus kept for several days 
longer in the mountain region belonging 
to the Colorado Desert and had some 
experiences with the Indians. 

Possibly the next memorable ride over 
the Colorado Desert was that made by Kit 
Carson in March, 1847, with Lieutenant 
Beale to Washington with dispatches. 
He had been on his way East on a similar message from John C. 
Fremont when he met Kearney and his army, and it was on the 
command of Kearney that he had allowed his companion to pro- 
ceed with the dispatches while he returned as guide to the 
Army of the West. He and Beale had stealthily found a way 
through the sentinels of the Californians after the battle of San 
Pasqual and had conveyed the news of the sad defeat to the 
officers at San Diego. Hence Carson and Beale were both well 
equipped to make such a journey, and their mutual confidence 
made their association helpful and pleasant. Yet it should 
not be forgotten that Beale was at that time suffering; from 

The San Felipe Pass 

io G The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

a dangerous wound. He was so weak that for twenty days Carson 
had to lift him on and off his riding animal. It was not thought 
he could live, but when this first and most dangerous part of the 
journey was ended he had so far recovered as to be able to take care 
of himself. It was this Lieutenant Beale who was instrumental in 
having camels brought into the desert. 

The Mexican War resulted in the seizing and holding of Cali- 
fornia and New Mexico by the United States and the purchase of 
Arizona. By the terms of the treaties both of Guadaloupe Hidalgo 
and the Gadsden purchase it was required that a boundary line 
should be jointly explored and run, and in 1850-53 John Russell 
Bartlett, with a competent corps of scientific assistants, performed 
that work for the United States. His chapter (XXVI) descriptive 
of the trip from San Diego to Alamo Mocho is most interesting. 
Before I proceed to give extracts, however, let me cajl attention to 
a mistake often made, even to-day, in this last name. It should be, 
properly, Alamo Mocho, not Mucho. Mocho means lopped or 
cropped, hence Alamo Mocho is the "Cottonwood with lopped 
branches." Alamo Mucho is "Many Cottonwoods." The well 
located here received its name from an old cottonwood, the 
branches of which had fallen or had been cut off for fire-wood. 

Of the journey as far as San Felipe we have nothing now to do. 
The whole party embraced six wagons, twenty-five pack-mules, 
and about fifty officers and men, mounted. It was June 4, late 
in the afternoon, when they reached the San Felipe Pass where 
Cooke had hammered and cut his way through the solid rock. 
Now let Bartlett tell the story : " This defile consists of perpendicular 
walls of rock about fifteen feet high, and of a width barely suffi- 
cient for wagons to pass. In its bed are large masses of rock reach- 
ing to the axletrees. At the narrowest point one of the wagons 
stuck fast: but after taking out the mules, by dint of lifting and 
prying, we at length got through. The space here was but two 
inches wider than the axletrees of the wagons. There were also 
several steep and rocky descents where the wheels had to be locked 
and the wagons held back with ropes. This pass was not less than 
three miles in length; and should two trains meet here, it would 
prove a serious business for both. 

"The descent into the valley beyond continued gradual for 

Explorers and Pathfinders 


several miles, but at length our course was stopped by a bold 
rocky hill running directly across it. This we ascended, over a 
very bad road; but bad as it was it was better than the descent, 
which was the most perfect breakneck place that a wagon ever 
attempted to pass. It was exceedingly steep, filled with large 
loose rocks, with an occasional perpendicular leap of three or 
four feet. I feared that our wagons would not hold together even 
if they escaped being upset. But the Only accident that happened 
was the breaking of the two remaining barometers, a ver}' serious 
one for the meteorological observations. 

"At the bottom of this hill we continued for five or six miles 
through a valley, with no other vegetation than the usual desert 
plants and cacti, accompanied by the great agave which seemed 
to luxuriate in this barrenness. At eleven o'clock p.m. we reached 
Vallecita, eighteen miles 
from San Felipe, where we 
pitched our tents among the 

"June 3. — Vallecita, as its 
name indicates, is a little 
valley, surrounded by lofty 
and barren mountains.""^ 
Pools of sulphurous water ~" 
are found among the willow 
bushes, but not a tree was to A desert-worn animal 

be seen. The grass, too, had changed, having here a wiry charac- 
ter. A depot of provisions is kept at this place, with a file of sol- 
diers, for the supply of Fort Yuma, and of government trains pass- 
ing and repassing. A few horses are also kept here, to facilitate the 
communication between Fort Yuma and San Diego. The distance 
between those places is about two hundred and twenty-five miles, 
and Vallecita is about half-way. Beyond it, toward the Colorado, 
there is little or no grass, so that trains, after they have crossed 
the desert, usually stop a day or two here to recruit their animals." 

Not liking the poor grass at Carrizo the mules stole away and 
returned to Vallecita and had to be brought back. When the 
party came a little nearer the desert they found "an innumer- 
able quantity of the bones and dried carcasses of sheep." There 

Li2* * . . - ■ 

108 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

were thousands of them ly'ng in piles within the space of a hundred 
yards. Undoubtedly this wholesale slaughter of innocents was 
caused by their traversing the desert and, after being three or 
four days without water, they could not be restrained from drink- 
ing themselves to death when they reached Carrizo Creek. 

The major part of the traveling was done in the evening on 
account of the intense heat, the thermometers often registering 
as high as no° to 114 Fahrenheit in the shade. 

That evening, in order to overcome a steep sand-hill, ten mules 
had to be hitched to each wagon, and one of them was upset 
and rolled over and over to the bottom of the hill, smashing the 
medicine chest. 

The "day's march" to Alamo Mocho was made through the 
night of June 6, and forty-five' miles was traveled without a 
moment's rest. "In long marches like this with pack-mules it 
is not considered advisable to stop; for no rest can be given to the 
animals without relieving them of their packs, to do which and 
replace them would require at least two hours. If a pack-train 
stops without relieving the mules of their burdens, the animals 
lie down and attempt to roll, an operation which disarranges the 
packs and often does much injury. When there is grass and 
water it is well, on long marches by daylight, to rest an hour 
or two during the heat of the day. Feed and water at such times, 
with rest from their loads, afford much relief, but when there is 
nothing to offer the weary animals, it is decidedly the best course 
to hasten on and complete the journey, unless it is too long to be 
accomplished in a day. 

"The desert here is a vast open plain, extending as far as the 
eye can reach on every side, except on the southwest, where a 
chain of mountains appears some thirty or forty miles distant." 
(This is the range now known as the Cocopah range.) "The 
undulations are few and slight. Near our camp was a steep 
bank about sixty feet high, extending for miles, and descending 
to a great depression or basin, which appears to have been the 
bed of a lake. It was in this bed that the wells or pits were sunk 
from which we obtained water." 

This dry bed was undoubtedly part of the desert now known 
as the Imperial Valley. 

Explorers and Pathfinders 109 

The rest of the journey was over the same route taken by Cooke, 
and while one of hardship was similar in experience to that of 
all people who are venturesome enough to face this portion of the 
desert during the hot weather. 

Of the wold seekers that poured into California in "the days 
of '49," many chose this southern route in order to avoid the high 
mountains and the snow. It is claimed that some 8,000 people 
entered the Golden State by this way, a few going to San Diego, 
but nearly all crossing the desert and reaching the mines either 
by way of Warner's Ranch or through the San Gorgonio Pass 
and Los Angeles. 

It was at this time that the ferry was established at the Colorado 
River that laid the foundation for at least one large fortune; and 
from this period also date all the stories about men locating on 
the desert wells and water-holes and charging exorbitant rates for 
this absolute necessity of life and travel. 

In his "Eldorado," Bayard Taylor speaks thus of the horrors 
of this desert route: "The emigrants by the Gila route gave a 
terrible account of the crossing of the Great Desert, lying west 
of the Colorado. They described this region as scorching and 
sterile — a country of burning salt plains and shifting hills of sand, 
whose only signs of human visitation are the bones of animals 
and men scattered along the trails that cross it. The corpses of 
several emigrants, out of companies who passed before them, 
lay half-buried in sand, and the hot air was made stifling by the 
effluvia that rose from the dry carcasses of hundreds of mules. 
There, if a man faltered, he was gone; no one could stop to lend 
him a hand without a likelihood of sharing his fate. It seemed 
like a wonderful Providence to these emigrants, when they came 
suddenly upon a large and swift stream of fresh water in the 
midst of the desert, where, a year previous, there had been 
nothing but sterile sand. This phenomenon was at first 
ascribed to the melting of snow on the mountains, but later emi- 
grants traced the river to its source in a lake about half a mile in 
length, which had bubbled up spontaneously from the fiery bosom 
of the desert. 

"One of the emigrants by the Sonora route told me a story of 
a sick man who rode behind his party day after day, unable to 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

keep pace with it, yet always arriving in camp a few hours later. 
This lasted so long that finally little attention was paid to him 
and his absence one night excited no apprehension. Three days 
passed and he did not arrive. On the fourth a negro, traveling 
alone and on foot, came into camp and told them that many miles 
behind a man lying beside the road had begged a little water 
from him and asked him to hurry on and bring assistance. The 
next morning a company of Mexicans came up and brought word 
that the man was dying. The humane negro retraced his steps 
forty miles, and arrived just as the sufferer breathed his last. 
He lifted him in his arms; in the vain effort to speak the man 
expired. The mule, 
tied to a cactus by his -#■ 

side, was already dead ** -^ „ 

ot hunger. -v 

The boundary be- 

He was found dying, and near by his mule, dead 

tween Mexico and the United States duly determined, Jefferson 
Davis, then Secretary of War, prevailed upon Congress to au- 
thorize, March 3, 1853, explorations for a route for a railway 
from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. The geol- 
ogist of that party was Professor Wm. P. Blake, now of 
the University of Arizona, and his report is full of interest- 
ing experiences and descriptions. To him is due the naming 
of the desert "the Colorado," as prior to his time it was 
referred to merely as the desert. Owing to an error afterward 
corrected, Mr. Blake's report confuses the two great ranges and 
peaks. It speaks of the San Bernardino on the north and the 
San Gorgonio on the south of the pass. The fact is that both of 

Explorers and Pathfinders 


these peaks are in the Sierra San Bernardino on the north 
side of the pass, and the mountain to the south is San Jacinto, 
the range of which here commences. It continues in a southerly 
direction over the Mexican boundary, where its offshoot, the 
Cocopah range, begins, and then forms a prominent feature of 
the scenery of Lower California. Professor Blake and the sur- 
veying party, under Lieutenant Parke, traveled over the route 
we are now growing familiar with to Carrizo Creek, and over the 
San Felipe Pass to Warner's Ranch. Then returning they took 
the Kearney and Cooke route to the Colorado River. 

Blake in his report tells of traveling from the Big Lagoon to 
Alamo Mocho. "A mile or two beyond the Big Lagoon we came 
to the edge of another and smaller one, called the Little Lagoon. 

The way the pioneers crossed the desert 

It is much like the first, except that it is bordered with mesquite 
trees, which, in some places, grow very thickly together. We 
passed two canal-like channels, or wide gullies, in the surface, 
with mesquite trees growing in the bottom, and evidences of the 
presence of water at a former period. . . . These channels 
probably communicate with the two lagoons, and may be the 
bed of the stream called New River, so called from the fact 
of its sudden appearance in 1849. At that time the Colorado 
River was very high, and broke over a part of its banks between 
the mouth of the Gila and the head of the gulf. The water 
flowed inland, running backward through the desert toward the 
center of the valley once occupied by the ancient lake." 

The emigrants of 1849 were much delighted and relieved to 
find this river, though Major Emory in 1846 does not mention it. 

112 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

There is no doubt whatever but that it has existed ever since the 
Colorado Desert was formed, subject of course to many and 
various changes of channel, course, and level. Through it the 
overflow waters of the river reached the lagoons — what we 
now call the Salton Sink. 

One of the strangest sights ever witnessed on the Colorado 
Desert was when a drove of camels crossed it in going from Fort 
Tejon to Albuquerque. Owing to the heat of the desert, the 
scarcity of water and feed, and the hostile nature of the Indians, 
the difficulties of transcontinental transportation were such as 
to daunt any Secretary of War, and for several years efforts were 
made in Congress to obtain an appropriation for importing a 
drove of camels for transportation purposes. Jefferson Davis 
was largely instrumental in finally obtaining the appropriation 
in March, 1855. A herd of thirty-three animals was bought in 
Africa, — nine dromedaries or runners, twenty-three camels of 
burden, and one calf. Among them were two two-humped 
Bactrian males for use in breeding with the Arabian female. 
Six Arabs, one of them a Bedouin of the desert, and a professed 
camel doctor, came over with the herd, which was successfully 
transported from Smyrna to Indianola, Texas, where they landed 
May 14, 1856. After a few days' rest they were marched by 
easy stages to San Antonio and thence to Green Valley, sixty 
miles farther on. Here they camped and experiments were made. 
One day, Major Wayne, who was in charge, sent three six-mule 
teams, with a wagon to each team, and six camels to San Antonio 
for a supply of oats. In going the camels were held back to 
accommodate the slower pace of the mules. Returning, the camels 
carried 3,648 pounds of oats, while the wagons brought 1,800 
pounds each. Thus three camels were equal to six mules and a 
wagon, and, in addition, the camels came to camp in two and a 
half days, while the mules were nearly five days in covering the 

The great strength of the camel was demonstrated at Indianola. 
A number of people had expressed their skepticism as to the ability 
of the camel to carry heavy burdens, so Major Wayne sent for one 
of the best of the herd, and, having caused it to kneel, ordered two 
bales of hay, each weighing three hundred and fourteen pounds, 

Explorers and Pathfinders 113 

placed upon it. The knowing bystanders were convinced that 
the camel could not rise with such a load, but they laughed in scorn 
when the major ordered two more bales piled on, making an 
aggregate weight of one thousand two hundred fifty-six pounds. 
To the amazement of all, and to the utter confusion of the scoffers, 
the camel at the word of command easily rose and walked ofF with 
his burden. 

Another herd of forty-one animals was bought and brought over 
by Lieutenant Porter, landing in Indianola, February 10, 1857. 

In the fall of this year Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale was 
ordered to open a wagon road from Fort Defiance, New Mexico, 
to the eastern frontiers of California, and a part of the herd of 
camels was put at his disposal for this expedition. The journey 
occupied forty-eight days through an unexplored wilderness of 
forest, and plain, and desert, the Colorado River being reached 
October 18. Lieutenant Beale was most enthusiastic in speak- 
ing of the work performed by the camels on this arduous trip. 
He says that they saved the members of the expedition from many 
hardships, and excited the admiration of the whole party by their 
ability and willingness to perform the tasks set them. He started 
with the determination that the experiment should be most thor- 
ough, and subjected the camels to trials which no other animals 
could possibly have endured. On the desert they carried the water 
for the mules; traversed stretches of country covered with the 
sharpest volcanic rock without injury to their feet; climbed with 
heavy packs over mountains where the unloaded mules found it 
difficult to go even with the assistance of the dismounted riders; 
and, to the surprise of all the party, plunged into rivers without 
hesitation and swam them with ease. The lieutenant concluded 
that he would rather have one of the camels for such work than four 
of the best of his mules. 

With such an introduction it is a source of wonder that the 
camels are not in use to-day. But adverse circumstances soon 
arose. The officers who knew how to handle the camels were 
transferred elsewhere, the mule drivers were incompetent to direct 
camels and unwilling to learn, and some of the creatures' supposed 
virtues were found to be vices. As J. M. Guinn writes : " He could 
travel sixteen miles an hour. Abstractly that was a virtue; but 

Vol. I. — S 

114 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

when camp was struck in the evening and he was turned loose to 
sup off the succulent sage-brush, either to escape the noise and 
profanity of the camp or to view the country he was always seized 
with a desire to take a pasear of twenty-five or thirty miles before 
supper. While this took only an hour or two of his time, it involved 
upon his unfortunate driver the necessity of spending half the night 
in camel chasing; for if he was not rounded up there was a delay 
of half the next day in starting the caravan. He could carry a 
ton — this was a commendable virtue — but when two heavily 
laden 'ships of the desert' collided on a narrow trail, as they always 
did when an opportunity offered, and tons of supplies were scat- 
tered over miles of plain and the unfortunate camel pilots had to 
gather up the flotsam of the wreck, it is not strange that the mari- 
ners of the arid wastes anathematized the whole camel race from 
the beast the prophet rode down to the smallest imp of Jefferson 
Davis' importation." 

The army horses and mules also were said to share the antipathy 
of the men. A camel was enough to stampede a whole herd, but 
this, as well as the other objections, could have been overcome 
easily had some officer had charge with intelligence and interest 
sufficient to teach the men how to handle the African animals. 

When the Civil War broke out the camel proposition was almost 
forgotten. The herd was distributed among strangers who reported 
more and more adversely upon them. Finally orders were issued 
and the herd sold, most of them doubtless finding their way into 
menageries and zoological gardens. A few, however, escaped, 
and ever since there float in occasional reports of one or more 
camels having been seen on the deserts of Southern Arizona. 

As a preliminary to the building of a railway a stage line across 
the desert was started in August and September of 1857. The 
San Antonio and San Diego semimonthly stage it was called. 
I. C. Woods was its founder and James Burch acted as contractor. 

This continued for a year, when the Butterfield Stage-coach Line 
was inaugurated, semiweekly, under a six years' contract with the 
Postmaster-General at six hundred thousand dollars a year. In 
another chapter I give an account of the ride across the desert. 
The route reached from San Francisco to St. Louis, and the travel- 
ing time was generally from twenty to twenty-two days. On 

Explorers and Pathfinders 115 

special occasions, as the transmission of a presidential message, 
it has been done in sixteen. 

Of all the later travelers over the desert none has written so 
vividly and interestingly as Clarence King, who, in his "Mountain- 
eering in California," tells of the trip he made from La Paz, in 
May, 1866, to San Bernardino. Of the desert he says it "lies 
under the east slope of the great chain, and stretches eastward 
sometimes as far as five hundred miles, varied by successions of 
bare, white ground, effervescing under the hot sun with alkaline 
salts, plains covered by the low, ashy-hued sage plant, high, barren, 
rocky ranges, which are folds of metamorphic rocks, and piled-up 
lavas of red and yellow colors; all overarched by a sky which is at 
one time of a hot, metallic brilliancy, and again the tenderest." 

In 1881-84 tne lines of the Southern Pacific railway were laid, 
following in the main the survey over the desert made by the gov- 
ernment in 1853. Since then most of the travel has been in com- 
fortable, nay, luxurious cars, save to the miner and prospector who 
venture still into the secret places, the inner heart of the desert. 
While tardy county and state officials are at length bestirring them- 
selves to do a duty that should have been done long ago, in the 
digging of wells and erection of sign-posts, there is still enough of 
danger to give the spice of hardship and adventure to those who 
seek it. The winds blow over the faint and uncertain trails, the 
moving sands either leave or cover them, the rains and cloud-bursts 
wash them away, and the fierce sun of midsummer beats pitilessly 
down upon them to-day as relentlessly and exhaustingly as when 
the first explorer set his foot in this wonderful region. 

View of the desert from the "Hidden Lake" trail 
on San Jacinto Mountains 


The Colorado River Ferry 



The Colorado River Ferry 

^NTIL after the discovery of gold the first ferry 
established on the Colorado River was run by 
Indians. A General Anderson of Tennessee is 

1 2. said to have gone from Tucson to California, and 
on reaching the Colorado River built a boat for 
the purpose of crossing his company. He then 
presented the boat to the Yumas and gave them 
a certificate to that effect, on condition that they would cross 
all Americans at one dollar for a horse, one dollar for a man, 
and one dollar for the cargo (a pack), and that upon a viola- 
tion of this contract by any higher charges than these the boat 
should be forfeited. The Yumas for a while plied this ferry at 
what was called the lower crossing, some four or five miles 
below Yuma, reaching the California bank near where Hanlon's 
ranch now is, or the upper end of the Algodones ranch. This 
was in the latter part of 1849 and early in 1850. The Indians 
seem to have kept their part of the contract faithfully. In the 
records of the time there are few complaints of ill treatment by 
the Indians and none, that I can find, about the ferry. 

It was natural, however, that some thrifty white man should 
look upon this ferry with envious eyes when the Sonoranian im- 
migration to the California gold-fields began. And it was left 
to Dr. A. L. Lincoln, a relative of the martyred President, Abra- 
ham Lincoln, to be that white man. He had come to California 
in 1849, and early in January, 1850, returned to the Colorado 
River. The possibilities of a ferry run by a white man appealed 
to him, but, not wishing to seem to interfere with the Yumas, he 
established his ferry at the junction of the Gila and the Colorado. 
This was a wise move, for the greater part of the immigrants came 
down the Gila and thus reached the Colorado first at this point. 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

The Sonoranian migration to the gold-mines was then at its 
height, and the ferry proved to be a most profitable undertaking. 
On the twelfth of February a man named Glanton, with a party, 
mainly of Texans and Missourians, came to the ferry, and although 
Lincoln then had six men in his employ, such was the work re- 
quired that he gladly engaged nine of these men to 
remain and assist. Glanton was one of the nine. He 
was a natural leader, though of a rude, brutal, and 
domineering character, and Lincoln would gladly have 
got rid of him if he could. So far the Yuma Indians 
had shown nothing but kindness to Lincoln and 
his men, and they had been well treated in re- 
turn, but when Glanton made himself the man- 
ager of the ferry, trouble at once began. 
Not only did he want the ferryage of the 

Canyon on the __ 
Colorado River above Yuma 

American travel that came by the Gila, and thus cut off that 
source of income to the Indians, but when he learned that 
many Mexicans had crossed and were crossing by the Indian 
ferry he became furiously angry. The Indians then claim that 
he sent his men down the river where they destroyed the In- 
dians' boat, captured an American whom they found helping the 
Indians, with all his money, and that when Glanton saw and 
talked with the American he shot him and threw his body into 
the river. The chief of the Yumas said he then went to see 

The Colorado River Ferry 119 

Glanton and made an offer that Glanton should cross all the 
men and baggage, while the Indians should cross the animals of 
the emigrants, and thus they would get along quietly. With a 
spirit that is not unusual even in this our day, Glanton repu- 
diated such an offer, kicked the chief out of the house, and beat 
him over the head with his stick. 

The chief then called a council of his people and it was de- 
termined to kill Glanton and all the Americans at the ferry. From 
the deposition of Jeremiah Hill, sworn to in Los Angeles, May 
23, 1850, these facts are gathered. It was found that Glanton 
had gone to San Diego. On his return, the chief who had been 
insulted went to the ferry and found Glanton and his men drinking. 
They gave him something to eat and also some drink. After 
dinner, "five of the Americans laid down to sleep in a hut, leaving 
him sitting there; others were ferrying, and were on the opposite 
side; three had gone up on this side for some purpose. The chief 
said he watched till he thought the five were asleep, when he went 
out to his people on this side, who were all hid in the bushes just 
below the houses; a portion of them he sent up after the three 
Americans who were cutting poles, instructing his men to get 
possession of their arms. He had previously posted five hundred 
Indians on the other side, instructed to mix among the Americans 
and Mexicans, and get into the boat without suspicion. He him- 
self then went up on the little mound perhaps as high as his head, 
but commanding a view of all his Indians, and the whole scene; 
from this mound he was to give the signal. There he was to 
beckon to those hid in the bushes to come near the American tents, 
which they were immediately to enter and give a yell as they killed 
the Americans, whereupon he was to give the sign with a pole 
having a scarf on it to the Indians on the other side as well as those 
who were watching the three from above. He gave the signal, 
when those in the boat and at the houses were all killed. The 
Indians who had been sent after the three Americans ran, but 
these three succeeded in getting into a skiff and escaped by going 
down the river. His men pursued on the shore, on both sides, 
but several were killed by the Americans, and many wounded. 
He showed us two of the wounded, and when asked if 'as many as 
ten' of the tribe were killed he said, 'More.' He said one of the 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

Americans would row while the others fired, and his people hesi- 
tated to pursue further. When the chief went up to see Glanton, 
as above stated, about the ferry, Glanton said that he would kill 
one Indian for every Mexican they should cross. He showed us 
by signs the amount of money in bags which he took from the 
Americans' camp. It seemed from his description to be about 
three bags of silver, each about three feet high, and about two feet 
around, which must have contained at least $80,000, besides a bag 
of gold, about a foot high and a foot round. This he said he 
divided amongst his people, then burnt the houses over the bodies 
of the dead. The six who were killed in the boat were thrown into 
the river as fast as they were killed, all killed with clubs. The five 
on shore were killed with clubs except Glanton, who 
was killed with a hatchet, which ^ 

the chief showed to us ; ^*t$h. 

their clothes r*/~^J^.ffij^Z~" 


_•».*" — ,^TT -<- 7 -»r ~- »V C* ■■ ftr^z 


Colorado River near Picacho 

burnt, and perhaps their flesh somewhat burnt by the burning of 
the little shed of brush in which they had been killed; their 
bodies were then thrown into the river. After giving this account 
of the transaction, the chief said that, upon the death of these 
Americans, another council was held as to whether they should 
kill all Americans who should come along, at which it was resolved 
by every Indian that they would. He said that in two days they 
could muster 4,000 warriors; he said their arms were principally 
bows and arrows and clubs; and that they had a few guns, including 
all the arms they got from Glanton's party, but that they intended 
to collect all they could from every source." 

The three Americans escaped and reached San Diego in safety. 
As they passed New River they saw two Yuma Indians who in- 

The Colorado River Ferry 


formed them they were on the lookout for any Americans who 
might come from San Diego to light them. They were hostile 
to the whites and wanted them to know it. 

At this time it was supposed that fully seventy-five to one hun- 
dred American men, women, and children were on the way to the 
Colorado, coming down the Gila River. This and the fact of the 
massacre led Governor Burnett to order the sheriff of Los Angeles 
to enroll forty men, and the sheriff of San Diego twenty, to be 
placed under the command of General Bean of the state militia and 
to proceed at once, punish the murderous Yumas and reduce them 
to a proper state of mind toward traveling Americans. General 

Bean placed the command in the 

hands of General Joseph C. 

Railway bridge ^\~V^ 
and steamer 
at Yuma 

Morehead, who delaying his preparations, found the people of Los 
Angeles unwilling to furnish supplies for his scrip, alleging that the 
alarm had subsided. The gallant general then seized by force 
what was required, paying by drafts on the state treasury at an 
extravagant price, and set out with forty men and supplies for a 
hundred over the desert. That was a wild and boisterous march. 
Meeting emigrants on the way the force was increased to one hun- 
dred twenty-five, and these rough and turbulent spirits, with full 
rations, more liquid than solid, marched to the reduction of the 
Yumas. The Indians fled up the river at their approach, but they 
were not pursued. Morehead and his men settled down to a fierce 
attack on their rations and kept it up until the governor ordered an 
immediate disbandment. The order was disobeyed on the ground 

122 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

that the traveling bands of Americans still needed protection, but 
when it was repeated in most peremptory fashion the "force" 
retired. This adventure did not one particle of good and cost the 
state $120,000, $76,588 of which was for the goods purchased by 
Morehead and the balance for the forceful levies he had made. 

This trouble led to the establishment, the following November, 
of Fort Yuma, and Major Heintzelman, who had been stationed 
at San Diego, was made commanding officer. Either by his 
direction or under his protection a party left San Diego in May, 
1850, fully equipped to build and operate ferry-boats at the crossing 
where Lincoln and Glanton had lost their lives. This ferry was 
successfully operated for a while and then it came to the hands 
of Diego Yaeger, who, for many years, continued to operate 
it. Yaeger was a German by birth and also a born frontiersman, 
with all the thriftiness of his race. He made a good thing out of 
the ferry. The military had to cross and recross, and they also 
had to purchase large supplies of beef, beans, vegetables, and 
animal forage. And need it be added, that the military at this 
desert post were glad to have an obliging capitalist close at hand 
who could and would, for a consideration, "help them out" when 
funds were short, " until next pay-day" r Suffice it to say that the 
ferry of the Colorado, with its perquisites, made a fortune for the 
German frontiersman. 

To-day the ferry is still there, but with the opening of the South- 
ern Pacific railway in the early '8o's it has ceased to be of a highly 
remunerative character. 

Storms, Mirages, and Desert Illusions 123 


Storms, Mirages, Desert Illusions, and Temperatures 

HE Colorado Desert is no exception to other 
deserts in its liability to storms. The peculiar 
topography of the desert and its surrounding 
country indicates its possibilities in this direction. 
About midway between the Colorado Desert 
and the Pacific Ocean stands the gigantic 
mountain barrier of the San Bernardino and 
San Jacinto ranges, with an elevation of from 9,000 to 11,000 

A settler's home on the desert 

feet. At the point of junction between the two ranges, 
with an elevation of but 2, 808 feet, is the San Gorgonio Pass. 
On the west side of the pass the fertile valley of San Bernardino 
and Santa Ana slopes down to the sea, and on the east side the 
rugged boulder-strewn slope leads to the hot, dry, sandy bowl, 
287 feet below sea-level, of the Colorado Desert. Temporarily 
portions of this bowl are filled with water, the Salton Sea, 
but this is a condition of less than a year's continuance, and 

124 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

ere another year is gone may again have reverted to its normal 
condition of dryness. Between the head of the pass and down 
as far as Mecca the verdure has grown wonderfully in the past 
four years, owing to the discovery of artesian water, and south 
of the Salton Sea the Imperial Valley has also produced a large 
amount of crops as the result of irrigation. Yet it is neverthe- 
less true that a tremendous area both of flat sand-plain and 
rocky mountain slope and the trench-like valleys between are 
practically verdureless and therefore act as vast reflectors of the 
heat of the sun. During the daytime, when the sun shines 
directly upon these radiating surfaces, the heated air arises in 
great volume. Whither shall it, go ? To the east similar columns 
of hot air are ascending from the Arizona deserts, and north- 
ward from the Mohave, while to the south there is only the 
comparatively narrow passageway of the Gulf of California. 
Air must conform to natural law the same as water, and while it 
is capable of compression (as is water), it will seek an outlet 
before yielding to much pressure. This outlet is found over 
the western range (the San Jacinto) where, passing over to the 
Pacific Ocean, it is quickly cooled and ready for its return passage. 
For, on cooling, it descends, and, feeling the suction caused by 
the ascension of air on the desert, it rushes in to fill up the va- 
cant spaces. Reaching the range of mountains it ascends again 
here to come in contact with the ascending hot column from the 
desert. The suction, therefore, is tremendous at such places of 
low level where there is a pass over or through which the cooled 
air may flow. The San Gorgonio Pass is the largest and most 
accessible of these passes, and through it the air flows with 
great force. The high walls of the pass may be regarded as the 
pump, while the desert acts as the suction valve, compressing 
and drawing the air toward it at the same time. The result is 
the wind blast before referred to that bends the trees over toward 
the southeast and that may be relied upon most of the days of 
the summer months. 

Two interesting series of phenomena owe their existence to 
this blast. It is not an ordinary shifting breeze, but a constant 
and powerful current sweeping through the pass with such 
violence that myriads of fine grains of sand are lifted from the 

Storms, Mirages, and Desert Illusions U5 

dry channels of the streams and the ever-shifting masses of 
mountain detritus and are carried along, down the slope, until 
they find a resting-place on the desert. Just above and below 
Palm Springs station one may see the effects produced by this 
lifting up of the sand by the wind. Wherever there is a tree, 
or a bush, or a tiny plant in the path of the blast the sand 
particles on the upper side are lifted up and carried away so 
that often the whole root oi the plant is exposed. The space 
between plants is swept as clean and smooth as if one had gone 
over it with a sweeping machine that could adapt itself to the 
irregularities of the heavier rocks and pebbles and pick up only 
the sand. On the lower side the particles seem to cling and 
arrange themselves in a peculiar shape, long and tapering to a 
point, the base resting at the stem and with its size determined 

by the size of 
the plant. 

Moving sand-hills near Indian Well 

Many large rocks have their recumbent, tapered, half obelisk 
or cone of sand made in like fashion. Professor Blake says 
that "the movements of sand in the air are precisely similar 
to those that take place when it is immersed in the more dense 
fluid, water. The progress of the grains along the surface of the 
plain, and their final rest at the edge of the bank, is precisely 
similar to the transportation of sand by a stream, and its dep- 
osition, in the form of a bank, whenever the current enters 
deep water. In water little eddies and back currents are pro- 
duced by a projecting rock, or root, acting as a barrier to the 
current, and drift-sand accumulates on the lower side of such 
obstacles. So, in air, wherever a slight obstacle, such as a bush 
or boulder, stands on the plain, exposed to the wind, the driving 
sand accumulates on the lee side." 

Another phenomenon owing its existence to the sand blast 

126 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

is found in the smooth, even glassy polish attained by the tele- 
graph-poles. Many of the ties and bridge timbers look "as if 
some industrious Dutch housewife had washed and scrubbed 
them with soap and water, until they resemble in their whiteness 
the boards of her own kitchen floor. Glass bottles, left for a short 
time on the ground, lose their original appearance, and are ground 
inside and out." The most striking effects, however, are seen on 
many of the rocks below the pass and elsewhere, which are polished 
and smoothed or cut and bored into remarkable shapes. The lime- 
stones subject to this sand attrition have a peculiar, rounded and 
smooth surface, which resembles that of partly dissolved crystals, 
or deliquescent specimens of rock salt. 

The homogenous granites have long grooves cut into their 
surfaces, deep enough to receive a lead-pencil, and the granites 
of unequal hardness present most interesting results. The 

A wind-storm in the desert 

abrasion being most rapid upon the softer feldspar, the masses 
of quartz, tourmaline, and garnets stand out in relief, or, where 
the harder rock faces the wind with the feldspar behind, it is worn 
away to a point, similar to the sand behind the bushes. 

Vertical surfaces of rock exposed to this sand blast are cut in 
curious fashion. The harder masses act as a protection for the 
softer feldspar, beneath which it is chiseled and cut into tiny 
columns, upon which rest, as caps, the quartz. Where the feld- 
spar is charged with small garnets, and is directly in front of the 
wind, the garnets are left standing in relief, mounted on the ends 
of long pedicles of feldspar, — jeweled fingers, pointing in the 
direction of the wind. 

Sand-storms on the desert! What a feeling of terror comes over 
us when we read or even think of a storm of this character over- 
taking the desert traveler! There are sand-storms and sand- 

Storms, Mirages, and Desert Illusions 127 

storms, and I have experienced several kinds. It is no uncom- 
mon thing to see the sand carried along into the atmosphere so 
that the sky is largely obscured, but that need not be attended 
with more than trifling discomfort. But when the very atmos- 
phere itself seems made of sand, so that every breath you 
breathe fills mouth, nostrils, bronchial tubes, and lungs with the 
tiny yet distressing particles, and when, in addition, the sun's 
fiercest rays are condensed by this sandy atmosphere as through 
a lens upon the hapless traveler beneath, so that he is almost 
suffocated by the heat, which is made more intense by the 
scorching character of the wild wind itself, then one knows to 
the full the real terror of the desert, the demon in all his fury, the 
archfiend that is worse than Death. It is generally easy to tell 
when the storm is coming. To a heavy sultriness of atmosphere 
is added a feeling of tenseness as if everything were gathering 
itself together ready to make a spring upon you. The very 
intensity of the feeling unnerves you and deprives you of the 
power to resist the coming onslaught. The horses, burros, and 
mules are restless and uneasy. They whinny and whine and 
whimper in their semi-articulate way trying to voice their sense 
of the distress in store for them. The palms are as silent and still 
as if they held their breath. Everything is still and motionless. 
Even the coyote knows enough to seek and keep shelter when the 
desert is thus tightening its muscles for the conflict. 

Then, suddenly, the wind comes. In a moment the palms 
wave their tufted heads like green billows in an angry sea, and 
their voices fill the earth as the roar of the waves fills the sea. In 
the distance the sand-waves come, reaching from the face of the 
desert to the very zenith. Rolling and tossing, reaching out 
waving arms with fiercely clutching fingers as a mad demon of 
frightful size and power bent on destruction, they dash along. 
The sky is filled with bloody gold, and the sun has red instead of 
gold in its blood. As soon as the storm reaches us we are imme- 
diately enveloped as in a hot mist of dry sandy air. No arrange- 
ment of words can equal the concentration of misery and wretch- 
edness one feels at such a moment. At first one is utterly blinded, 
staggered, stunned. Gasping for breath, whirled about, buffeted, 
even thrown down, he knows not what has happened, what is 

128 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

happening, what is going to happen. As soon as eyesight is 
gained the animals are found huddled together, their tails turned 
to the fury, which now roars as an intermittent furnace. It is as 
if the demon were trying to scare and stifle you at the same time. 
Parched, one takes a sip from the canteen, and hearing the low 
moaning of the animals, he feels their wretchedness. They, too, 
are suffering for water. But to give it in a bucket is impossible, 
and experience has taught me not to try to do so. I pour it into 
a bottle and then, throwing the animal's head back, pour the 
warm fluid down its throat. It is neither satisfying nor refresh- 
ing, yet it seems to meet some demand. Hour after hour the heat 
pours down, drying every particle of moisture out of you it can 
capture. You feel you are drying up, and yet the water you 

Part of the great sand-hills 

drink gives you no relief. The sand fills everything, — eyes, ears, 
nostrils, mouth, clothes, pockets, are full of the tiny, hot particles. 
To breathe is a distress, to eat impossible. The animals lie down 
and writhe and groan in their helpless distress. In pity for them 
I have wrapped up their heads in canvas, and they seemed to com- 
prehend I was doing it for their relief. 

For such a storm to last an hour is a fierce distress that seizes 
a strong man with such a grip that though he is a fighter through 
and through, he almost cries out for relief. To suffer it for two 
or three days is a maddening torture. Three times I have ex- 
perienced this kind of a storm. 

Yet summer storms of this nature are far rarer than the fierce 
storms of winter. Then the sultry heat gives place to piercing 

Storms, Mirages, and Desert Illusions 129 

cold that cuts through and through you as a stabbing dagger. 
It is as if all the heat of summer had suddenly been converted by 
magic into biting cold, and the hot blasts of the scorching sirocco 
exchanged for a frozen wind from the ice-fields of the Arctic. 

The one is just as dangerous as the other; the unwary traveler 
on the desert is liable to perish in either. Their rarity is their 
chiefest comfort, and their entire absence the only blessing 
they can confer. Familiarity with them does not breed contempt, 
nor do they improve on acquaintance. One dare not speak dis- 
respectfully of them, so even now I have stood up and turned 
around, making the needful signs, — as many people do when 
speaking of the devil, — that when I next go on the desert I may 
not be punished for my temerity and disrespect. 

Of one phase of a desert storm I have not yet spoken; that is 
its fury where the hand of man has made an oasis. One has often 
watched the fierce waves of a storm-tossed sea leap with wicked 
anger upon the land. So the winds of the desert leap upon the 
trees and verdure and houses that the oasis has planted upon the 
desert's bosom. It is the jealous rage of an exacting and venge- 
ful lover. It comes like a foaming tide that strikes and then 
surrounds, falling back to gain new strength to strike again with 
renewed power, roaring and eddying, dashing and clamoring, 
taking the tall trees as in giant hands and bending them over 
toward the ground. It slams the doors, rattles the casements, 
and sometimes carries away the roofs of the houses of the proud, 
strutting creatures called men, who build these places as their 
shelters. When they enter them, and close the door upon the 
battling storm and then gaze upon its fury through the windows, 
wearing a smile that seems to sneer at its impotence and anger, 
how can the Desert Demon contain itself? It must destroy this 
pygmy, puny creature. It must drive him forth from the home of 
its beloved, where, hitherto, it has reigned supreme. And with 
renewed vigor and force, with unquenchable anger it lashes itself 
into new fury and continues the attack. 

Inside the house the wind and sand penetrate, the latter cover- 
ing everything with its pale gray pall, the former shaking and 
fluttering every piece of hanging drapery, lifting up the rugs 
and carpets as if some uneasy spirit were confined in them that 

Vol. I.-9 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

wished to escape and join the army of tossing, torn and mis- 
shaped things outside that were being driven headlong by the 
fury of the storm. 

Can one be in or gaze upon such a storm and not feel all the 
peace he has gained on the desert disappear? Most certainly! 
To me the storm is clarifying, purifying. I have no resentment 
against the storm that even beats me down and compels delay 
and produces great discomfort, weariness, distress. David knew 
what the heart soon learns, viz., that even the "stormy wind 
fulfils His word." God is as surely in the fire and whirlwind, 
in the storm and the tempest, as in anything, and he only can 
find constant, secure peace who knows that there is no storm 
outside of God. 

The faint roads and trails on the sandy 
portions of the desert are 

A desert 


often entirely obliterated by the sand-storms. Either the sand 
is bodily transferred by the wind, thus leaving not the slight- 
est trace, or the road is covered by the sifting sand and 
thus disappears. The results to the traveler, unless he be very 
familiar with the desert, are equally disastrous. It is bad 
enough to be on the desert in stormy times with well-defined 
roads and trails, but to have them obliterated always means 
distress, often disaster, and sometimes death. 

Fortunately sand-storms are not too prevalent. March, as 
elsewhere, is the month of bluster and wind, and then the blasts 
from the north and west coming over the snow-clad summits 
of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio are cold and piercing. I 
have often slept out of doors in late March and the winds have 
been both piercing and cold at that time. 

The heat waves on the desert produce most astonishing optical 
illusions. I have a lady friend who has taken up a desert claim. 

Storms, Mirages, and Desert Illusions 131 

She was once riding along in the heat of a summer's day, the 
whole face of the desert palpitating and vibrating with the heat 
waves, when, suddenly, in the distance, her eyes fell upon a 
moving object that was so large and singular that it instantly 
filled her with inconceivable terror and dread. Here, visible to 
her own eyes, while she was as calm and sane and in full pos- 
session of all her faculties as she ever was, a monster sea-serpent 
was approaching her. It seemed to be fully a quarter of a mile 
long, and it came toward her, humping itself in sections exactly 
as an inchworm or caterpillar humps itself in traveling. It was 
no illusion! It was a serious fact. The thing was coming, 
silently, stealthily, but really, positively, actually. For a few 
moments the poor woman was absolutely petrified with such a 
fright as she had never felt in her life. What could she do ? 
Fly ? That was useless, for the creature was approaching with 
a speed far greater than her old and weary horse was capa- 
ble of. In her horror she sat still, incapable of decision or ac- 
tion until the object itself relieved her of all fear. It was a 
freight train of very great length, coming on the track along- 
side of which she was driving, and the heat waves vibrating 
over and upon it had produced the optical illusion. The air 
vibrations also had the further effect of magnifying the cars so 
that altogether it made a truly terrifying spectacle. 

I have seen the same phenomenon many times. It is start- 
ling and horrifying even when one is used to it, so much so 
that one laughs at his own dread as soon as the train has time to 
correct the impression of fear the startling object immediately 

The track-walkers tell me that when they first saw the tracks 
humping up and down in this same fashion they were sure an 
earthquake was approaching and stood breathless, waiting for 
the awful and destructive shocks, which, however, never came. 

I remember on one occasion going with the section-men on 
their "pump car" to Salton. As we approached the station the 
salt-works were "without form and void." It is impossible to 
put into words the peculiar appearance they presented. One 
could see some object in the landscape, but it was not stable, 
and it was of no recognizible shape. It was a nonesuch. It was 

132 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

in constant movement as if under the influence of an earthquake 
that shook with rhythmic movement, up and down, across and 
lengthwise, simultaneously. It was the most singular looking 
object I think I ever beheld in my life, and the movements were 
weird and strange beyond any description. I thought I knew 
everything in the locality, but this certainly was novel and 
strange. As soon as I could I went to investigate and to my 
utter amazement, as soon as I got near enough to dispel the 
effect of the heat waves, I found it was nothing but the build- 
ings of the salt-works. The thermometer registered 115 
Fahrenheit in the shade. 

The most famous as it is perhaps the best known and least 
understood of all desert illusions is the mirage. The poet Moore 

Mirage. Inverted 

mountains in the sky 

could think of no more miserable doom for the traitor than to 
invoke the judgment of Heaven upon him in the mirage: 

"May he, at last, with lips of flame, 
On the parched desert thirsting die, 
While lakes that shone in mockery nigh 
Are fading off, untouched, untasted." 

A thousand and one different mirages have been described, 
but, after twenty-five years of experience on several desert areas, 
I have come to the conclusion that while the mirage is most 
wonderful, the general descriptions are often the work of a vivid 
imagination which heightens and enlarges upon that which it sees. 

Clarence King, however, describes the Colorado Desert mirage 
with truth: "In the indistinct glare of the southern horizon, it 
needed but slight aid from the imagination to see lifting and 

Storms, Mirages, and Desert Illusions 133 

tumbling of billows, as if the old tide were coming; but they 
were only shudderings of heat. As we sat there surveying this 
unusual scene, the white expanse became suddenly transformed 
into a placid blue sea, along whose rippling shores were the white 
blocks of roofs, groups of spire-crowned villages, and cool stretches 
of green grove. A soft vapory atmosphere hung over this sea; 
shadows, purple and blue, floated slowly across it, producing the 
most enchanting effect of light and color. The dreamy richness 
of the tropics, the serene sapphire sky of the desert, and the 
cool, purple distance of mountains were grouped as by miracle. 
It was as if Nature were about to repay us an hundred-fold for 
the lie she had given the topographers and their maps. 

"In a moment the illusion vanished. It was gone, leaving the 
white desert unrelieved by a shadow; a blaze of white light 
falling full on the plain; the sun-struck air reeling in whirlwind 
columns, white with the dust of the desert, up, up, and vanish- 
ing into the sky. Waves of heat rolled like billows across the 
valley, the old shores became indistinct, the whole lowland 
unreal. Shades of misty blue crossed over it and disappeared. 
Lakes with ragged shores gleamed out, reflecting the sky, and in 
a moment disappeared." 

The following descriptions were written at the moment of 
observation and in every case confirmed by my companions. 

A common mirage often seen is of a long spit of land, covered 
with trees and set off" with water which shimmers and glistens 
between the land and the observer. Again and again from 
Frinks and elsewhere have I observed this, the land spit lined 
with water, reaching out apparently for miles into the desert 

Here is a large and beautiful sheet of water dotted with tiny 
islands reaching from a volcanic butte to the Cocopah range, 
miles away, completely covering land that I walked over a week 
ago and which I must traverse this afternoon. Did I trust only 
to my observation I could swear that this is indeed water, lor 
to the right of this same butte is the Salton Sea that I know is 
water, and save for the fact that the "mirage water" is of a 
lighter hue than the sea, one is just as clear and distinct to the 
vision as the other. 

134 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

Standing in the center of the track and looking up or down 
between the rails, water often appears to flood them as far as 
the eye can see. This mirage is many times accompanied by 
a slight mistiness above, as of smoke or steam arising. 

Oftentimes the mirage from the southeast side of the desert 
looking southwest will have the appearance of an arm of the 
sea flowing smoothly and easily up to the bases of the Cocopah 
Mountains. All the intervening country is a vast, placid, rather 
lifeless, yet apparently real and genuine ocean. 

Where I now sit writing (March 29, 1906) in my boat, anchored 
up a small slough on the east side of the Salton Sea, I can see three 
distinct and separate water mirages that no eye can possibly dis- 
cern the falsity of. Here to the left and behind me is the genuine 
Salton Sea, the whole contour of which I have studied in many 
hours of wearisome rowing; to the left, well up in the foot-hills 
of the San Bernardino range toward Yuma, are the curving shores 
and tiny bays of another Salton Sea, while to the right below Signal 
Mountain in Mexico the Cocopah range is split up into small 
sugar-loaf islands, dome islands, and patches that remind me of 
Nantasket Island more than anything else, with a vast lake lying 
in the whole basin beyond the Salton to the mountains. The 
other sea is between these two on the alkali flats that separate the 
real Salton from the mirage Salton. It is peculiar white water, 
with dancing waves scintillating in the afternoon sun. 

I have a friend who assures me that on one occasion he and a 
party of strangers were on the desert in the middle of summer, 
when the heat waves combined with the mirage produced most 
peculiar effects. One member of the party had never seen a 
mirage. When the phenomenon appeared he was surprised be- 
yond measure. The mirage took on the appearance of a vast sea, 
and the vibration of the heat waves gave a vivid resemblance to 
white-capped breakers rolling in upon the shore that made the 
illusion perfect. The stranger expressed astonishment at the 
presence of the ocean. He "thought it was on the other side of 
the mountains." When told that it was a mirage, an illusion, 
he was grossly offended, and thought his companions were making 
fun of him. Couldn't he believe his own eyes ? Had he not seen 
the ocean often enough to know it when he saw it ? Just then an 

Storms, Mirages, and Desert Illusions 13-3 

added illusion came in the form of that which he took to be a 
schooner, and in triumph the believer called upon the unbelievers 
to see the vessel. Did not this prove his contention ? Did imi- 
tation or mock vessels come on an imitation or mock sea ? There 
was the ship, and, ah! there were others, and breakers, and the 
shore, and trees beyond, and houses, all of which confirmed him 
in his belief. And not until the mirage finally disappeared would 
he believe that he had been deceived. 

Mirages are not always the effect of heat. I have often seen 
mirages in the cool of the early morning, when the desert sky was 
completely overcast and not one ray of direct sunshine anywhere. 
Even now, as I write, the conditions are like this, yet far to the 
south, seen between the lava piles south of Volcano station, is a 
great sea in which the Sierra Prieta bathes, while the upper end 


<& 4 h A . 

l I 7*4 J k mm a ' fc** 

it k Jli |#*i^»V''' " 


■ <5ltt-_ A desert mirage 

of the Cocopah Mountains is cut up into islands and long spits 
of land on which trees are growing, and between us vessels are 
moving to and fro. The same condition exists at the southern 
end of the Cocopahs — as far as visible — the whole of that end 
being lost completely in the mirage-like effects which cut up the 
range into islands and gigantic mushrooms that seem to remain 

to C5 to 

supported by most slender stems. 

This peculiar style of mushroom mirage is to be seen almost 
daily on the Colorado Desert anywhere south of the Indio. Vol- 
canic piles that stand out isolated on the desert floor are slowly 
transformed from solid masses with broad bases anchoring them 
to the earth to shimmering, tottering, purplish mushrooms and 
toadstools of gigantic size, oftentimes of irregular round shape, 
sometimes perfectly round, but more often to a somewhat regu- 
larly shaped gigantic cigar, each end of which rests on "mirage 
water" which glistens and shimmers in the desert sun. 

136 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

On the early morning of March 29, as we rowed across the 
south end of the Salton Sea, the whole San Bernardino range 
toward the east offered us an ever-changing panorama of mirage 
effects. My companion and I both saw it at one and the same 
time. He cried out as I was about to do so, "Cantilever bridge 
and structural ironwork!" It verily appeared like a vast canti- 
lever bridge, with somewhat irregular steelwork, but clearly 
defined, connected with a vast extension of piled-up steel columns 
that reminded one more of the steel-framed sky-scrapers of New 
York in the process of construction than anything else. 

One afternoon, looking toward the southeast where I knew the 
tops of the great sand piles of the old sea beach alone could be 
seen, we were treated to a series of mirages of singular delicacy of 
color and grace of outline. The color was of straw, or with a 
very delicate tinge of salmon, and the shapes were of trees, of 
varying forms and varieties, but all swaying to and fro in the 

The mirage is an optical delusion, yet it seems real. I often 
feel as I gaze upon it that it is a type of one side of mankind. 
People look at their fellows, and think they see certain things. 
They imagine palaces and temples and towers and lakes and 
bubbling fountains. When they come nearer they find out their 
mistake. These things were delusions; there was no reality in 
them, and the disappointed go away and refuse to see the good 
in their fellows because all they imagined is not also there. The 
question then arises: Is the ground on which the mirage appears 
responsible for the mirage ? Is it to be condemned because it 
does not fulfil all the promises of the mirage ? Scarcely. Then 
should the disappointment of those who see mirages in their fel- 
lows be visited upon the innocent victims of their imagination ? 
Let us be more rational in our dealings with our fellows. Let 
us not condemn them for things they should not be held 
accountable for, but let us rather seek for all that is good and 
hold that up for the survey of ourselves and others. 

A question is often raised on the desert by cattle-men and 
others that is worthy of serious consideration. Do cattle see 
water, or do they smell it. If they only smell it, then a mirage 
can never lure them to death. Most cattle-men will tell you that 

Storms, Mirages, and Desert Illusions 


cattle never see water. I do not believe it. I have seen cattle 
struggling to reach mirages, and in the southwestern corner of 
the Colorado Desert, where more mirages appear than anywhere 
else, are the bones of thousands of cattle. In one of Mr. Eytel's 
forceful paintings a drove of cattle is being taken across the 
desert. In the distance behind them lies a mirage. The cattle 
have stopped and two of them are bellowing in their anger that 
they are not allowed to go and quench their thirst in the mirage 
water. Critics have censured the picture as untrue to life. I 
take issue with them on the grounds 
stated. I shall be glad to have the matter 
discussed by scientists and others. 

The intense heat of the desert by day 
and cold by night are often matters of 
much wonder to those who have not given 
the subject much thought. In his expe- 
riences on the desert, Coville the botanist 
says: "Often on the desert in winter, after 
working during a sunny afternoon in a 
warm and comfortable tent, we found 
ourselves within a few minutes after sunset 
chilled and shivering. We ob- 
served a frequent daily fall of 
temperature from 70 Fahren- 
heit to a few degrees below the 
freezing point. In summer a 
similar daily range occurs, but 
with higher extremes." 

While a full presentation of 
the question is one that would demand far more knowledge 
than I possess, a few simple statements may help to a clearer 
understanding. All the heat of the earth comes from the sun. 
Tyndall has proven that heat is but a mode of motion. The 
vibration of the sun's rays cause a corresponding vibration ot 
the ether which surrounds the known universe. This ether 
acts in, and through, and independently of, the aqueous vapor 
of our globe. The ether vibrations, when they strike the 
earth, set the surface molecules in action, which thus become 

Pack-burros on the desert 

138 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

radiant heat waves and have their own initial power to ra- 
diate. But the sun's rays are different in quality from the 
earth's rays, and substances that absorb the one do not neces- 
sarily absorb the other. Through a layer of water, for example, 
one-tenth of an inch in thickness, the sun's rays are trans- 
mitted with comparative freedom; but through a layer half 
this thickness no single earth heat-ray could pass. This singular 
fact accounts for the heated envelope of the earth that preserves 
life at night. Were there no aqueous envelope the heat of the 
sun during the day would be converted into earth heat and would 
be radiated back into the ether with great rapidity. But when 
night-time came and there were no heat waves from the sun the 
little heat remaining in the surface molecules of the earth would 
be so speedily radiated that severe frost would ensue and life 
be destroyed, ere the morrow's sun could shine. This is now 
prevented by the absorption of the earth's heat-rays by the 
aqueous vapor surrounding the earth. This becomes heated by 
the absorption of the earth's heat waves, and retaining the mo- 
tion during the night, wraps our earth around in its warm envelope 
to our protection from the deadly chill that would otherwise 

Here, then, we have, the secret of the intense heat of the desert 
in the daytime and its corresponding coolness during the night 
(except of course in those special cases where other factors come 
in and complicate the problem). During the day the sun's heat 
waves strike the floor of the desert with slight interference or 
interruption from either aqueous vapor or impurities in the air. 
This gives great direct heat. But as there is little or no aqueous 
vapor in the atmosphere above the desert floor there is nothing 
to absorb and retain the responsive earth heat waves, and when 
the sun goes down these earth waves speedily give out their 
force and a rapid lowering of the temperature is the result. 

Wherever drought reigns, whether in the Sahara of Africa, on 
the heights of the Himalaya, in the heart of Australia, or on the 
Colorado Desert, the effect is the same and refrigeration at night 
is most painful. 

The Colors of the Desert 



The Colors of the Desert 

DO not propose to attempt a learned dissertation 

upon the causes of the marvelous color effects 

seen upon the desert. I find in my note-books 

various descriptions written with especial refer- 

-^^>J::- ence to color and I deem these of sufficient 

*']L>^ interest to present in this form. 

In all ordinary conditions the colors of the 

desert are well defined and distinct. Especially 

are the shadows strong- and vivid. The blacks remind one 

of the shadows cast by the mountain ranges on the moon, when 

observed through a powerful telescope. 

During the sand-storms the mountains that shut in the north- 
western end of the desert undergo marvelous transformations. 
The atmosphere becomes charged with fine sand and dust par- 
ticles upon which the sun reflects and plays as the clouds that 
intervene between it and the dust allow. Late in the afternoon 
this dust becomes luminous with a half-transparent color-light 
that glows and shines and makes the whole mountainside 
appear as a veritable mountain of transfiguration; as if the 
"glory of the Lord" shone upon it. One feels in looking at it 
that he is on holy ground and must not only take his shoes from 
his feet but uncover his head in awesome reverence. 

Then, if his attention be called away, and he look again fif- 
teen minutes later, the divine glow has gone, and a sullen, bluish, 
sodden effect takes its place. The sand-veil is there, but no 
longer illumined by the sun. A little later, and it becomes a 
misty purple, and night finally curtains it with its darker shades. 
The sun is just rising over the Chocolate range. For an hour 
the eastern sky has been a changing glory of orange, fiery red, 
and madder brown. Now as the sun bursts over the hills and 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

floods the desert the range to the left is outlined with such dis- 
tinctness as to suggest a black silhouette on a white background; 
but the color is royal Tyrian purple instead of black, and the 
background a luminous pearly opalescence that shades off into 
the pure blue seen only over desert and southern ocean skies. 

At this early hour the light shining at so low an angle reveals 
the different ridges of the San Bernardino range with a vivid- 
ness that is startling to one who has seen them before only in 
the direct lisht of noon. Now each ridge stands forth as clear 
and distinct in its own individuality as can be. The "pip, pip, 
pip" of the quail is heard on every hand; the wild deluge of 

Group of palms on the desert 

song of the mocking-bird; the cheery warble of the linnet; and 
from the distance the faint crow of the domestic rooster calling 
his family out to gather the early worm. 

The peculiar lighting of these early sunrise hours well repays 
much and careful watching. The beams of light strike through 
certain passes in the mountains, flooding slopes and peaks and 
ridges beyond with patches of vivid light and color, while other 
places are kept in shadow by the arresting of the sun's beams 
by giant mural faces or higher peaks close at hand. 

How the delicate tints of the desert appeal to you seen in con- 
trast with the strong colors! Here are the browns, grays, reds, 

The Colors of the Desert 141 

and greens of the mountains, with the greens and purples which 
shade into blackness, and stand out vividly against the pure 
white of the snowy peaks beyond. Then there are the deep 
black gashes of the canyons, with here and there a patch of 
delicate pea-green showing that trees are growing near running 
water in the mouths of the canyons. 

At dawn, and equally at sundown, everything seems bathed 
in a soft greenish gold atmosphere giving to animals, moving 
figures of men, silent wagons, gently waving trees a peculiarly 
mysterious appearance that one can hardly describe and that 
is never felt or seen away from the desert. 

On the morning of March 30, when I awoke, the whole sky was 
filled with clouds. The stars were scarcely to be seen; only one 
here and there. The air was motionless above, though there 
was a slight surface breeze blowing from the east. Everything 
was somber and gray until dawn. Then began the color changes. 
When the .sun emerged it was cautiously, as if afraid of disturb- 
ing the quiet peace of this tranquil scene. There was none of 
that vigor and force and decision that one feels in Browning's 

" Faster and more fast, 

O'er night's brim, day boils at last: 

Boils, pure gold, o'er the cloud-cup's brim 

Where spurting and suppressed it lay, 

For not a froth-flake touched the rim 

Of yonder gap in the solid gray 

Of the Eastern cloud, an hour away; 

But forth one wavelet, then another, curled, 

Till the whole sunrise not to be suppress' d f 

Rose, reddened, and its seething breast 

Flickered in bounds, grew gold, then overflowed the world." 

Here the quiet gentleness was most apparent. The color 
changes also came quietly. Slowly the San Jacinto range deep- 
ened into a sullen purple, entirely different and distinct from that 
luminous purple that is the joy of color lovers in Southern Cali- 
fornia mountains. Only for a few minutes was there any tinge 
of color in the sky, and that was a peculiarly rich salmon red; 
but, all at once, right in the center of the field of vision a single 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

cluster — if I may so speak — of the peaks of the Sierra San 
Jacinto blossomed into a luminous madder lake, — not of solid, 
pure color, but variegated enough to give it rich beauty, — all 
sunlit and gorgeous. The startling vividness of it was enhanced 
by the somber purple of the rest of the range. It seemed as if it 
and the immediate sky had been deluged with a strong blue 
solution, such as the laundresses use, only of quadruple strength. 
Even the snow-caps on San Jacinto and San Gorgonio were blue, 
and this dolorous color served marvelously to 
accentuate the gorgeous brilliancy of the 

colored peaks. 

A large palm group 
in Palm Canyon 

This morning with the sky all somber and colorless the Salton 
Sea is a pale yellowish green. I have never seen it of this color 
before, though this is not an unusual color for the desert. A 
similar tone is seen extending along the foot-hills from the northern 
edge of the alkali flats of the sea until the feet of the Chocolate 
and San Bernardino Mountains are reached. 

I have also seen the Salton Sea when it possessed a deep violet 

The Colors of the Desert 


color. This was in the late afternoon when the direct rays of 
sunlight were no longer upon the water. 

The desert sky is sometimes so luminously splendid, so glow- 
ingly glorious, so fit for the pathway of cherubim and seraphim, 
of angels and archangels, nay, of the very God, that one feels he 
is looking on the streets of heaven, and he waits expectantly, 
entranced, breathless, as if at any moment stately and loving 
presences might pass which only the pure in heart could gaze upon 
and live. And then comes the passionate prayer: "Oh that I 
might see them and live! Oh that I might see them even though 
I die, if thereby all evil be taken from my heart!" 

As I look at these col- 
orings and remember the 
attempts I have seen on 
canvas to reproduce them 
and then the comments I 
have heard on these can- 
vases I am stricken with 
amazement at the self-con- 
ceit and folly of men who 
constitute themselves critics 
of the work of other men. 
Not for the attempt of the 
artist to reproduce have I 
any rebuke. He is but 
doing his duty. He sees 
and therefore should try to 

make others see. Yet however much he fails, the critic who 
knows nothing of the desert and its colorings, save what he has 
seen as his Pullman, with blinds drawn, has dashed over the 
desert, will complacently and with an ex cathedra air exclaim: 
"But the coloring! It is impossible! No one ever saw such 
colors as that in Nature!" 

That is what I object to. No one — not even Titian, Velas- 
quez, Rembrandt, Corot — is competent to make such a state- 
ment unless he has first reverently, and as a learner, gone to the 
desert and, with alert eyes, watched and watched and watched. 
Late at night, early in the morning, through the night even, and 

A Coahuilla basket 

of beautiful natural colors 

144 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

at all hours between dawn and sunset, he must keep his vision 
ready and his soul receptive. Then, and only then, is he com- 
petent to tell what the Divine Colorist puts upon the skies and 
the earth for his pupils to copy. For the desert is God's color 
show-room; His divine exhibition salon to which He freely in- 
vites all men, — artists, colorists, decorators, mere lovers of color, 
— men and women with alert eyes and awakened souls to see 
beauty in all its nakedness: beauty so sublime, so awful, so 
stupendous, so awe-inspiring, as to be capable of full compre- 
hension only by those souls that love the real more than the false, 
the simple more than the complex, the nakedness of Nature more 
than the prudery of Man. 

On the trail to San Gorgonio Mountain 

Wild Animals of the Desert 



Some Wild Animals of the Desert 

AM neither zoologist, ornithologist, nor hunter. 
,^i Nor do I propose to make this chapter a cata- 
logue. I merely wish to record a few personal 

Life on the desert is as hard for animals as 
man; the struggle for existence as great. When 
one first comes in conflict with the fierce heat, 
the sand-storms, the long stretches of alkali or 
salt-sown soil, the piles of moving sand-dunes, the scarcity of water, 
he is assured that no animal life of any kind, by any chance, can 
sustain itself in such an untoward place. But, as I have fully 
shown, these are not all of the desert. There are fertile spots, 
delicious oases, mountain slopes and canyons, on and in which 
plenty of verdure grows, where pure mountain water flows, in 
abundant volume, so that, when the conditions are all considered, 
animal life on 
the desert does 
not seem quite 
as strange and 
impossible as 

The largest 
wild animal seen 
on the desert is 
the mountain 
lion, more com- 
monly known as the panther (Fells concolor). This member 
of the carnivorous tribe is large enough to thoroughly frighten 
an unarmed man, — as I always am, — unless, conscious of his 
own kindly intentions, he is willing to take those of the 

Vol. I. -10 

Mountain lion 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

animal for granted. This is not always a safe thing to do, as the 
mountain lion will attack a man if he is driven by either hunger 
or fear. A friend and I were * .ce climbing a steep mountain 
trail in the heart of a dense fore r. I was in the rear, carry- 
ing on my shoulder a very heavy tripod, reinforced with brass, 
and with long spikes at the ends of the legs. Stopping for 
breath, I happened to look up, and there on the branch of a tree, 
not ten feet away, was a large mountain lion just about to leap 
upon my unconscious friend. It was the work of a moment to 

" Just about to leap upon my unconscious friend " 

swing up my tripod in lance-like fashion over my friend's shoulder 
in the uncontrollable impulse to do something, what I did not 
know. Was it good fortune, or chance, or Providence that pointed 
the spikes of one of the tripod's legs at such an angle as to pene- 
trate the eye and brain of the leaping animal, swerve it from its 
course, render ineffective its wild, death-dealing stroke, and so 
blind it that a few blows from the brassy end of the tripod killed 
it ? The remarkable thing of it all was that my friend was not 
only unharmed, but almost unaware of what had happened until 
it was all over. He was an old man of somewhat slow mind, and 
when he heard my exclamation as I threw up the tripod he turned 
around to see me thrown topsyturvy down the bank. The cause 
of it he did not see. Before he was aware of it, his amazement 
was made complete by my sudden and energetic rising, picking 
up the tripod and fiercely swinging it upon the head of some 
prostrate creature which, until I struck it, had not made the slightest 
sound. Then it began to shriek and scream with a fierceness 

Wild Animals of the Desert 


that was appalling. Being blinded in the one eye, and possibly 
sympathetically affected so as to be unable to see with the other, 
his frantic strokes, which assuredly would have killed had they 
fallen upon either of us, went wild, and the long and strong tripod 
with its brass top, which had so often been scoffed at by my 
camera friends as cumbersome and ugly, out-of-date and pre- 
posterously heavy, became a most formidable weapon in the 
hands of a strong man. In far less time than it has taken me to 
write this story, the animal was dead at our feet. The force with 
which he sprang can be understood by the fact that the wooden 
part of the tripod beyond the spike had crushed the bones sur- 
rounding the eye, and had penetrated to a 
depth of fully an inch and a half. 

The first time I saw a mountain lion was 
when he was unconscious of my presence. 
I had come upon him accidentally, and he 
sat, the very embodiment of dignity, as calm 
and serene as a huge tomcat, his head erect, 
paws outstretched, as if enjoying the won- 
derful outlook that had so enchanted 
me. He was sleek and fat, and his 
skin of good color. Save for a patch 
of almost dead black on the upper 
lip and reaching out to both ears, 
his body was a tawny brownish 
yellow, with a streak down the spine 
of slightly darker color. The belly 
was of a much lighter yellow, almost a dirty white. The tail 
was long and bushy at the end, which was darker in color, 
almost black. He was on the edge of one of the San Jacinto 
"forest islands," where deer are not scarce, and from his sleek 
and self-satisfied appearance I assumed he had just slain and 
eaten his share of a deer. Whether he saw me or not I do not 
know, for I edged away and never saw him again. 

In hunting deer they are very wary and stealthy. They have 
all the feline's noiselessness and ability to steal on their prey. 
What terrible shoulders they have, how muscular, and how 
powerful! How swifter than any human motion is the blow of 

Mountain lion 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

- ^^-:^ 


. j- 




those paws, in each of which are steel-sharp claws that tear to 
the heart of their victims, through skin, muscles, and flesh! 
Long-bodied, as wiry as a snake, more serpentine than the tiger, 
the mountain lion is preeminently fitted to be a hunter of deer, 
mountain sheep, or rabbits. It is very seldom he is seen down 
on the "floor" of the desert. The mountain is his range, for 

there he finds his 
prey. With a craft 
that seems almost 
like conscious 
thought he steals 
down to the edge 
^ of a precipice and 

, , , . ,. looks over into the 

Mountain Hon 

watching his prey forest valley be- 
neath where the 
innocent deer are 
browsing. Then, with stealthy but swift tread he finds his way 
down and around to where he can best sneak upon the 
helpless and simple creature. With one terrific spring, generally 
without any vocal noise, he lands upon the back of his victim, 
gives one or two stunning blows and tearings with those awful 
paws, then the crunch of his teeth 
into the spine tells that the killing 
is done. 

On the Pacific Coast the mountain 
lion attains as large a size as three 
hundred pounds and has a maxi- 
mum length of eleven feet from 
head to tip of the tail. I am assured 
that it can leap fifty feet at a jump. 

It must not be thought that the 
mountain lion, the wildcat, or the 
wolf are common in the desert. They are seldom seen, and 
each year they become rarer. One might wander for years 
on the desert and never see one of any of them, and I know of 
many desert dwellers who are totally unaware of their existence. 

The wildcat (Lynx rufus) is not so long in body as the moun- 

Mountain lion asleep 

Wild Animals of the Desert 


tain lion, but stockier and with leonine shoulders. W hile I 
have seen trails on the desert, the animal itself has never ap- 
peared in sight except in the mountains or in the tree-lined 
portions of the banks of the Colorado River. There is some 
difference between the common American wildcat and the Texas 
species (var. maculatus), and it is possible that both species are 
found in the range of the Colorado Desert. I have seen two 
specimens also which do not exactly conform to the descriptions 
of either. The base color was a lightish red, which shaded off 
into light gray and black. Large spots of the reddish color were 
interspersed on the 
back and sides and 
on the limbs. The 
belly was pure white. 
The hair was long 
and thick and small 
tufts grew on the tips 
of the ears. One of 
these I had in cap- 
tivity for a long time. 
While I always 
watched him care- 
fully, he grew tame 
and ate from my 
hand, though always 
with a suspicious air 
as if he thought I 
intended to do him an injury. 

One was caught early in 1906 in Mecca, where he had doubt- 
less come to raid hen-roosts. He is said to be an adept at pulling 
shingles from the roof of a hen-roost, and helping himself to the 
choicest specimens. 

By far the most interesting of all desert animals is the moun- 
tain sheep, of which a rare variety is found in the San Jacinto 
range on the desert side, way down into the peninsula. It is 
known to scientists as the Ovis Nelsoni. The sheep seen through- 
out California generally is the Ovis Montana. The differences 
between the two are readily apparent in that the southern ani- 

150 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

mals are smaller and have shorter hair, it being stiff and harsh 
and well calculated to give its wearer protection against the 
severest weather. Its color is softened peachblow, when seen 
in January and February, but later in the summer, while it 
still preserves this color, it is less striking and vivid. Seen in 
contrast to the rich and deep greens of the trees, and with the 
gray granite all around, two or three of them give a note of color 
to the landscape that is peculiarly beautiful. 

The specimens that I have seen have been far from wild, as 
I had been led to expect. While curious and much interested in 
my movements they did not scare and run as many of the bands 
I have seen in the Grand Canyon and its tributaries have always 
done. Of late years the Indians tell me they have hunted them 
but little and this may be the secret of their tameness. 

They can be found in the high regions around Mount San 
Jacinto and on the Torres and Santa Rosa Mountains, Palomar, 
the Cuyamacas, and the Cocopah Mountains. 

The first description (and best, for a short and popular account) 
I have ever seen of the mountain sheep is that given by Fray 
Alonso de Benavides, the Franciscan, in 1630. He says: 

"There is a genus of mountain sheep, very great and with 
very bulky horns. And up a wall, though it be high and smooth, 
they clamber at speed; or up a high cliff as it were by a ladder. 
And frisking or in flight they are wont to fling themselves from 
the highest cliffs downward, falling always head first, and they 
rise immediately with all nimbleness, as if they had done noth- 
ing." But for a full, popular, and intimate account full of 
life and poetry, there is no description in English literature as 
full and vivid as that of John Muir in "Mountains of Califor- 

Mountain sheep were numerous in the early days of the gold 
excitement. The Indians often shot them with their arrows 
and traded the meat to the argonauts. Dr. Veatch, in 1857, 
tells of passing the trail of a flock of them, and seeing the head 
of one, probably killed by an Indian hunter. 

Deer and antelope are both fairly plentiful on the mountain- 
sides near to the desert, though there are fewer antelope than 

1 Land of Sunshine, Vol XIII, page 436. 

Wild Animals of the Desert 


deer. How well I remember my first sight of a band of antelope! 
They were — where I have never seen one since — miles away 
from the mountains and in the very heart of the desert. Their 
curiosity was the thing that attracted me most. Gentle, beauti- 
ful, large-eyed creatures, they look and look and look as if fas- 
cinated, and provided you can keep them curious and free from 
fear they will remain watching for a long time. Any one who 
has ever seen an antelope must have noticed his large eyes. They 
are larger than a deer's and far more protuberant. They are 
constantly needed for their owner's safety as, though his sense 
of smell and hearing are as acute as those of the deer, he seems 
to trust his eyes the most. When curious or alarmed they seem 
to bulge out and such is the scope of their vision that they can 
see what goes on behind as well as 
in front. I kept this band watching 
me for several minutes by lying quite 
still but keeping up a constant flut- 
tering of my pocket-handkerchief. 
At last some sudden movement 
alarmed them and they were off like 
a flash. With an easy, graceful, 
swinging gait they bounded along, 
fairly annihilating space, and in an 
incredibly short time were out of sight. 
The deer is a far more interesting 
animal to me than the antelope. He 
is so gentle, so timid, so beautiful, 

and yet so valiant a fighter when he has to be, and 
though shy, I have several times found him fearless and 
friendly. On one occasion I was alone in the mountains 
and had just stopped for lunch. I had thrown saddle and 
bridle on the ground, hobbled my horse, and with a long, 
dangling neck-rope, had turned him loose to graze. For shel- 
ter I had stopped in a little clump of cottonwoods. As I 
rested there, half reclining, a buck, doe, and a fawn came 
along into the copse, browsing. When they saw me they 
looked curious and interested, but there was not the slight- 
est suggestion of alarm. I made no movement, so they went on 

American deer 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

browsing and for nearly half an hour I had an opportunity to 
watch them at close quarters. When, finally, I arose and went 
for my horse, they disappeared in the brush some distance away, 
across a small grassy open space. But let them be alarmed and 
how they fly along! They and the antelope are larger editions 
of the jack-rabbit. With leaps and bounds they dash uphill and 
down, over brush, through dense chaparral, and over sharp and 
cutting rocks where neither horse nor man can follow them, 
and are soon lost to sight. In captivity they are most friendly 
and will follow one around gently and shyly, begging for sugar 
or nuts. I have had wild desert deer and an- 
telope both so tame in a few weeks that they 
would "nose" into my pockets for sweets or nuts 
that they knew I generally carried for them. 
They are also fond of raisins. 

Coyotes are quite common on the Colorado 
Desert. Madge Morris in her poem tells of the 
continued howling of the predatory creature, and 
many California readers will remember the fierce 
controversy that raged in a San Francisco paper, 
caused by Ambrose Bierce's sarcastic and scathing 
criticism of this line in Mrs. Wagner's poem, he 
contending that a coyote barked and did not 
howl. The fact is that coyotes both howl and 
bark, and one of their chief characteristics is the 
power to prolong and apparently multiply their 
musical performance so that the uninformed lis- 
tener is convinced that he is surrounded by a fierce herd of 
frightfully vicious creatures all seeking his life and eager to drink 
his blood. When several animals unite their howls, barks, yelps, 
and almost unearthly screams or other noises, the effect surpasses 
belief. "It must be heard to be fully appreciated." About the 
only good thing in connection with the coyote's howling is that 
it is silent throughout the day, his desire for musical expression 
becoming uncontrollable only at night. 

The coyote is a small prairie wolf. The name is Spanish, and 
is pronounced ki-o-ty (the y short as in happy). Several varie- 
ties of coyote have been noted on the desert. In size they 

Don Coyote 

Wild Animals of the Desert 153 

may be said to be intermediary between the fox and the larger 
wolf, though they vary largely in the different species. Don 
Coyote possesses a sharp-pointed, fox-like muzzle, upright ears, 
and a long, bushy tail, which he carries with a grace and dignity 
peculiarly his own, except when being pursued, when it is hidden 
between his legs. In winter the hair is thick, of a dirty reddish 
gray, with a few black hairs generally scattered on the shoulders 
and the back. The skins, when properly dressed, make fine rugs 
and buggy robes, one that I used to have, made of twelve skins, 
having given me good service for many years. 

Unlike most wild animals, the coyote does not seem to be much 

disturbed by the advance of civilization. Other animals decrease 

and finally disappear, but the coyote 

;\-\i holds his own. This is owing, doubt- 

l vb^. less, to his sneaking and thieving 

' >„ v<i \r\^>-~. habits. Domestic 

-, -. •- animals and fowls af- 

n '\ \ f '\.y ??>v ford him a never- 

,V V V.^ 1 ' "^ ending source of food 

'ff- a v -*Sf- - supply, and his nat- 

i J&-* .-., ,., '"• . ~ " ural craft, cunning, 

\ ,'' A dim, shadowy -_. • _' "* - and wariness make 

^ e him a hard creature 

to poison or trap. Every settler in the desert has had some 
experience with the coyote, and many are the stories I might tell 
of his skill in evading capture. 

Don Coyote is no epicure in the matter of diet. Given the 
opportunity, however, he would feast on delicacies like a lord. 
Indeed, when an undefended chicken corral is unexpectedly re- 
vealed to him he kills only to eat the daintiest parts of the bird. 
But his fastidiousness leaves him — as it does many another 
epicure with less legs — when hunger becomes his companion. 
He will then prowl into the orchard and take a bite of watermelon, 
preferably ripe, of course, but watermelon anyhow if there be 
nothing better. He will pick up the apricots that drop from the 
tree and, indeed, almost any kind of ripe fruit, and is especially 
fond of grapes and raisins. The mesquite bean, too, is one of 
his constant foods, and the Pimas tell a story in which the coyote 

154 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

is made answerable for the wide distribution of their god-given 
mesquite, through the evacuation of the undigested beans. A 
similar story is told by the Indians around Palm Valley as to 
the distribution of the native palm (neo Washingtonia filifera) by 
the same process. The coyote is very fond of the tiny date of 
this palm. He also eats the juniper berry, manzanita berry, and 
the fruit of the prickly pear. 

His fondness for sheep, colts, calves, pigs, goats, and chickens, 
and wild game, such as deer, antelope, ducks, and geese, is par- 
tially offset by his habits as a scavenger. Were it not for this he 
would be an unbearable pest. But he kills large numbers of 
gophers, rats, ground squirrels, chipmunks, prairie-dogs, and 
rabbits. The latter are a great pest at times, even 
,-. on the desert. When there is a scarcity of food 

> * I they gnaw the bark from fruit and shade trees, 
' y '"y vines, etc., so as often to destroy them, and the 
/ J~ *■ coyote's service in keeping down the number of these 
tree-destroying pests is invaluable. 
/ The largest coyote I ever saw was shortly before 

' ■ V we entered the Salton Sea, when coming down the 
• ' ' Alamo River. He was on the bank above us, in full 
!;';vl sight, and appeared to be as large as a timber-wolf. 
1 A' ^* With leisurely steps and slow he moved along, 
A mere stopping now and again to get a good look at us, 

outline as we glided forward in our boats. 

Two of the commonest animals of the desert are 
the jackass-rabbit, so called from his long ears, and the cotton- 
tail, so named from his bunch of white, fluffy, cottony tail. 

Did you ever notice the difference in the running of a cotton- 
tail and a jack-rabbit ? It is then that you realize how different 
the two animals are. The cottontail is much smaller than the 
jack-rabbit, — shorter in the leg and body. He is not made for 
swift running. He hides in the brush and is seldom found away 
from spots where there is plenty of undergrowth. But the 
jack-rabbit is built for speed. He is a racer. His "lines" all 
show either design for that purpose, or wonderful development 
in that direction. 

Take a walk with your swift hound some afternoon where jack- 

Wild Animals of the Desert 155 

rabbits most do congregate. Don't urge your dog to hunt, but 
just look carefully at that jack-rabbit, as your dog starts him from 
his cover. Legs? No! he has no legs. They are zigzags of 
lightning covered with fur. He is the most perfect running 
machine ever constructed. His hind legs touch the ground 
simultaneously, and the moment they strike, the lightning is re- 
leased and springing muscles and nerves shoot the body forth, 
as if from a catapult. It is an incredible bound, and the process 
is repeated with a regularity that is as astonishing as it is easy. 
See the dog who chases him! He is working! He consciously 
puts forth all his strength and exhausts every effort to reach the 
easily moving creature ahead of him. His neck is stretched out, 
his legs make frantic endeavors, his sides heave painfully at the 
desperate work of his lungs, but all in vain. He is plainly out- 
distanced and his howls of anger and vexation soon show that he 
is aware of the fact. 

The kangaroo-rat {Dipodomys merriami simiolus) and trade-rat 
are both found on the desert. One day as I sat writing in the old 
dining-house at the Granite Mine I heard a little noise above me, 
and there, walking on the roof-plate, was a fine specimen of a 
kangaroo-rat. He was evidently on his way to what food supplies 
he could pick up around the table. His large eyes and scoop- 
shaped ears, his soft color and rapid, easy movements were most 
pleasing, and if one could ignore the pilfering and, worse still, 
the gnawing and destroying habits of the creatures, there would 
be much to enjoy in looking at them. 

The trade-rat, or more properly the bush-rat (Neotoma Mexi- 
cana), is one of the interesting animals found on the desert edges. 
He builds his nest at the foot of a tree or under and between 
rocks. It consists of a series of arched galleries of sticks and 
twigs, filled up with moss and dung, terminating in a bed of moss, 
hair, and leaves. When at the base of a tree the nest is piled up 
instead of lengthened out, and I have seen them four and five 
feet high. The common name, given to this rat, is caused by his 
trading instincts. Like all rodents he is a great thief, and will 
gnaw his way into the miner's shack or settler's shanty at the first 
possible moment. Any articles that are left around are likely 
to strike his fancy, ''and these he bears away. But such is his 

156 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

scrupulous regard for the appearance of honesty that, for the box 
of pills, the shaving-brush, the comb, the knife, the napkin-ring 
he takes away he brings and leaves a stick in its place. Hence his 
name. I have had miners and others tell me that they always 
knew exactly how many things had been stolen by the number 
of sticks piled up, these clearly determining who was the thief. 
But this I regard as rather apocryphal. This cunning little 
creature will find his way into your pockets — even that of a 
woman's dress — and steal therefrom whatever takes his fancy. 
I was sound asleep one night, when all at once something struck 
me on my body. In the dim light I saw that a large trade-rat 
had jumped upon me. Lying perfectly still I watched him. 
My trousers were hung up on the door near by — the quarters 
were small — and as I watched he made a spring, reached the 
trousers and ran up them to the top. There he hunted around, 
found the pockets and proceeded to rifle them. My knife, keys, 
and a piece of stick I used as a wedge on my camera were ab- 
stracted. The money was too slippery, I guess, so, going to 
another pocket which was full of string, he proceeded to pull this 
out, dropping everything stealthily upon the floor beneath. Just 
as he started off with his plunder I scared him. Now what I 
should like to know is: Would he have traded with me for every- 
thing he took, and if so, w T ould he have put his exchanges on the 
floor, or have put them in my pockets ? If the latter, would he 
have put everything in one pocket or in those he stole from ? I 
wish some one would test Neotome Mexicana in these interesting 

I must not forget to state that trade-rats are very fond of the 
succulent leaves and young shoots of the various species of cactus, 
so that they thrive well on the desert, provided they are in a cactus 

Some Desert Birds 



Some Desert Birds 

NE great compensation for many unpleasant and dis- 
agreeable things about the desert is that there is a 
large variety of birds to be seen. This is neither 
surprising nor remarkable when the diversified char- 
acter of the desert is understood. Palm Springs has 
such a unique climatic character that expert ornithol- 
ogists have spent much time there. It is the bound- 
ary line between thewarm, desert climate of the south 
and the colder climate of the farther north, and on 
this account one of the best locations for the study 
of migrating birds in the country. 

In midwinter of 1903-4 Professor Joseph Grinnell of Pasa- 
dena, California, spent nine days studying the birds of this locality, 
and in The Condor for March, 1904, he gives a most interesting 
account of what he and his companions 
(chiefly Mr. Joseph Mailliard) found. 
The desert and valley quail were 
both found in abundance, though, 
owing to the persecution of both 
Indians and whites, they were very 
wild. Mr. Mailliard thus com- 
ments upon the differences be- 
tween the desert quail (Lophortyx 
gambeli) and the valley quail {Lo- 
phortyx vallicolus): 

"The notes of the desert quail differ from those of the valley 
quail in variety, and to a certain extent in character, though 
they have some notes in common. The 'crow' of the latter 
consists of three notes, varying in length and accent according 
to the call given, in one case the last note being a falling one. 

1 Humming- 
and nest 

158 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

The 'crow' of the desert quail, while rather similar to the other, 
has two additional notes at the end, rendered in a softer tone. 
Besides the alarm-calls the valley quail has a few twittering or 
conversational notes, while the other species has a lot of these, 
quite varied and often given in a way that seems remarkably 
loud to one accustomed only to the notes of the former. Another 
peculiarity of the desert quail is the queer sound that it makes 
as it rises from the ground on being surprised into flight — the 
sort of screeching cackle, on a small scale, that a hen makes when 
frightened from her nest." 

In some parts of the desert both species are found in large 
numbers, and they are unafraid, as neither whites nor Indians 

have attempted to shoot them. 

In the winter time, in the most 
unexpected places, wherever a few 
trees clustered, I have been delighted 
with the unconsciously noble singing 
of the mocking-birds [Mimus p. leu- 

One night we made a dry camp, — 
that is, stopped where there was no 
water for beast nor for man, save the 
little in the canteen. As soon as the sun set we halted the burros, 
took ofF their packs and turned them loose to graze. They wished 
to hover about "camp " for the water we could not give and finally 
we were compelled to drive them away. With reluctance and 
remonstrance clearly expressed in their reproachful eyes and 
dejected mien they wandered ofF and soon consoled themselves 
with what forage they could pick up, especially enjoying the 
gallenas grass which grows profusely for a mile or so. 

After a frugal evening meal it was not long before we unrolled 
our blankets and went ofF to sleep. During the night I was 
awakened by the sweet and prodigal melody of a mocking-bird, 
perched on a tree a quarter of a mile away. For a few moments 
I thought myself at home in Pasadena, listening to the glorious 
warbler who often cheers my midnight or later hours from 
among the orange trees, and then, suddenly as I rolled over in 
my blankets, my leg struck the sharp thorn of a cactus which the 

Some Desert Birds 


night wind had blown into the right spot and in a moment the 
dear illusion was gone in the piercing pain of the present. 

In the morning we found a line of trees, mesquites, cotton- 
woods, and desert willows, showing where the moisture of the 
winter rains was longest retained. On most of these trees the 
mistletoe had fastened itself, and in spite of our knowledge of 
its parasitical character we could not deny that the white berries 
give an additional touch of beauty to the green of the trees. 

The birds, attracted perhaps by their beauty as well as their 
flavor, feed readily upon them. It is to these berries, too, that 
we must look for the solution of the water problem for the 
birds. Birds are often found in large numbers where there is 
no apparent water supply. Yet it 
is well known that birds must have 
water as well as men. How, then, 
are they provided ? It is suggested 
that they fly to water and then re- 
turn to these isolated and waterless 

An objection to this suggestion is 
found in the fact that they breed and 
rear their young in these places, and 
while this flying to and fro might be possible to them it would 
not be to their young during the first weeks of their existence. 
How, then, is the problem solved ? It is solved by the mistletoe. 
The berries are a large part water and they thus become the 
water supply of scores of desert birds. 

It is to the birds also that this parasite owes its large distribu- 
tion. The seeds are evidently indigestible, for when they are 
voided after the processes of digestion they are still intact in the 
defecation. These seed-charged droppings lodge on the branches 
and in the crotches of the trees and in due time spring forth, 
striking their roots into the tree fibers and thus becoming part 
and parcel of the tree. 

The e\f-aw\(Micropallas luhitneyi), the smallest owl in the world, 
is a desert denizen. It is seldom more than five and a half inches 
high. It feeds on insects and small snakes. Alighting on the 
back of its prey it darts its sharp claws into it, speedily killing it. 

eating bird 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

The Courier del Camino, or road-runner (Geococcyx calif ornia- 
nus), is often seen on the desert. It receives its Spanish name 
from the fact that it is generally seen on the road and when 
followed runs ahead with great fleetness, until, either tired of 
the game or afraid of being caught, it darts into the nearest 
bush for hiding. A Methodist minister of my ac- 
quaintance used to keep a fast horse and sulky, and 
drove over the same road every day for months, 
where several road-runners congregated. One of 
the birds seemed to wait regularly for his morning 
run. He came out of the bush at a certain place 
where there was a long stretch of road, and with a 
flirt of his expressive tail and an uplifting of his 
crest, would start off at full speed down the 
middle of the road. My friend then "let his mare go," and for 
half a mile or so the race was on. The road-runner could always 
keep ahead, but as soon as he was through he darted into the 
brush, to be ready, however, for the same race the next day. 

Owing to its pheasant-like appearance 
it is often called the "chaparral cock." 
Of all the desert birds this is the one that 
most appeals to me. While it is not rare, 
it is better seen in the out-of- 
the-way places, and though ap- 
parently exceedingly shy it soon 
becomes very tame and friendly 
when it finds that its confidence 
is not misplaced. On one of the 
ranches near Mecca a pair have 
their nest. Each morning one 
of them flies to an old stump 
and there coos somewhat like a 
dove. They come to the door 
for scraps and will almost take them from the fingers. When 
the land was being leveled scorpions and various other insects 
were being constantly turned up. The road-runners would fol- 
low in the wake of the scraper, and not unseldom, if they 
caught sight of anything in the scraper, would fly right down 




Some Desert Birds 16 1 

and get it. One day a snake was killed and my friend's man 
picked it up on a stick and stood looking at it when a road- 
runner came and, taking it from the stick, ran with it to his 
mate and made a meal on it. 

I have watched a road-runner when he thought himself unseen 
in the chicken yard of an absent Mexican. With lordly step 
and haughty demeanor he marched around among the hens and 
chickens, as if he were a true Spanish don in the presence of 
his inferiors. When the cackle of a hen denoted an addition 
to the egg supply, he strode toward the nest and coolly and 
deliberately pecked a hole in the new-laid egg and in a few 
moments had entirely swallowed it. 

The preacher to whom I have referred once invaded a cactus 
patch where road-runners had their nest, and took therefrom 
two young birds. He turned 
them loose in his house, feed- 
ing them with scraps from Road-runner 
the table. They soon became 

so thoroughly at home that ---' ' 'W^ffiim 

they would run up to the ^^^^^smi^ 
minister and beg for food, namw* 

just as will a dog. So fear- 
less were they that in walking about he had to put his toe under 
them to throw them out of his way. He found them the most 
easily domesticated of any wild bird he had ever caught, and 
always speaks highly of the way they kept his tomato vines free 
from caterpillars, and his "garden truck" from insects and other 

Mr. George W. Glover, Jr., the editor of the South Pasadenan, 
writes his editorials under the name "Roadrunner," and he 
publishes in Pasadena another weekly paper which he calls 
solely by his editorial name — The Roadrunner. Mr. Glover is 
also interested in mines on the desert and occasionally leaves the 
editorial chair for a pasear on the desert. He writes me about 
the road-runner as follows: "Wild, alert, always on the lookout 
for danger, suspicious to an inordinate degree, he is yet wise 
enough to know his friends. Go into camp where I will on the 
desert, if I remain but one night I see little of him. If I remain 

Vol. I. -11 

162 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

a week, before I break up camp I find it necessary to kick him 
from under my feet. At first he will come around the camp at 
a distance of several hundred yards, evidently sizing up the 
situation and seeking to know who his new neighbors are. When 
he finds that they are not aggressive he approaches nearer. 
Throw him out a few crumbs and he will run away, but he in- 
variably comes back for them. After this he ventures nearer, 
and if you talk to him as you would to a human being you soon 
win his confidence. Once I camped at a spot for a week and 
had this experience with a pair of these birds, so that the last 
two days they were fairly familiar. They had been much inter- 
ested in the small camp-fire, and whenever the cooking of meals 
began they were on hand. As I sat upon a rock holding the 
frying-pan in my hands they ran up to within a few feet, much 
interested in what was going on. When I left that camp those 

birds followed me for fully 

Road-runner i«p^ three miles, sometimes 

sunning. _^_ f-*%^==* , , . , . , 

ahead or, and sometimes be- 

hind my wagon, but keep- 
ing me in their company." 

One of the most tenderly 
cherished illusions of Cali- 
fornia is that the road-runner is the deadly foe of the rattlesnake, 
and will fence the reptile in with a hedge of prickly cactus, and 
begin to tease it. When the angry reptile strikes, the road- 
runner so arranges the thorns that he leads the snake to dart 
at the prickles, and this so mortifies and humiliates it that it then 
strikes its fangs deep into its own flesh and dies. 

One of California's most reliable authorities, T. S. Van Dyke, 
flouts this story as an altogether unreliable yarn. 

While I have never seen it done, I have talked with desert men 
who assure me that they have, and until I know the road-runner 
better I cannot condemn the story as emphatically as does Mr. 
Van Dyke. One prospector with calm protestation of truth tells 
me that many times when he has been riding or walking along he 
has watched the road-runner swiftly moving at a distance. Sud- 
denly he stops, looking sharply and steadily at a certain spot, 
while his tail bobs up and down, this side and that, corresponding 

Some Desert Birds 



somewhat to the excited and agitated movements of his head, 
while his crest rises until it stands like the feather cap of an Indian 
war-chief. He has caught sight of his arch-enemy, the rattle- 
snake, sunning himself, and — sound asleep. With a rapidity 
as wonderful as it is stealthy, the road-runner dashes off and 
shortly returns with a bunch of the cholla cactus dangling from 
his bill. Gently he lays it down conveniently near to the sleeping 
snake. Then he goes and comes, each time returning with his 
bunch of chollas, which he lays alongside that which he has brought 
before, until at last a complete hedge is formed around the uncon- 
scious snake. When he awakens he finds himself a prisoner. 
In vain he tries to escape. The sharp needles of the cactus prick 
him too severely. Angry, wounded, and defeated 
he retreats in sullen anger, only to be irritated 
by the raised crest, fluffed-out feathers 
and sharp bill of the road-runner. He 
darts his vicious head forward only to 
strike the wounding cactus, and when 
at length he is wearied with the long 
conflict his feathered foe begins a vig- 
orous attack. Striking here and there 
with his long, strong bill he soon kills 
the snake, and then, at his leisure, pro- 
ceeds to eat him. 

It is a good story whether true or not, and some day I intend 
to find out the truth or falsity, though, as I have stated elsewhere 
in relation to the horned toad, I have been unable in many years to 
make this interesting little creature do what a score of scientific 
observers assure me he often does. As yet I am not prepared to 
deny in toto the ability of the road-runner to do what so many 
affirm he does do. 

As to its eating snakes, that I can fully confirm. I have seen 
it kill snakes, even the sidewinder, though Mr. Van Dyke 
suggests that this must be when the reptile is sluggish on a cold 

Three things arrest one's attention the first time he sees a road- 
runner. These are the size and flexibility of the tail, the curved 
end of the bill, and the erectile crest, and a fourth may be added 

164 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

if one gets near enough to the bird to examine it closely, viz., its 
wonderful color. The feathers on the upper parts and wings are 
of a dull metallic olivaceous green, broadly edged with white near 
the end. There is a tinge of black in the green along this line 
of white, which itself is suffused with brown. The play of light 
on these feathers is exquisite, and the erectile movement of the 
crest is interesting in the extreme. Some of the crest feathers are 
a dark blackish blue. The tail movements are remarkable. I 
verily believe that if one were long familiar with the road-runner 
he might understand its thoughts purely by the motions of the 
tail. It reflects every mood of the bird. Like a Japanese con- 
jurer with a fan, the road-runner can play upon your emotions 
and imagination with his tail until you come to think it gifted 
with almost super-ornithological power. 


In size the bird is from twenty to twenty-three inches long, of 
which twelve or thirteen inches belong to the tail. Its eyes are 
very large and dark gray in color, with a dark blue iris. 

The young generally leave the nest in early or mid-April, and 
it is no uncommon thing for the teamsters to the mines to run 
them down about that time. Even at so young an age they run 
with fair speed, but are easily tired, and then, seeking the shelter 
of a bush to hide, are easily caught. The eye of the road- 
runner is surrounded by a naked spot, which above it in front is 
a deep Prussian blue, under the eye it shades down to a lighter 
blue and nearly white, while behind the eye it is orange. 

Thousands of a small bird that flies and skims the surface like 
a swallow are to be found in flocks at the south end of the Salton 
Sea. One morning I watched four different flocks of them. 
They flew to and fro, as close to the ground as possible, occasion- 
ally resting on the white salty soil. When they did so the birds at 
one end would fly, in sequential order, over the others and alight 
at the other end of the flock. As they kept this up for several 

Some Desert Birds 


minutes I wondered whether it was a definite plan taught them by 
centuries of experience, for the picking up of the myriads of gnats 
that we found covering our bedding when we awoke. The vast 
quantities of these gnats can scarcely be believed, yet so large 
was their number where we cached our boat effects and supplies 
in the volcanic rocks at the southwest of the Salton, that as we 
walked along and they arose from the ground they made a noise 
that resembled the roaring of the sea, or the rushing along of a 
train, when heard at a distance. 

In the chapter on the trip down the Alamo 
River I have told of the vast numbers of 
pelicans, herons, gulls, ducks, geese, etc., 
that there abound. A number of hawks 
and eagles were also seen. There are 
many of the latter in the northern part 
of the desert, all doubtless having their 
eyries in the summits of the near-by 
mountains of San Bernardino and San 
Jacinto. The eagle is well enough 
known to require no description at 
my hands, but there is a sublimity in 
the flight of an eagle on the desert that 

is not felt in any other place. For, as the great bird arises, wing- 
ing its fearless way directly into the eye of the sun, there is 
nothing to distract the attention from its heavenward flight. 
Here there is a sea of yellow nothingness below, and a sea of 
exquisite bluish-green space above in which this simple object 
of blackness floats and soars as though it sought entrance to the 
very palace of God. 

The largest of all North American birds is sometimes found 
on the mountains of the western edge of the Colorado Desert. 
This is the giant condor (S arcorampus californianus), and long 
supposed not to exist in California. As far as I can learn, it seems 
to be the link that binds the carrion-eating vulture to the live- 
flesh-eating eagle. As is well known, the eagle always prefers 
to kill its own food. The condor, on the other hand, though 
able to kill, prefers to find its meat fresh and sweet, but already 


166 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

slain, while, on the other hand, the vulture is better satisfied with 
carrion than sweet meat. 

In ascending, the condor has a spiral-like flight, though it 
sometimes gorges itself to such an extent that it cannot fly. Rais- 
ing its wings it runs in a ludicrous manner, but cannot rise, and 
finally, with an air of resignation, it hops to the nearest rock or 
fence-post, and there remains until the effect of its feast has dis- 

In appearance the condor is not unlike the vulture, though its 
feathers are of a uniform brown-black color. The head, down to 
the root of the beak, is covered with a beautiful lemon-colored 
loose skin, which sometimes deepens almost to orange. The beak 
is horny white, and curves over the lower bill, with a point as hard 
as iron. The under mandible is a perfect half-cylinder, into 
which fits with perfect accuracy a hollow tongue serrated with a 
hardened edging inclining down the gullet. The roof of the 
mouth has hard spinous points inclining in the opposite direction, 
and by forcing the meat it is eating against these spines it is torn 
and shredded in the process of deglutition. 

When erect, the bird stands fully four feet in height, and is a 
most imposing creature, appearing at a distance perfectly black. 
In flight, however, it is more than imposing. It floats without 
the slightest effort, and is the most graceful of all objects that 
navigates the air. From the summit of the high mountains, 
where the air is light and thin and one can clearly see objects at 
a great distance, I have watched this wonderful bird with a pair 
of glasses for over four hours, without discerning the slightest 
motion of the wings, sailing to and fro at times with the merest 
"cant" of the body, and then remaining motionless. The wings 
are "flapped" when they begin to rise from the ground, but when 
fairly aloft, save ingoing along in direct flight, no such motion is 
necessary. As they rise a white band is revealed on the under- 
side of both wings, but this does not extend across the body. 
An ordinary sized male will weigh twenty pounds, and its breast 
bone is eight inches across. It has two gizzards, the upper one 
small as a chicken's and the lower one four times as large. The 
inside of the large gizzard is lined as with coarse sandpaper. 

There is a penalty attached to killing the condor, but as re- 

Some Desert Birds 167 

cently as August, 1906, a band of four hunters, short of food, went 
out and killed a deer, which they bled and cut into quarters, 
putting it in the shade and covering it with their coats. A few 
hours later, when they returned, they found a giant condor on the 
meat, and he arose bearing a quarter of the venison in his talons. 
The four of them leveled their guns and shot simultaneously, 
and the condor fell with a broken wing. Though wounded, he 
put up a gallant fight, striking with his good wing and jumping 
directly toward his enemies. It was not until they had emptied 
their revolvers into him that he was killed. They report that he 
measured the enormous size of eleven feet seven inches from tip 
to tip of his wings, and this can readily be believed as they showed 
photographs of the wings alone that are over five feet long. 

A few days following that on which the account of the killing 
of the condor appeared, the secretary of the California Audubon 
Society announced that, as the law of the state protects the bird, 
and makes it a misdemeanor to have possession of even a part of 
one, he should institute suit against the men who did the slaying 
of this rare bird. It is to be hoped the suit will be successful, as 
there seems to be no other way of putting a stop to the needless 
killing of birds and animals by those who, having a gun, feel they 
must shoot and kill some living thing, no matter how useful or 

-* *m***k&Lf. 

A quiet and cool retreat in Andreas Canyon 


Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 



Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 

EPTILIAN life on the desert is peculiarly abundant 
and interesting. The various forms of rattlesnake, the 
large family of lizards, the chuckwalla, the Gila mon- 
ster, the desert tortoise, are all of singular interest 
to me. 

To those who are able to put aside their fears 
and inherited prejudices there is wonderful fasci- 
nation in the beauty, and the grace of movement 
of the rattlesnake. The delicate colors and the exquisite way 
in which nature tints the diamonds — the soft grays and 
olives and browns and salmon reds — cannot 
help but appeal to 
all true lovers of 
color harmony. And 
the erace of move- 

A desert 

ment, the easy, noise- ^^J^pljpl^ 

less, undulating ^SglO^: 

elegance of motion 

are unsurpassed by anything save an eagle in its soaring. 

The diamond-backed rattlesnake {Crotalus ruber, Cope) is 
common on the desert. Friends of mine have caught several 
near Mecca. Of two specimens before me as I now write, one 
is a rich reddish cinnamon, variegated in exquisite shades. 
Down the center of the back from head to within two inches of 
its rattle is a row of diamonds, irregular enough to give one the 
sense of real life as opposed to something made with the uni- 
form and monotonous regularity of a machine. The diamond is 
composed of a dark blotch, edged around with markings that are 
nearly black, and separated from each other by other edges of 
light cinnamon. The diamonds are more distinct and clear 

170 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

from the head of the reptile to about three-fourths of its length, 
where they begin to shade off and become less emphatic. The 
gastrosteges, or belly scales, are almost white. 

The wife of one of Chicago's distinguished clergymen so fully 
appreciates the beauty of the diamond rattlesnake that she is 
able to cast aside all feminine antipathy to the reptile and use 
its beautiful skin as an adornment for insertion in a dress waist. 

The other rattler has a skin of grayish brown, a little less at- 
tractive in color than the former one, but equally beautiful in 
form and general effect. Its length is four feet one inch. It 
has thirty-one diamonds from head to rattle. 

The Moravian missionary at Martinez has had several ex- 
periences with rattlesnakes. They are nothing out of the com- 
mon, and they serve to illustrate the possibilities in several years 
of desert experience. He was driving along one evening just at 
dusk, when his horse stopped and refused to go farther. The 
road was in the village and fenced in, therefore he could not 
make a detour, so, jumping out of the buggy, the minister ran 
ahead to see what was the matter. Suspecting the cause he 
went cautiously and there found a long big rattlesnake stretched 
across the road. To kill it was the work of a minute, and, 
after beheading it to make sure, he returned to his buggy and 
drove on. 

On another occasion, one afternoon in the summer of 1905, 
he had left his buggy in the yard. After supper he went out to 
put it into the shed. I should here explain that my friend is 
quite deaf and would be unable to hear a rattlesnake unless he 
were very attentive and quite close. As he picked up the shafts 
and started off, his wife, who by mere accident came out after 
him, heard a rattlesnake. Though she called out he paid no 
attention, went on, put away the buggy and returned. Next 
morning, hearing his dog barking at some object on the lawn, 
he went out and found the snake, wounded, and barely able to 
move. He had either trodden upon it or the buggy had gone 
over it, and thus injured it. He killed it and measuring it found 
it four feet and three inches in length. 

About two years ago he was going out to picket his horse 
behind the barn, when, suddenly, he came upon a rattler, coiled 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 171 

up, watching at a gopher's hole. He was walking quickly and 

being unable to stop stepped right over the snake. As soon as 

the horse was attended to, he returned to the spot and found 

the snake still there, undisturbed by his passing over it. To 

get a hoe and kill it did not take long. The snake was so intent 

in watching for his supper, — waiting for the coming out of the 

gopher, — that the movement of the man had not frightened 

him or driven him away. 

The first year of his ministry to the Indians his wife utilized 

a box placed on end with shelves inside it for a kitchen cupboard. 

One day she dropped a knife behind the box, and after failing 

to reach it, asked her husband to do so. He removed the box 

and there, as well as the knife, he found a rattlesnake coiled 

but apparently not angry, for it neither 

rattled nor made any hostile movement. *^ Tiger 

Of course it was speedily killed. *glfe^kv L " 

. JSin snake 

I have killed many diamond-backed 

rattlesnakes on the desert. In March, 
1906, as my companion and I passed 
through the Hayfields, in Crawford Val- 
ley (a place where, some years, gallena 
grass grows in great quantity), a large 
rattlesnake called our attention to his 

presence on the right-hand side of the road. There was not a 
stone in sight, and the only stick at hand was the stock of our 
rude riding-whip. Making a weapon of the handle, I struck 
the snake on the head, stunned him, and then cut off his head. 
My companion, who had had no experience with snakes, was 
horrified at the muscular contractions of the headless creature 
and was really afraid for me when, with startling force, the head- 
less reptile made what seemed to be a vicious and well-aimed 
strike at me. I skinned the body, and, though skinless, tailless, 
and headless, the body was still writhing and occasionally making 
the quick muscular dart forward of its strike when we left it. 

The flesh was white and clean and easily gives color to the 
statement made by many people that they have eaten the flesh 
of a rattlesnake. They say it is tender and sweet and far prefer- 
able to chicken. That may be so, — there is no accounting for 

172 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

taste. Personally I prefer chicken, especially if it is of the 
yellow-legged variety. 

When measured this snake was found to be four feet six 
inches long. His color was a variegated brown of a beauty 
impossible to describe. I never see the beauty of a dangerous 
reptile such as a rattlesnake, a Gila monster, a cobra, but I am 
led to the reflection, "Why waste so much beauty on a creature 
so repulsive to the major portion of mankind ?" Possibly man was 
not considered in the distribution of beauty among the objects 
of nature. He himself is one of the objects, instead of being an 
outsider, a superior creation. 

This rattler had thirty-five diamonds on his back of a peculiar, 
irregular, dark brown, with the diamonds in a deeper color, 
lined or edged with scales tipped with creamy brown. In some 
cases this edging is very indistinct, indeed almost absent on the 
head end of the diamonds, but very clear on the tail end. At 

the tail there is a half- 
circle of ashy 
color with four 
alternate quar- 

. ^7>,jr ter-circles, then 
A traveling ^mcigigBp n&8s^1/ 

rattlesnake ^^^ r ^^^^ one more half- 

circle and the 
rattles, of which nine were still on when the skin was dressed. 

Some six or seven years ago a rattler of this same species 
was found in this same locality — the Hayfields — which meas- 
ured over six feet in length, and over a foot in circumference 
at the thickest part of his body. The specimen I killed must 
have been a relative, for I have seldom seen a snake of this 
kind with so thick a body. 

The horned rattlesnake, or sidewinder, as it is commonl} 
called (Crotalus cerastes, Hallowell), is well known on the desert. 
I have found it north, south, east, and west. At Palm Springs 
I came upon a family of five at one time. They all came to an 
inglorious end under a huge rock. In the Eagle Mountain valley 
I killed one, and later my companion also killed one. A few 
days later I ran upon one in the dry wash coming down between 
the Chocolate and Chuckwalla ranges. The latter escaped into 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 173 

a dense pile of washed-down brush, but I set fire to it and hope 
he was burned. For of all the rattlesnake family I find this is 
the most dreaded. I suppose it is because it is quicker in its 
movements and its side motion makes it more uncertain where 
and how it will strike. 

It is much smaller than the ordinary rattler and is peculiar 
because of the horns which rise over each eye. These horns are 
the superocular scales which assume this shape. It is more 
marked, however, because of its strange side-winding motion. 
Instead of the straightforward progression of the ordinary 
snake it makes a strange twist to the right, and thus moves 
forward sideways, making a track upon the sand almost the 
shape of the letter S. At the head and tail of the letter a deeper 
depression is made, clearly showing that the snake rests first 
its head, then its tail in these depressions, giving its whole body 
a lift forward as it does so. Though it will fight if compelled, it 
is less aggressive than the ordinary rattler, and will always escape 
if it possibly can. It lives upon the rats, mice, chipmunks, and 
lizards of the region. 

At the end of April I have often found them in pairs, and it 
is probable that this is the mating season, though I am not able 
to determine their sex. I do know, however, that they follow 
each other as most mating creatures do, and are so interested 
and preoccupied as to forget to retire to their usual holes or shel- 
ter during the night. The result is we have often found and 
killed them in the cold mornings when they were too chilled to 
be able to move. 

All the sidewinders I have seen have had a peculiarly beauti- 
ful color, which reminds me somewhat of a bright new rug of 
soft colors and shades. The one I have before me now as 'I 
write has a body of pleasing gray, with a series of spots down 
the back of a very much toned-down salmon-red, and a corre- 
sponding series on each side, near to the belly, of almost black 
spots. Over the whole body are scattered minute grayish spots 
as if it had been sprinkled with an air-brush. 

For years it has been a common delusion that a rattlesnake 
could not strike unless coiled. This is utter nonsense. A 
rattler can bite when at full length, when moving, or, as I once 

174 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

found to my pain and narrow escape from death, when held 
securely in one's hands. When coiled he has the power of spring- 
ing to more than half his own length, and his speed and accuracy 
of aim make him much to be dreaded at such times, though his 
aim is not always certain. When uncoiled he can also spring 
half his length, and has the wicked art of swinging in a semi- 
circle when one least expects him. Even with his back broken 
he can strike, and when apparently dead should be approached 
with caution. I have known dangerous wounds inflicted by a 
"dead" snake, when an attempt was made to cut off his rattles. 
The muscular contraction caused by the incision of the knife made 
the apparently dead reptile swing around and give a bad blow 
and bite, for, as a rule, it should be remembered that the snake's 
action is not a "bite," pure and simple, but is a combination of 
blow and bite so rapidly delivered that it is difficult, if not impos- 
sible, for the unaided eye to follow 
-jflffi^fc^ffijlfc), the various movements composing 

^llll§0$w % /wMk ' t- With a rattlesnake held in my 

/MJ ^jS^x hand, and watching every move- 

l^^k wmk ment with keen and trained eyes, 

^*^||f|\ ^|\ I found it impossible to recognize 

iPt^ J^r^w tne P rocesses - And yet the snake 

Sidewinder \M^0$%fZ£^ u\. n i * j 

^j^W*^ can bite, as we usually understand 

the word. I have seen it force its 
fangs through a half-inch of flesh with no other motion than the 
bringing together of its jaws. Such a bite is possibly more dan- 
gerous, too, than the ordinary strike, for in a deliberate bite the 
fangs penetrate and the poison is injected more deeply than in a 
sudden blow. 

Another popular delusion is that the forked tongue of the 
snake is its dangerous "sting." The tongue of a rattlesnake is as 
harmless as that of a dog. Why the snake darts it back and 
forth, and why it is forked, and why it looks so wicked and vicious 
at such times I do not know. The fixed, steady glare of the eyes 
has a hypnotizing effect upon most people, and adds to that sense 
of conscious wickedness most people believe inheres to the rattle- 

Still a worse and more dangerous delusion is that whisky is 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 175 

the best "antidote" for snake poison. The following of this de- 
lusion has slain far more snake-bitten people than have been 
poisoned. Let it be clearly understood that whisky, save in doses 
of a teaspoonful every half-hour, is a most dangerous "remedy" 
for snake-bite. It kills many a person who would have recovered 
if nothing had been done. Leonard Stejneger, the government 
expert upon this subject, emphatically says: "It cannot be em- 
phasized too much, or too often, that intoxication" (alcoholic), 
"so far from helping the cure, helps the poison, and that persons 
having been made intoxicated beyond excitement, when under 
treatment for snake-bite, and yet recovered, have so recovered not 
from the treatment but in spite of it. It should also be remem- 
bered that the alcohol has no beneficent direct action upon the 
venom; on the contrary, applied locally or intravenously, it seems 
to add to the virulence of the poison." 

It will doubtless prove in- . A °P en m01lth °f 

, .. ■- rra&VLVi sidewinder 

teresting to the generality or 

readers to know accurately the 
" how " of the rattlesnake's 
venomous bite. The fangs 
are hinged to the upper jaw, 
and are covered with a sheath, 
somewhat after the fashion of a cat's claw. Each fang is a 
large and curved tooth terminating in a sharp point. Near its 
root it is grooved, or slit, then the edges of the slit close and it 
becomes a canal, to open again into the groove near the pointed 
tip. When the snake wishes to strike, the fangs are unhinged 
downward, after the mouth is very widely opened. The two 
actions are not dependent upon each other, as the mouth is often 
opened and the fangs remain sheathed. For while at rest they are 
enclosed in a muscular sheath, which drops back into folds at the 
base when the tooth is in active service. The elevation of the 
fangs is a voluntary action on the part of the snake, and it is 
sometimes done with a deliberation that is as lazy and slow as the 
action of a sleepy cat. 

In striking from the coil the rattler is not to be supposed com- 
pletely coiled. The neck and upper part of the trunk are not 
thrown into circles, but lie in two or three curves or folds across 

176 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

the mass of the coiled body, with the head raised three or four 
inches. Out of its mouth darts the forked tongue, an invariable 
sign of irritation and anger. The end of the tail is generally 
either elevated a little from the center of the coil or on one side, 
and is projected far enough away to allow of its vibrating with 
freedom and speed. The noise is one to be readily recognized 
by those who have never heard it, and never forgotten by those 
to whom it is familiar. 

With a dart forward that is lightning-like in its rapidity, the 
snake strikes its object, and as the teeth or fangs enter the flesh 
several muscular movements take place almost simultaneously. 
The body of the snake acts as an anchor, while a neck contraction 
draws the head back so as to force the fangs in deeper. At the 
same time certain other muscles draw the points violently back- 
ward, and this sinks them deeper still. Immediately, or simul- 
taneously, the lower jaw, with its pointed teeth, closes upon the 
object, and this results in the farther deepening of the wound 
and in the injection of the poison. If the object be large and 
flat, so that the lower jaw cannot get under the object, this last 
action is considerably minified, though the ejection of the poison 
takes place. 

According to Dr. Weir Mitchell the muscles that help draw up 
the lower jaw are so folded about the poison gland that it is simul- 
taneously squeezed and the poison is thus forced into the duct 
leading to the fang. This would make the ejaculation of the 
poison involuntary on the part of the snake, though elsewhere 
the learned doctor explains fully his discovery of a sphincter 
muscle which, by its contraction, closes the duct, so that, although 
there is muscular pressure upon the gland, the snake, at will, 
can close the sphincter and thus prevent the ejaculation of the 
poison. My own observations have confirmed this, as in my 
own case when bitten, though both fangs penetrated my thumb, 
the right poison gland only was evacuated, and I afterward 
forcibly compelled the ejaculation of the poison from the left 

The connection between the gland, the duct, and the fang will 
be clear from the accompanying diagram. But it should be 
remembered that the fang, when closed and sheathed, has no 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 


connection with the duct. It is only when the fang is raised that 
the two come together, and should there be any misplacement 
of any kind, the poison escapes through the opening of the duct 
and tails to enter the fang. This fact explains what many have 
noted but failed to understand, viz., that sometimes there is a 
large amount of the venom spilled outside the wound made by 
the fang. 

The growth of the fangs is a remarkable provision of nature. 
Behind the fang in service are a number of subsidiary or reserve 
fangs, the one nearest to the active fang being thrust forward 
when required to take its place. If it be lost or shed it is speedily 
replaced (within a few days), but if broken or violently displaced 
it requires several weeks. There are from eight to ten of these 
reserve fangs in all stages of 
growth, from tiny ones that ap- 
pear as mere points. 

The poison glands are at the 
rear of the base of the fangs, be- 
hind the eyes, on the sides of the 
upper jaw. In shape the gland 
is a flattened, almond-shaped 
oval, the rear end being well 
rounded, and the front end taper- 
ing to the duct, which begins just behind and below the eveball. 

The mouth glands of reptiles are more specialized than the 
mouth glands of amphibia. This is clearly shown, not only by 
the fact that they are separated into distinct groups, but by the 
greater complexity of the individual elements of the glands. The 
poison gland of the rattlesnake is a modified form of a part of 
the upper labial gland. This gland has no well-defined homo- 
logue in the mouth of the mammal, though a number of small 
glands occupy nearly the same position, and have a similar struc- 
ture. It would be interesting and instructive if we could trace 
out, step by step, the modifying processes, and understand the 
conditions that caused the modifications from a harmless labial 
gland to a poison-secreting gland. 

It would seem that it ought not to be necessary, at this day 
and date, to have to smite another popular illusion about the 

Vol. I. - 12 

Diagram showing rattlesnake' s 
fangs and poison glands 

178 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

rattlesnake. Yet as I am constantly meeting with it in daily life 
I will refer to it in these pages. It is a popular belief that the 
number of rattles denotes the age of the snake, there being one 
rattle or bone for each year. This is utter nonsense. I have 
found large and old rattlers with but two or three joints, for the 
rattle is a most delicate instrument, easily broken or injured. 
The fact is the joints grow at the rate of from two to four each year. 
One careful observer who reared some snakes in natural condi- 
tions found that the joints corresponded with the exuviation (or 
skin-shedding) of the reptile, and that of two snakes one, at the end 
of sixteen months, had six joints, and the other seven, though the 
latter, at one of the exuviations, lost three of the joints. Hence, 
though both of the same age (sixteen months), one had four joints 
and the other six, and none but the observer would have known 
that the four-jointed rattle reptile had lost three of his joints. 

There has been much discussion as to the real purpose of the 
rattle, and scientists have not yet come to any unanimous con- 
clusion. As far as the relation of man is concerned the rattle 
is a decided disadvantage to the reptile. But, of course, the 
rattle was evolved long before man appeared upon the scene. 
It has been suggested that the object of the rattle is to decoy 
insect-eating birds into the range of the rattler's spring, because 
even man often mistakes the call of the locust (Cicada rimosa, 
Gay) for the rattle. But how about the facts that rattlesnakes 
eat comparatively few birds, and that birds in hunting insects 
seem to rely far more upon their sight than the sounds they hear ? 

Other learned professors contend that it is for the purpose of 
attracting the sexes together at mating time, and it has been 
observed that during a fight with hogs other snakes responded 
to the rattling of the reptiles that were attacked. 

Still another suggests that it may be for the purpose of paralyz- 
ing the snake's prey with the sound, but experience demonstrates 
that animals and birds alike hear it and are both unconscious 
and unafraid, unless in the very presence of the reptile. 

A su£o-estion that finds much favor is that the rattle is a noise 
of warning, and therefore part of the defensive armament of the 
reptile, suggesting to the outsider that the poisonous creature is 
alert, aware of his presence, and ready to defend himself. 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 179 

Herbert Spencer believed that the rattling of the snake's tail 
is like the wagging of a dog's tail, an escape of nervous force 
which can find no other ready mode of manifestation at the time. 

All these theories are interesting and it may be there is a 
modicum of truth in each of them. 

The most practical thing of all, however, is to know how to 
treat a snake-bite, should one be unfortunate enough to be bitten. 
Much depends upon the dangerousness of the bite, viz., the 
depth of the wound, the amount of poison ejected into it, and, 
of greater importance still, the location of the wound. 

Ordinarily few snake-bites reach the veins, hence the action 
of the poison is slow, and the bitten person need have no fear. 
The first thing to do is to tie a strong ligature or two between 
the wound and the heart, wherever practicable. A broad, flat 
band is better than a string- which cuts into the flesh. Tighten 
this band by twisting it with a stick. This band should be re- 
leased for a moment or two every ten minutes to allow a trifle 
more of the poison to be absorbed by the system. Now cut 
with a pocket knife as deeply into the flesh as the snake punc- 
tures have gone and make the blood flow freely. Suck out the 
blood from the wound. This is perfectly harmless unless the 
person doing it has abrasions of the skin on lips, tongue, or mouth. 
Now administer a teaspoonful of whisky, 770/ more, every fifteen 
minutes, and get your patient to a doctor as quickly as possible. 

There are remedies, however, that one can carry in his vest 
pocket, and that are as easy to apply as the foregoing directions 
are to follow. I have had a small case prepared, accompany- 
ing which is a small pamphlet giving full particulars of how to 
use the remedies. 

As a rule a horse is afraid of a rattlesnake, especially if it has 
been bitten. Two lady friends of mine were driving over the 
desert, and they suddenly came upon a rattler sunning itself in 
the road. As the horse approached his snakeship drew himself 
up into a coil, and lifted both his head and his rattle in warning, 
darting his forked tongue to and fro. The horse, immediately 
he heard the rattle, backed off, and the ladies, not knowing 
what was the matter, sought to urge him forward, even using 
the whip for the purpose. But the horse knew best, and, for- 

180 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

tunately, the desert being free from gullies, he was soon out of 
danger, and, making a respectful detour, continued his journey. 

The Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum, Cope) is seldom 
seen on the Colorado Desert, though in twenty years I have seen 
three or four. This is a large, heavily built lizard, from a foot 
to two feet in length, with short limbs and tail, and entirely 
distinct from any other lizard of the region, both in its size and 
stockiness of build. It and the rattlesnake are the only two 
dangerous or poisonous reptiles of the desert. 

Many desert people will tell you that the heloderma has no 
poison glands and that, therefore, his bite is not dangerous. 
This error doubtless arises from the fact that there are well- 
authenticated cases of his bite that have caused nothing more 
than a slight inconvenience. But it is a most dangerous error. 
The venom of the heloderma is as poisonous as that of the rattle- 

Gila monster 

snake, as several people who have been bitten have found out to 
their cost. For many years I have been investigating this sub- 
ject and I will make quite clear why some people are bitten by 
the heloderma without injury and others suffer severely. 

The venom glands are situated under the chin — thus being 
on the lower jaw, instead of the upper, as in the case of the 
rattlesnake. "They are modified from glands which correspond 
to the sublingual glands of mammals. There are four ducts 
leading out of each gland. These ducts perforate the lower jaw 
and open in front of the grooved teeth. A careful study of the 
dentition of the heloderma shows that there are several inter- 
mediate forms between the unmodified teeth of the reptile and 
the fully developed poison fangs. The poison glands are com- 
pound tubular glands, closely resembling the other salivary 
glands in structure. The peculiarity of their secretion is to be 
explained by their physiological activity rather than by their 
structure." So writes my friend, Dr. C. A. Whiting of the 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 181 

Pacific College of Osteopathy, who has given some time to the 
study of the teeth and glands of the heloderma. Though their 
poison teeth are grooved, there is no direct connection between 
the poison glands and the teeth, as in the case of the duct of the 
rattlesnake. The poison flows out onto the floor of the mouth, 
between the lips and the gums, that is, into the interior of the 
bottom jaw. Being below the teeth and not directly communi- 
cated to them, the poison sometimes fails to find its way into a 
wound. The saliva of the upper jaw is perfectly harmless, as is 
also the same saliva in the lower jaw. But it must not be for- 
gotten that there is also a deadly venom in the lower jaw, which 
gets mixed with the saliva. 

As a rule the Gila monster is lazy and sluggish, and one might 
play with him for hours and keep him as a pet for years and 
never see any sign of anger. But let him be angered and then 
he is dangerous. And the real danger comes when, as he bites, 
he turns over. With a vicious lunge he seizes the object and at 
the same moment turns over with lightning-like rapidity. He 
can hold on with the tenacity of a bulldog or he can bite so 
quickly that he "snips" a piece of flesh out easier than one 
would pinch off a piece of a cracker. I have seen this action a 
hundred times, and this is what one must beware of. When the 
reptile thus bites, holds on, and turns over the danger of the case 
is as great as the most dangerous bite of a rattlesnake, for in this 
position, if the poison glands are active, the saliva and poison 
commingle and flow freely into the teeth and thus into the wound. 
As will be seen in my comments upon the chuckwalla, this "turn- 
ing over" is a habit of the latter reptile. Yet the chuckwalla 
has no poison glands. There seems, however, to be a relation- 
ship in this peculiar habit, which, as far as I know, is confined 
to these two reptilian inhabitants of the desert. How strange 
and singular the provisions of Nature for the protection of her 
various children! 

With the chuckwalla the rapid turning over seems to be to 
give added purchase in biting its enemies or prey. The ques- 
tions that arise are: Is the turning over of the heloderma for the 
purpose of rendering effective the working of its poison appara- 
tus ? If so, what is the reason of the turning over of the chuck- 

182 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

walla ? Is it a survival of a useless and unnecessary habit in the 
chuckwalla, seeing that it has no poison to distribute, or is the 
development of the poison glands in the heloderma a later evo- 
lution, while the chuckwalla has evolved in a different line ? 

The treatment for the bite of the heloderma is the same as 
that for the bite of the rattlesnake. 

In a wild state the heloderma lives largely on birds' eggs, 
young rabbits, and though apparently so clumsy and slow is 
an expert bush climber. I have seen him perched high on a 
mesquite and have been considerably startled at his presence. 
His five-toed "hands and feet" are well adapted to climbing, 
which he does both easily and gracefully. Certain specimens that 
have been in captivity are thus referred to by Professor R. L. Dit- 
mars, their curator at the Bronx Zoological Park: "The Gila 

monster may be placed under the head of omnivorous lizards, 
as in captivity it feeds almost exclusively upon eggs — the food 
which most certainly cannot form a large proportion of its 
nourishment in a wild state. Our captive specimens never have 
been induced to take other food than eggs, either boiled or raw, 
the latter sometimes mixed with chopped meat. Unless mixed 
with eggs they will not eat meat. With stolid indifference they 
refuse morsels that are dear to the ordinary reptile of their size, 
such as very young rodents, large grubs, and meal worms. Ants 
and their eggs are said to furnish a large proportion of this 
reptile's food, but all the specimens under the writer's observa- 
tion have refused them. They have lived with us for four years, 
and have thrived upon their simple and unvarying diet." 

In referring to the changes noticed in the actions of captive 
animals when placed outside and under the influence of the 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 183 

outer air, sunshine and natural surroundings, Professor Dit- 
mars thus writes of the heloderma: "The most interesting demon- 
stration of this mental change has been in connection with 
specimens of the venomous Gila monster. In their cages these 
lizards are the personification of good nature, permitting them- 
selves to be handled in the most unceremonious manner, with- 
out the least show of bad temper. Removed to a sand-pile 
heated to a high temperature under a bright sun, and left for a 
few minutes, they become different creatures. They will snap 
viciously from side to side, and resent the least intimation of 
interference with sharp hisses as they lie open-mouthed, await- 
ing an opportunity to close with bulldog tenacity upon an 
offending object. On several occasions when endeavoring to 
extract poison from these lizards, the writer has been unable to 
provoke them to bite, but after giving them a sun-bath for a few 
moments had considerable difficulty in disengaging their jaws 
from the glass vessel in which the fluid was collected, although 
the temperature of the outside air and sunlight which had aroused 
such hostility differed but slightly from the warm air of their 
indoor cages." 

The heloderma is a strictly oviparous lizard. A captive speci- 
men, measuring nineteen and a half inches, deposited four eggs, 
each two and three-quarters inches long, and one and a half inches 
in diameter. The eggs were covered with a leathery integument, 
but, though fertile, the conditions for development were adverse, 
as, in spite of every known precaution, they shriveled up and 
their contents solidified. 

Few people, save experts, have any idea as to the number and 
variety of the lizards found even in the limited area of the desert. 
Van Denburgh names and describes a large number that are 
found either on the desert proper, in the passes leading into it, 
or on the surrounding mountains. 

All of these species have habits, anatomy, and markings pecul- 
iarly their own, which would require far more space than I can 
afford merely to enumerate. The following general descriptions, 
with a few specific details of individual species, cannot fail to 
prove interesting. 

Especially would I commend to students of art in form the 

184 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

markings on the bodies of some of these reptiles. Of their kind 
there is nothing more beautiful in creation than the markings on 
the skin of some rattlesnakes and lizards. Nature seems to have 
provided for every esthetic need of man. Designers for dress 
patterns, wall-papers, even table-cloths can find suggestions 
innumerable in these markings; nay, many of them are all ready 
to be bodily transferred, with such modifications of color as their 
new uses may suggest, into commercial forms of surpassing 
beauty. Take, for instance, the markings on the body of the 
silvery footless lizard, and those of the diamond-backed 

The chuckwalla is the best known of the larger lizards of the 
desert. It is sometimes known as the Alder- 
man lizard, though its scientific name is 

Sau r om alus 
ater, Dame'ril. 
This is one of 
the most in- 
teresting crea- 
Chuckwalla tureg of the 

The chuckwalla has a body something like that of a toad, flat 
and squat, about three and a half inches across, with a thick 
stubby neck, and the head of a lizard. Its head is about eight 
inches long. The complete length of one specimen that I meas- 
ured was thirteen and a half inches long, divided as follows: head, 
one and a quarter inches; neck, three-quarters of an inch; body, 
four and one-quarter inches, and tail, seven and one-quarter 
inches. His body was beautifully mottled or spotted, mainly 
a dark reddish brown, with small spots of orange and cream. 
The tail was of light gray or cream, and with armored rings. The 
whole appearance of the body covering was almost that of fine 
and rich beadwork, the beads being exceedingly small and 
symmetrically arranged. They were in perfect rows, and the 
size of the bead (which in reality is a scale) grows smaller the 
farther away it is from the spine. On stroking the body it felt 
like a hard-napped velvet, so smooth and fine were the scales, 
but upon stroking it the other way, or towards the head, it had 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 185 

a rough and wood-fiber feeling. The color under his stomach 
was the same as on the upper part of the body, save that it 
was a little darker. 

The various specimens of the chuckwalla show great variations 
in color and in the bands on the tail. The specimen I have 
before me now has no bands whatever. Van Denburgh says 
"these may be present or absent in the same individual at differ- 
ent times, and the change seems to be, at least to some extent, 
directly under the control of the animal." 

When my specimen was caught he made show of fight, open- 
ing his mouth either in anger or fear, and showing his two rows 
of saw teeth, that looked almost like very small fish-bones. In 
the hands the chuckwalla readily subsides and seems thor- 
oughly to enjoy being stroked and petted, especially on the head. 
He closes his eyes, as if in perfect content, and makes no attempt 
to escape. The ears have almost the appearance of attenuated 
fish-gills, and the five fingers of the four feet are a singular com- 
bination of bird and monkey claw. When frightened the chuck- 
walla exhales so that his sides suddenly cave in and then the 
skin wrinkles up like the face of a very old Indian. 

The chuckwalla is doubtless harmless as far as venom is con- 
cerned, as the scientists assert, but when angered he is quite 
vicious, both with tail and mouth. His teeth, however, are not 
very marked. They are like those of a fish, but his grip with his 
jaw is strong. He also, like the Gila monster, has a habit of ex- 
pelling the breath, scarcely a hiss, which is an indication of anger or 
fear. When he bites viciously he turns completely over, and if 
the substance he bites is of a yielding nature I have seen him turn 
with such force as to roll over three or four times. As I write 
a captive chuckwalla, tied by a string, is at my feet. On poking 
my pencil at him he bit it so viciously as to cut off the point (with 
some of the wood), and then, when I shook a paper before him, 
he suddenly bit that and rolled over three times, so as to com- 
pletely envelop himself as in a paper wrapper. He coiled the 
string around his body several times, and I had to turn him back 
again or cut the string in order to release him. 

The Chuckwalla Mountains receive their name from the fact 
that large numbers are found there. In fact, in all the mountains 

186 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

between the Salton Basin and the Mohave Desert the chuckwalla 
is abundant. He loves the rugged, creviced rocks. Here he can 
lie and bask in the hot sun to his heart's content, and here, in the 
crevices, he finds shelter and home. The buds and blossoms, 
leaves and young shoots of the creosote bush give him abundant 
food, and in the spring at any rate, when the rains have made 
every plant flourish, he is evidently happy, contented, and well fed. 
He is a somewhat shy creature, averse to being watched too 
closely, though somewhat sluggish in his movements, and by no 
means aggressive when attacked. He slides into a near-by crack 
or crevice, and lies there as if hoping you will speedily go away 
and leave him. If you can reach him with a stick and touch his 
hind legs, he has a way of striking a vicious side- 
stroke with his tail that would very 
effectively knock out any small 
animal that stood in its 
Like a released 

My chuckwalla showing fight 

spring it strikes "thud," and the tail being covered with a hard 
armor, the blow is not to be despised. 

If you force him to a further retreat he will seek to penetrate 
to an extremely narrow crack where you cannot possibly reach 
him. He has powers of compression that are remarkable. But 
if while in this position you can seize his tail, and think that 
thereby you have him, you are destined to find out your error. 
You pull, and pull, and continue to pull, and if your strength 
surpasses your knowledge you will pull a portion of the poor 
creature's tail off, but you will make no progress in removing him 
from his retreat. For a long time I could not see what it was 
that gave him such a tenacious hold. His claws did not seem 
strong enough, and on several occasions I was able to pry up the 
rear legs so that there was no holding power in them, and yet the 
reptile held on. At last I discovered that when he was entrapped 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert is? 

in this manner he fills his lungs to their utmost capacity. This 
pushes his body, both belly and back, close to the rocks above 
and below, and the rough surface of his body then gives him a 
sure hold upon the rocks. When he is thus wedged in, and it is 
possible to get at his head or nose, a few prods will cause him to 
exhale. Then he backs or sidles out as easily as can be, though 
before you may have thought the crevice so small that he was 
wedged in and could never escape. 

I am not sure but that it is a fiction that it does not hurt a 
chuckwalla to pull off his tail. I saw two one day, the first of 
which had lost over an inch and a half of his tail. The other had 
his full complement. I followed the latter one to his hiding- 
place, where he showed no fight, but tried to get farther from 
me in the narrow cleavage of the rock. I caught his tail and 
pulled. About an inch came off. At that point there was no 
blood, but a full inch higher up a little blood oozed from between 
the joints of his armor, and therefore I am inclined to think a 
wound was caused which produced pain. When I tried to make 
him show fight by prodding him in front he made no effort to 
escape, but opened his mouth and seized the brass end of my 
pencil so that it required a sharp jerk to remove it. There was 
also a slight frothing at the mouth. 

The Indians of the desert, who still live in a somewhat wilder 
condition than their brothers of the settlements, regard the 
chuckwalla highly as an article of diet. They waste no time in 
dressing them, but throw the whole reptile, skin, tail, and all, into 
the stew pot. The eater of frogs' legs can readily believe what 
others may rather doubt, that the chuckwalla, properly prepared, 
is a dish for an epicure. Especially after the spring rains his 
flesh is white, sweet, and tender, and is not unlike the dainty flesh 
of the frog's leg. 

In our various peregrinations my assistants and I have often 
seen the chuckwalla climb the greasewood and creosote bushes 
and eat the young buds. Various dissections have convinced me 
that he is, as a rule, a strict vegetarian, and I can vouch for the 
rich delicacy of his flesh. It is white, sweet, tender, and juicy. 

Few people, looking at the lizards as they dart to and fro in 
the sunlight, see any similarity between them and the birds. 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

Yet all our leading scientists tell us that birds and lizards are so 
closely allied, share so many and important structural char- 
acteristics that they are united in one group — the vertebrates, 
or animals with a backbone. So careful a scientist as Huxley 
declares that the chief or most positive difference between reptiles 
and birds as we know them to-day is in* the matter of feathers. 

In other words, the bird is but a reptile covered with feathers. 
Yet, to our unaided eyes, how wide the gap seems, and what a 
reflection it is upon our so-called "instinctive feelings." We 
shudder with horror and disgust at the sight of a lizard, while we 
exclaim with rapture at the sight of a bird. 

Yet to the unprejudiced eye — and I think mine is one — the 
beauty of the lizard does not suffer in comparison with the beauty 
of the bird. The colorings and markings of the one are as ex- 
quisite and perfect in their way as 
are the feathers and colorings of 



alligator lizard 

the other. And while nothing can be compared with the graceful 
flight of the bird, it cannot be denied that the graceful and easily 
fluent motion of the lizard is a matter of wonder and delight to 
the observer. 

Birds have peculiar breathing powers, owing to the hollowness 
of their body structure. Lizards, too, have the power of breath- 
ing when buried in hot sand. Birds molt their feathers at stated 
times, and so do most reptiles, the only difference being that the 
feathers of the birds come out one by one, while the scales of the 
reptile, with the entire skin that holds them, come off at one and 
the same time. We are all familiar with the shedding of the skin 
of the snake. The reptiles do the same, yet few of us have real- 
ized that these two apparently dissimilar operations are prac- 
tically one and the same thing. And while the shedding of the 
bird's tail may not seem to have anything to do with the ease with 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 189 

which one can pull off the tail of a lizard, it is a remarkable fact 
that both bird and lizard have the power to grow a new tail in 
about three weeks when the conditions are favorable. 

The eggs, too, of the lizard are exactly the same as those ot 
the bird, save that the latter have a lining shell, while the former 
have only a thick, membranous integument. The lizards lay 
their eggs in the warm, moist earth, never in dry sand if they can 
find the moisture, and leave them for the sun to mother. 

When they are small how puny, cunning, and interesting they 
are! How curious they are! If curiosity is preeminently a 
human trait it is one that has descended from a long line of 
ancestors, beginning with the lizard, for as soon as he sees 
anything strange he first squats down, as if to hide, and then, 
overcoming his fear, he must see what goes on. Stretching his 
legs to the utmost, he rises, as it were, 
on tiptoes, cranes his neck, looks in- 
tently and at the slightest movement 
squats down again with great rapidity, Small 
to repeat the stretching and peeking as desert 
soon as he thinks it is safe. lizard 

One seldom sees lizards out early in 
the morning. They love the warmth, and wait until the sun has 
risen. I think I never saw one, except in a very exposed place, 
until after seven o'clock in the morning. 

The desert whiptail, commonly called the snake-lizard (Cnemi- 
dophorus tigris, Baird and Girard), is a long, beautifully colored, 
and graceful creature, that is not unlike a snake, with four legs 
added as an afterthought. The body is a rich, old gold green, 
the head almost black and spotted with a greenish bronze. He 
waddles along in a slow and deliberate manner, over, under, 
and around the rocks, seeking his food, but when scared or 
pursuing an insect he can dart with great rapidity. I have seen 
one leap a distance of two feet with perfect ease. 

One very interesting lizard is the desert night lizard (Xantusia 
vigilis, Baird), quite a number of which are found in the region 
of the Devil's Garden, northwest of the San Gorgonio Pass. 
This peculiar lizard seems to love the tree yuccas and is found in 
quantities in the dried trees, stems, and branches that are rotting 

190 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

on the ground. In catching them one has to be quick and 
expert or they waddle away with fair speed, and invariably aim 
to get under one's shoes or even up one's legs. They possess the 
power in a marked degree so common to many of their class, not 
only of adapting their color somewhat to the soil of their habitat, 
but of becoming lighter colored when exposed to the light of 
day. As night approaches they turn dark again. These changes 
take but a few minutes to accomplish. 

This species of lizard is ovoviviparous, giving birth to fully 
developed offspring, as many as three having been known to be 
born at one time. 

The most beautiful lizard I have ever seen I caught on the 
Colorado Desert in 1906. It is the leopard lizard (Crotaphytus 
wtshzenii, Baird and Girard), and is known to the 
miners and teamsters of the desert as a "man 
eater." The reason for this name is clear. 
The markings on the back of this species 
of lizard are all suggestive of the rich mark- 
ings of the man-eating leopards 
or tigers of India. 

This little creature had lost 

r , ., , c T , s^^ The banded 

part of her tail before I caught Gekho Uzard 

her. She was very swift and I 

had a long chase before she was 

captured. Her body is a rich brownish cream, with markings of 

a purplish black. Irregular lines occur in this beautiful black 

that yet preserve a certain conformity and appear the same on 

each side of the center line. The design of these lines is made 

up of small dots, no two alike, in the approximate center of which 

a tiny speck of black and red surrounded by infinitesimal specks 

of variegated color or tint occurs. Sloping down on each side of 

the body to the hind legs she has a greenish tinge, and the whole 

body, from head to tail, is iridescent and exquisite beyond the 

power of words to describe. The "texture" of the body is as 

fine as velvet to the softest touch, and the tiny creature seems to 

enjoy being stroked and caressed. I had to carry her nine miles 

in my hands as I walked in the hot sun, and every once in a while 

she made a vigorous struggle to escape, as a cat held on one's 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 191 

lap will, but there was no viciousness or attempt to bite. Once 
when I was writing she was at my left hand on the desk, her 
forelegs stretched up to their longest capacity and her head on 
one side peeking at me with the greatest curiosity. To keep 
her out of the reach of possible dogs or cats I placed her on the 
top of a polished bookcase. But it was very uncomfortable for 
her, for she could not travel on a smooth surface. Her legs 
worked with great rapidity and she struggled to escape with an 
effort that was pathetic, and yet it was all in vain. She scarcely 
moved a half an inch as the result of all her efforts. 

I brought her home with me in a box containing a chuck- 
walla, and barely had time to unpack them one morning before 
hurrying to catch a train. In the haste the lizard could not be 
seen, but soon afterward my daughter 
found her, and, not knowing what to |S&r* Horned 

do with her, telephoned to Mrs. Eliza- ^pi^. ioa d 

beth Grinnell, the well-known student «fVj£%?f'5lfc 

and authority on birds and lizards. r^&WX ^4'% ''^.. Jr^?. 
She replied that the best thing was to f&z*£sk 

put the little creature in a box or other 

receptacle, with plenty of sand on the bottom. As no box was 
handy a round zinc wash-tub was found, with sides a trifle over 
a foot high. Dry sandy earth was put on the bottom and the 
lizard duly installed. For food "sow bugs" — as they are called 
— were hunted for, but she despised and studiously rejected them, 
while live flies were eaten up by the half-dozen. When thirsty, it 
was both interesting and comical to see the little creature lift up 
and throw back her head, and stretch her forelegs as if trying to 
turn a back somersault, and then eagerly lick with the tongue 
the drop of water held on the extended finger. 

In the house she became very slow and torpid and evidently 
glad to be handled, and so every once in a while I would take 
her out of her tub and hold her in my hands. The mornings 
being cool we invariably heated a rock for her, and then she 
stretched out at full length on it and enjoyed the warmth to the 
full. In the middle of the day when I could so place her tub 
as to catch the direct rays of the sun she became very active and 
would run around and try to jump out of her place of confine- 

192 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

ment. I have watched her for half an hour at a time, after the 
sand was thoroughly warmed, trying to leap out. Stretching up 
eagerly from the highest part of the sand, she would look toward 
the edge of the tub, gather herself together and make a leap. 
It was a trifle too high, however, for her to escape, though a 
few times her claws caught upon the rim and she was able to 
pull herself over. 

When wearied in the daytime or when ready to go to rest at 
night she buried herself in the sand. For this purpose her nose 
was well adapted. It is of a peculiarly rounded form, flat under- 
neath and somewhat shovel-formed above. Her use of this 
shovel-shaped nose became very apparent as we watched her 
burying herself in the sand. Drawing back, as if for a veritable 

dive into deep water, she plunged 
Homed forward with a quick, decisive mo- 

tion, wriggling her nose into the 
sand as she pushed herself forward. 
Much quicker than I can write it, 
she completely covered her body, 
where she lay squat and still until 
ready to come out again. 

With great regret I parted with 
my pet and committed her to the 
careful keeping of Professor Ditmars, who now has her safe, I 
hope, in the Zoological Park at the Bronx, New York. 

The horned toad is another of the peculiar denizens of the 
desert, though by no means confined to it. I have found several 
varieties of the horned toad on the Colorado Desert, chief of 
which is the one named after the desert (Phrynosoma platyrhinos, 

In the course of a week's wanderings on the desert one will 
see scores of these interesting little creatures. In color and 
design they are often markedly different. Whether this is the 
result of age, of variety in food, or of different environment I 
cannot say, though differently marked toads will be seen within 
a mile or two of each other and in a very similar habitat. 

One of the most beautiful is where the design is picked out in 
blacks, brick-reds, and creamy white. These colors are not all 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 193 

absolutely of one shade. They gradate in tone and this adds a 
subtle charm to the general beauty. 

Yet in movement the horned toad is slow and peculiar and the 
spines on his head and back give him a singularly grotesque 
appearance. These doubtless are the reasons that so many 
people are interested in them and make pets of them. They 
tame readily and will soon come and take flies and other insects 
from one's fingers. Van Denburgh tells of one of the most 
singular characteristics of the horned toad as follows. I copy 
the quotations from other writers just as he has them: "Indi- 
vidual specimens which have been recently caught often show 
considerable anger when handled, puffing themselves up and 
hissing fiercely, seizing their tormentor's fingers with their im- 
potent jaws, or throwing at him a stream of blood from the 
corner of the eye. It is said that Mexicans call them sacred 
toads because they weep tears of blood." The best account of 
this most curious habit has been given us by Dr. O. P. Hay, who, 
writing of a specimen of Phrynosoma frontale, says, in part: 

About the first of August it was shedding its outer skin and 
the process appeared to be a difficult one, since the skin was 
dried and adhered closely. One day it occurred to me that it 
might facilitate matters if I should give the animal a wetting; 
so, taking it up, I carried it to a wash-basin of water near by 
and suddenly tossed the lizard into the water. The first sur- 
prise was probably experienced by the Phrynosoma, but the next 
surprise was my own, for on one side of the basin there sud- 
denly appeared a number of spots of red fluid, which resembled 
blood. ... A microscope was soon procured and an examina- 
tion was made, which immediately showed that the matter 
ejected was really blood. . . . There appeared to be a con- 
siderable quantity of the blood, since on the sides of the vessel 
and on the wall near it I counted ninety of the little splotches. . . . 
The next day ... I picked up the lizard and was holding it 
between my thumb and middle finger, and stroking its horns 
with my forefinger. All at once a quantity of blood was thrown 
out against my fingers, and a portion of it ran down the animal's 
neck; and this blood came directly out of the eye. It was shot 
backward and appeared to issue from the outer canthus. It 

Vol. I.— 13 

194 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

was impossible to determine just how much there was of the 
blood, but it seemed that there must have been a quarter of a 
teaspoonful. I went so far as to taste a small quantity of it, 
but all I could detect was a slight musky flavor. 

" Mr. Denton . . . has communicated to me his experience with 
a horned toad at Sonora, California. . . . He was gently strok- 
ing the animal on the back, when it appeared to look at him as 
if taking aim, and then, all at once, a stream of blood was shot 
into his eye. There was so much of it that it ran down on his 
shirt bosom. He thought that there was between a tablespoonful 
and a teaspoonful. The blood was shot out with so much force 
that some pain was produced, and there was pain felt for some 
little time, though this ceased as soon as the blood was wiped out. 
The next morning the eye was somewhat inflamed, but this con- 
dition soon passed away. Not long afterward, perhaps the next 
morning, the animal squirted blood out of the other eye." 

Mr. Vernon Bailey, who caught the horned toad which after- 
ward became the subject of Dr. Hay's article, writes: 

On taking it in my hand a little jet of blood spurted from 
one eye a distance of fifteen inches and spattered on my shoulder. 
Turning it over to examine the eye, another stream spurted from 
the other eye. This he did four or five times from both eyes, 
until my hands, clothes, and gun were sprinkled over with fine 
drops of bright red blood. . . . About four hours later it 
spurted three more streams from its eyes." I myself have ob- 
served this strange performance twice, only in these instances 
the blood was not projected forcibly but trickled down the sides 
of the lizards' heads. 

Upon this remarkable habit of the horned toad Professor 
Ditmars gives his experience as follows: 

"Various disputes have arisen over the possibility of this 
occurrence. Over two hundred specimens, representing differ- 
ent species, were examined. These were teased and provoked 
most persistently by the writer and the keepers, but without 
result. Their general attitude was to feign death, with eyes 
closed. They seldom attempted to bite, but when placed on 
the ground would make off" with great show of speed. 

"During these investigations Mr. Otto Eggeling of this city 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 195 

received a consignment of five hundred horned lizards, and with 
the idea that from this large number there should be some dis- 
play of the habit — if it existed — he transferred them from one 
box to another, with vigorous handling. Mr. Eggeling states 
that although some struggled energetically to escape from his 
grasp, some feigned death, and a few made feeble efforts to bite, 
no jet of blood was ejected from a single individual. Subse- 
quently Mr. Eggeling has received other shipments of horned 
'toads,' aggregating a total number examined of about eight 
hundred, and thus far he has failed to observe a single instance 
of the interesting performance that has been accredited to these 
creatures. With eight hundred of these lizards examined by 
Mr. Eggeling, and over two hun- 
dred by the writer, it appears that 
over a thousand specimens of these 
lizards, representing principally the 
species Phrynosoma cornutum, P. 
coronation, and P. plainvellei, have 
passed careful observation with 

no exhibition of the very eccentric XJf m "'" '' , . 

... _ . r jaw Desert tortoise, 

habit referred to. It therefore ^^ top view 

appears that the performance de- 
scribed by Dr. O. P. Hay must be limited to a very small propor- 
tion of these creatures, or was accidentally elicited by some unique 
measure not practised during our investigations." 

Personally my own experience has been like that of Dr. Dit- 
mars. I have aroused the toad so that his eyes have been suf- 
fused with blood, but I never got one angry enough to eject the 
blood. Yet friends, scientific and others, in whose word I have 
the most implicit faith, tell me that they have witnessed it so 
often that they gaze at me in astonishment when I tell them 
that I have never seen it. 

Be that, however, as it may (as I fully accept the testimony 
above given), I can state most positively that the chuckwalla, 
when teased or angered, will eject water from his eyes — enough 
to cause surprise to the beholder — say from twenty to forty 
drops. I do not recall that any observer has yet noted this fact 
which I have witnessed again and again. 

196 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

In certain localities the desert tortoise (Gopheius agassizii, 
Cooper) is quite common. I have picked up five specimens in 
one afternoon, and a friend of mine eight in two days. Three 
fine examples are walking around my feet now as I write, and one 
is quite companionable, for he wants to walk all over my desk 
when I lift him up. He has no objections to my scratching his 
head and gently rubbing the soft part of his flesh between his head 
and legs. The shell of this particular tortoise is nine inches 
broad and eleven and one-half inches long. With head and 
tail extended he would be fully three inches longer. His mark- 
ings are very beautiful as will be seen from Mr. Eytel's drawing. 
While he draws his head in with great rapidity he shows little 
fear when I take him on my lap for further examination. His 
eyes are large, bright, and clear, and have an opaque covering 
which slides over them from the front backward 
at will. The eyelid covers from below. While 
the top of his head is as hard and scaly as alli- 
gator skin, the tip of his nose is soft and sensi- 
tive. In traveling he feels with his nose. It 
is his organ of touch. His front legs are — I 

Desert tortoise, scarcely know what shape to call them, but 
bottom view , , . 

more awkward and clumsy looking contrivances 

could not be planned. When folded up in his shell they double 
up, the hand with its five horny toes (fingers or claws) shutting in- 
side, the whole presenting a solid and armored front to the foe, 
for the exposed parts of the legs are covered with a scaly armor 
that is very tough and impenetrable. The rear legs (fitted with 
only four toes) are more like those of an elephant than anything 
else I can think of, especially when he stretches them out, and 
his tiny, pointed tail is capable of being folded up so that it does 
not appear. When molested or afraid he instantly draws in 
head, legs, and tail, thus completely closing up both front and 
rear apertures and presenting nothing but armored surfaces to 
his enemies. 

Yet though so clumsy looking he is a more rapid traveler than 
one would imagine, and his distances lead one to believe that 
iEsop knew what he was talking about when he made the tortoise 
win the race with the hare. He can walk fully a dozen miles 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 19 7 

in a dozen hours, and when it comes to burrowing, I have seen 
one make a hole in the ground with — while not the rapidity 
of the dog — far greater sureness and persistence. They can 
scoop out the earth and throw it behind them with accuracy 
and speed. 

In walking he first reaches out with the left front foot, then 
right rear foot, right front foot and left rear. The forefoot is lifted 
awkwardly, and on placing it down it rests first on the inside toe 
and then upon all the others in order, and, as he progresses, finally 
upon the ball of the foot, to be lilted again, reached forward and 
replaced upon the first toe, etc. As he rests his weight upon it 
he gives it a partial twist as the corresponding rear foot is raised 
for its progressive motion. The rear feet rest upon the ball of 
the foot and toes simultaneously, just as the elephant's does, if 
my memory serves me correctly. 

The reach of the tortoise is very irregular, but rather remark- 
able. Here are the successive reaches of his left front foot, in 
inches: 5; 3!; 5I; 6^; 4*; 5-}; 7; 5J; 6J; 5; 4^; 7-J; 6*; 4. 

When alarmed he can not only take long strides fas some of 
these indicate), but is able to go at considerable speed, fullv two 
and one-half miles per hour. 

In color the shell is blackish brown on top and lighter beneath, 
with the peculiar horn-like color showing even in his rough and 
unpolished condition. The under shell or plastron, as will be 
seen from the drawing, has a front extension upon which the head 
rests and slides in and out. This also serves another most valu- 
able purpose. When traveling over rocky surfaces, the turtle 
must sometimes drop from one level to another. I have seen them 
fall fully two feet. In walking they come to the edge of such a 
place, calmly look over, indifFerently give their shell a push as 
far as possible with their hind legs, and then with one or two 
more vigorous pushes thrust themselves over, to fall upon this 
plastron extension. If it were not there the head and neck would 
most certainly be injured. At the rear of the plastron the bone 
is curved in to allow room for the tail and anal vent. 

For a few weeks I had four of these desert tortoises on a 
lawn in Pasadena, and spent many hours watching them. Occa- 
sionally I would bring the large one into my library for study, 

198 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

and he would wander about, peering at everything on his level 
with the greatest apparent curiosity. 

While walking the flies often settled on his nose and bothered 
him considerably. It was quite amusing to see the comical 
fashion in which he would stop and, twisting his nose toward 
his awkward elbow, give his nose a rub, straighten out and pro- 
ceed. He evidently does not approve of the flies of civilization, 
for, while it cannot be denied that there are flies on the deserts 
away from the haunts of men, it can safely be asserted that the 
proportion is as one to a million in favor of the wild places. 

When I tickle him between his neck 
and legs he exhales with a kind of half- 
grunt, and I can compare the noises he 
makes at such exhalations to nothing 
more exact than the inarticulate "gug- 
gling" of a young baby when content 
with full feeding. 
The desert tortoise is peculiar in that he has no teeth. The 
lower jaw is most peculiarly constructed. The whole front of 
the jaw is of bone, with a slight suggestion of notching. At the 
rear of this exposed part inside the mouth is a parallel sharp 
ridge of bone or horn, thus forming a kind of groove with the outer 
jaw and where the teeth would ordinarily be placed. 

As far as I have seen and can learn 
he is a pure vegetarian. He is very ^ss^as&a^^^x-a-t d 

fond of the leaves and young shoots ^^ a ^^^^^^^^^^ rCcae ^ 
of many of the desert plants that ^ *• ^*.^» 

are thriving at this time, — after Scorpion 

the spring rains. All those I have 
caught have their jaws stained green with their recent feeding. 

Mr. E. T. Cox, writing about the desert tortoise in the Ameri- 
can Naturalist, says: "In preparing this specimen, I found on 
each side, between the flesh and carapax (the upper shell), a 
large membranous sack filled with clear water; I judged that 
about a pint ran out, though the animal had been some days in 
captivity and without water before coming into my possession. 
Here then is the secret of his living in such a dry region; he carries 
his supply of water in two tanks. The thirsty traveler, falling 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 199 

in with one of these tortoises and aware of this fact, need have 
no fear of dying for immediate want of water." 

As yet I have not brought myself to the slaughter of one of 
these creatures, and the men of the desert who say they eat tor- 
toises have been able to give me no information as to the facts 
stated by Mr. Cox. 

I have spoken to teamsters and miners who have often caught 
the desert tortoise, and they agree that they must have an extra 
water supply. But their observations necessarily were cursorily 
made, and I have not met with one who has dissected the tortoise. 
They invariably speak of the fact that when first picked up they 
evacuate to the amount of two or three large tablespoonfuls of 
clear liquid, which, however, they regard as an incontinence of 
urine caused either through anger or fear. 

The desert tortoise is good for food, especially the flesh of his 
four legs. When put in hot water the scales peel completely ofF, 
and a rich, delicate flavored meat is left which 
epicures claim is most delicious. ^ Centipede 

At one camp we stopped at, on one of our 235 
trips, the owner told us of his first experience < "fe^F???f?ffes 

in eating the desert tortoise. Said he: "I had 
a Mexican, Carlos Diablo, working for me. Once he spoke 
enthusiastically of the wonderful feasts he used to have on 'tor- 
tugas.' ,1 paid little or no attention to him as I thought he re- 
ferred to the tortugas — turtles or tortoises — of Florida or 
Mexico, in both of which countries he had been. It turned out 
later that he meant our desert turtle, and my curiosity being 
aroused, I told him I should like to see how it tasted. Not long 
after he caught a fine large turtle, and after he had killed it and 
completed the hard task of removing the shell and skin, he 
boiled the flesh during a whole night, seasoning it with salt, red 
pepper, and garlic. It was delicious, and I only wish I could 
serve you some now that you might see what fine food the desert 

My four specimens are now in the Bronx Zoological Park, New 
York, where I was compelled to send them, as my many absences 
from home render it impossible for me to keep them. 

There are scores of red ant-hills on the desert, appearing like 

200 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

small craters rising from the sand or gravel. Many of them are 
perfectly formed as to shape, and a few have the peculiar color 
and granulated appearance as if made of grape nuts. The 
material of which the "crater" is made is slowly and laboriously 
brought up from under ground by the ants. They are indefat- 
igable miners and this is their waste pile. But they are not 
mining for the discovery or exploitation of minerals or any sub- 
stance they find beneath the ground. 
They are merely excavating for a home 
(C ^^** and storehouses. This work is gen- 
erally done in the early morning. 

1 CLYQ.'Yltl/tLCL 

Foraging on the outside comes later in 
the day. They come through the vent with a piece of stone in 
their antennae with which they slowly climb up the side of the 
crater. A few conscientious workers carry their pieces to the 
top where they "dump" them to roll down on the outside. 
Others just find the nearest and most convenient spot, drop their 
burden and return for more. 

The largest caterpillar I ever found on the desert was in April, 
1906. He was on the stem of a plant which I failed to note 
and was fully two inches long. He had three pairs of legs very 
close together at his head, four pairs at regular intervals on his 
body, and one at his tail end, above which a brownish speckled 
horn, nearly half an inch long, was exalted. His body was 
striped green down the center, with a black stripe on each side 
of this, followed by a narrow green strip and a narrow black 
strip. Then there came a broad strip of 
green, and at the junction of sides and 
belly a slight strip of spotted red and black. 
There were touches of red at regular in- 

1 (XT (lilt It id 

tervals on the upper black stripes. 

Though as a rule there are few mosquitoes on the desert there 
are times when they come in swarms. In the year 1900, in June, 
not far from Imperial Junction there seemed to be a breeding 
place for them. Their numbers were countless and they made 
sleep at night impossible. The same year and at the same time, 
or a few days later, a few miles from Yuma, near the Colorado 
River, they made life a burden. Constant smudging, day and 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 201 

night, was necessary. A work train was sent to do some special 
work on the railway, and at times the workmen were so dis- 
tressed that they grew frantic and threatened to quit work to a 
man unless they were given a few hours' release. To accord them 
a little rest the train was brought up to Ogilby and then provision 
made for keeping smudges going during the rest of the time the 
work was progressing. 

The tarantula {My gale avicularia) is occasionally seen on the 
desert. It is nothing but a large, hairy, overgrown spider. 
There are two or three different species, but except to the en- 
tomologist the differences seem slight. They belong to the trap- 
door spider family. 

The great foe to the tarantula is a hornet or wasp-like insect 
called the tarantula hawk (Pompiltus formosus). The female, 
when ready to lay her eggs, flies eagerly 
about looking for a tarantula. As soon 
as she sees the great, hairy-bodied spider, 
she alights upon it and with the speed of 
a flash of lightning darts her sting into it. 
There must be some preservative quality 
in the poison she injects, for, while the in- 
sect dies, its body does not decompose 

T • 1 arantula 

nor dry out. It has not yet served its 

purpose. Digging a hole some five inches deep the hawk now 
rolls the body of the tarantula into it, and deposits her eggs 
either in or on the body. She now closes up the nest. When 
the larvae leave the egg they find themselves supplied with food 
enough to last until they are fully grown. All the transforma- 
tions occur in the underground nest, and finally the adult insect 
emerges after reaching its perfect stage. 

The dinapate is one of the largest beetles of its family and is 
also one of the rarest in the world. It was originally found by an 
entomologist named W. G. W right in the wild palms of the 
Colorado Desert. Year after year he visited these palms and 
secured as many beetles as he could, collectors being anxious to 
obtain them. 

In January, 1886, a description was published in the "Trans- 
actions of the American Entomological Society," by Dr. G. H. 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

Horn, of a large beetle, larger than any Bostrichide known, 
which was said to have been found on the Mohave Desert. It 
was named Dinapate wrightii after its finder. Little was known 
of its habits or that of its larvae, as no one but Mr. Wright knew 
of its existence. But in 1897, H. G. Hubbard, one of the most 
enthusiastic entomologists of the United States, started out on a 
still hunt for the beetle and its life habits. He found that it 
was not an inmate of the Mohave Desert, but of the Colorado, 
and that it made its home in the giant fan-palms indigenous 
there (Neo Washington! a filifera). For over a month Mr. 
Hubbard climbed up and down the steep canyons trying to find 
what he was so desirous of finding, a colony of the larvae of this 
wonderful beetle in one of the palms. His searches were ulti- 
mately rewarded. He first found 
a dead and disintegrated speci- 
men of this gigantic Bostrychid 
beetle lying between dead fans 
at the foot of a young palm. 
Says he:"Manyof theold palms 
are uprooted by the flood wa- 
ters, and I saw probably fifty of 
these prostrate trunks upon the 
ground. Almost all of them 
are perforated all over with round open holes, into most of 
Which I can insert the end of my thumb. Some of the holes 
will, however, only admit the little finger. These holes, evi- 
dently made by dinapate larvae, open directly into a huge pupa 
chamber which is two inches long and lies vertically with the 
grain not more than one or two inches from the surface." 

He found the logs showing from one hundred to two hundred 
and fifty holes of exit of the larvae, and concluded that once a 
log is vacated by a colony of them it is never again attacked, for 
the reason that all its nourishment is completely eaten out. 

The female cuts into the trunk of these giant palms and there 
deposits her eggs. When it is remembered that the fan leaves 
falling around the trunk make a covering from eight to ten feet 
thick, it can be seen what a great borer the beetle must be to 
cut its way through into the trunk. No living tree is ever sup- 

Tarantula hawk 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 203 

posed to be attacked by them, though it has been suspected that 
the dinapate herself kills the tree in order to make a home for 
her eggs. On this matter Mr. Hubbard writes: "When I con- 
sider the limited number of these trees (palms) in existence in a 
wild state, and the slender chance the female beetle must have 
of finding a dying tree in the right condition and at the right 
time, I am more than ever inclined to suspect that the beetles 
deliberately kill the tree in which they oviposit. If they killed 
the tree merely by feeding as adults upon the buds there would 
be many trees killed, for often more than two hundred adults 
issue from a single infested trunk." 

The larvae remain in the trunk one, two, or possibly three 
years ere they emerge as full-grown beetles, and during this 
time they tunnel the palm into a series of galleries in a truly 
marvelous fashion. " It is hard to 
realize the enormous extent and di- 
mensions of the dinapate galleries," 
says Hubbard. "Not the largest of 

our Florida palmettos could support 

,1.1 r r^u i The Dinapate wrishtii, 

more than three or lour oi these larvae; ., , , ■*,, , 3 . !, 

. the Large beetle found in the 

they would eat it all up and then die desert palms 

of starvation. If there are twenty or 

thirty holes in one of the Washingtonia palms, one finds the interior 
entirely eaten out from end to end, and one can follow the galleries, 
over one inch in diameter, for twenty feet up and down the trunk 
following the grain and without diminishing sensibly in diameter. 
Then think of the yards and yards of smaller galleries made by 
the larvae while still young. Such extensive and prodigious bor- 
ings cannot be made in one or two years, and certainly not in 
any tree trunk of moderate size. There is certainly no other 
plant here than this Washingtonia palm that is capable of sup- 
porting a brood of these huge and voracious grubs. Therefore 
I do not hesitate to assert that they exist only in the Washing- 
tonia, and that they are very certain soon to become extinct. 
I regard the discovery of a colony as one of the most interesting 
entomological events of my life." 

He took four pieces of the trunk, containing the larvae, into 
his bedroom and during the night enjoyed hearing them cut the 

204 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

fiber with a snap like a pair of scissors. In June these pieces 
were sent to Washington and in August a small number of the 
beetles were bred from the wood. This was a matter for great 
rejoicing. Mr. Eytel's drawing is from a photograph of one of 
these bred specimens. 

Mr. Wright's operations in the first instance were carried on 
with great stealth. He did not want others to know of his find. 
In his eagerness to get the rare beetles he cut down a number 
of the palms, but as they were already dead this was not a serious 
injury. When the holes were seen by the people at Palm Springs 
they deemed them made by carpenter-bees. 

The dinapate has been called the dodo of beetles, both on 
account of its size and also that it is supposed to be almost ex- 
tinct. It is a large black beetle, fully an inch in length, the 
female being larger than the male. It has a strong frontal plate 
and the great jaws of the pupae are wonderfully adapted for the 
work of cutting their way through the fibrous part of the palm 
in their search for food. 

The entomologist will find the Colorado Desert a rich field. 
It has never yet been fully explored, and new species are 
pretty sure to reward the man who is willing to make the desert 
his abiding place for a while and penetrate, as does the pros- 
pector, into its secret recesses. Near the river there are numbers 
of a fine green Buprestid (Gyascutus planicosta), easily caught in 
the early morning hours. The click-beetle (Chalcolepidius 
webbii) is abundant on the willows. It reaches a length of nearly 
an inch and a half, and is bluish in color with a broad cream- 
colored border. To merely mention the desert species would 
fill several pages, and while, of course, many of them are to be 
found elsewhere, those that appear on the desert are often mod- 
ified by the peculiar conditions that exist there. 

One interesting feature of the desert insects is that during a 
dry year the eggs and pupae will be in a dormant state. Or, at 
least, this is the supposition of entomologists most familiar with 
desert conditions. Either this is the case or the beetles that reach 
a mature condition are so few as not to be seen. Experiments 
have confirmed the former view, for eggs and pupae have been 
submitted to adverse conditions and it was found that this arrested 

Reptiles and Insects of the Desert 


their development. The fertility of the eggs was not impaired, 
and the following season, when favorable conditions existed, full 
development followed. 

The best time by far for the entomologist on the desert is during 
or immediately after a long wet season. These seasons rarely 
occur, but when they do an abundance of rare objects is sure 
to appear. Not only an abundance in the variety, but also, as 
in the case of the dinapate, an abundance of one particularly rare 


Gila monster 


Plant Life on the Desert 



Plant Life on the Desert 

CLASS unto themselves, the plants of the desert 
are set apart. Or at least that is what they 
seem when you make your first cursory survey. 
Extended observation, however, demonstrates 
that, while there are marked desert features in 
many plants known elsewhere, and quite a 
number that are confined to the desert, there 
is not as much difference, after all, between the 
flora of the desert and that of the more fertile 
areas. It is the conditions that make the differ- 
ences. Plants, even as animals and man, find 
life a hard struggle upon the desert, and jet, 
with a picture in my mind's eye of the rich 
and glorious beauty of the flowers as we found 
them in various almost unknown desert valleys 
in March ("1906), where they flourished in lux- 
urious abundance and marvelous varietv, such 
words seem utter nonsense. But one might 
travel on the desert for years and not see such 
a display. In twenty-five years of winter and 
summer experiences, this was the first time I 
had been so privileged. The facts are, that to 
most plants the fierce heat and the lack ol 
moisture render growth most difficult, and that, 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

except when freshened up and brightened by the rains, most of 
the trees and bushes have a bleached, blonde, bloodless appear- 
ance that adds to the neutral, colorless effects of the floor of the 

Seen when rain has been scarce even scientific observers come 
away railing at the scarcity of plant life, and the almost waste of 
time their search has proved to be. 

Dr. John L. Le Conte, of the California State University, who 
visited the desert in 1850, was not impressed by what he saw. 
He says the only resources to shorten the way were very limited 
geology, and, as may be inferred from the nature of the country, 
"equally poor botany. It is no wonder that government reports 

abound with names of plants 
which suggest nothing but lin- 
guistic difficulties, for there is 
little else in the vast deserts to 
occupy the attention of the in- 
telligent traveler; and with the 
determination of one resolved 
to struggle with the dull sub- 
limity of inorganic matter, he 
frequently breaks off and pre- 
serves a piece of some hideous 
vegetable, whose only charms 
are the ugliness of its form, the 
lifelessness of its color, and the apparent absence of flower and 
foliage and everything else that renders a plant attractive." 

There are times when these severe strictures upon the floral 
presentations of the desert seem to be deserved. At others they 
would appear to the most casual observer to be unmitigated un- 
truths and impossible slanders. 

This fact cannot be too strongly impressed both upon my 
readers and desert visitants. It is a place of contrasts, marked and 
vivid. Plant life is no exception to the general rule. One year, 
one month in the year it dazzles, startles, delights, enchants with 
the reckless variety and profuse gorgeousness of its floral display, 
and then eleven years, or eleven months (speaking figuratively), 
it would nearer fit Dr. Le Conte's depreciative view. 



aa nacetefolia) 

Plant Life on the Desert 


These very facts are one of the desert's allurements. If in 
your association with some person you know there is a possi- 
bility that you will strike him at a time when he will far 
transcend ordinary mankind in the brilliancy and charm of his 
conversation, you will be willing to undergo considerable bore- 
dom to catch those rare flashes of genius and mental glory. So 
with the desert. And yet I wish also to assert in the most forceful 
manner, that if one can go to the desert in the receptive spirit at 
any time, he will find the plant life of the most restrained period 
of growth more than interesting;. It is fascinating. The cactuses 
alone are a most fascinating study, 
and when to these are added the pe- aMflfr ifrj& 

culiar desert trees and plants, the tfkflj 
botanist has a field rich, rare, and ^Qs^ 

Plant life on the desert has a won- 
derful vitality, or Nature has a mar- 
velous way of caring for it, for after 
a rain the flowers spring up in a 
profusion and variety that are as 
bewildering as they are delightful. 
Here are flowers that one seldom 
sees; not a few; nor are they poor 
specimens, but in great quantities, and 
full grown. One drives over mile 
after mile of them, fascinated and 
entranced. They are worthy children 
of noble sires. Whence came they ? 

Are they natural products of the desert ? I scarcely think 
so! It seems to me it is far more likely that they have been pre- 
served from some far-away, long-passed epoch of Time, when 
the desert was more hospitable and kind to flower and animal. 
As the climatic and other changes have come the seeds have been 
preserved in the earth, lying dormant perhaps for long decades, 
or even centuries, deep below the surface. Then fierce rains, 
cloudbursts, floods came and almost uncovered them, leaving 
them with just enough of protection to give shelter and moisture, 
which, in the heat of the sun, caused germination. Then the eye 

Vol. I. -14 

" Hen and 

chickens ' ' 



210 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

of the solitary desert traveler was charmed and delighted by the 
new floral treasures suddenly called forth in such wealth and 
profusion. For a few short days he enjoys them to the full, then 
they die down and are not seen again, perhaps, for several years. 

It is wonderful how desert plants and trees reach out for water. 
One day I saw exposed what appeared to be an insulated tele- 
phone wire of a deep reddish brown color. It was the root of a 
bush that seemed quite dead until I carefully examined it, 
and then you saw that it was very much alive. The root was ex- 
posed by a winter freshet, and as I pulled it I dragged out 
more until there was over twenty feet of it. It is this power of 
reaching out for water, this persistence in clinging to a life that 
seems almost hopeless, that give one such an admiration for the 
brave struggles of these desert plants. They persist in living. 
They are unconscious examples of the strenuous life. They 
know, or at least seem to live as if they knew, that there is no 
attainment without constant and strong endeavor. 

Then, too, what a difference there is between the cultivated 
garden and the natural growth of flowers in the desert! In the 
garden everything is forced, artificial, conventional, in bonds. 
Every flower must grow where it is set, and it is trained and 
trimmed and tied and directed into a stiff primness that some 
people regard as beauty, but that a large-minded soul cannot 
help but feel is a torture and a spoliation of the real life of the 
flower. But in the desert all is free. Liberty is supreme. Every 
flower grows when, where, and as it will; and there is a spon- 
taneity, a wild, glad, joyous giving apparent in every flower that 
grows, as if it were conscious of the fact that it gives of its sweetness 
and beauty, not at the behest of a gardener, but of its own gracious 
will. This is the charm of the flowers we see and enjoy in the 
desert valleys. 

In his incomparable prose-poem "The Desert," Dr. John C. 
Van Dyke says: "Many tales are told of the flowers that grow 
on the waste after the rains, but I have not seen them though I 
have seen the rains." How I wish the distinguished writer could 
have been with me on the trip to the Brooklyn mine in April, 
1906. In the Crawford Valley (as well as others) the desert set 
forth a display of flowers that I have never before seen equaled. 

Plant Life on the Desert 


I have been at flower shows, have reveled in the floral treasures 
of emperors, kings, queens, and nations, have been entranced 
by the horticultural glories of Kew Gardens, Kensington Gardens, 
les Jardins des Plantes, and the great displays at numbers of 
World's Fairs, yet I speak the truth with calm sobriety when I 
say that for splendor and immensity of display, everything else 
seen in the whole of my life put together was not to be compared 
with this. Possibly the San Joaquin plains, as described by John 
Muir and Madge Morris, in the early days before many white 
feet with their "civilizing;" destruction of nature's glories had 
trodden upon them, may have been equal to that which we saw. 
Mile after mile, straight ahead, be- 
hind us, and on each side, were car- 
peted with flowers. To merely name 
them would take several pages of 
this book, and to give adequate de- 
scriptions would need a volume. Here 
were phacelias, rare and beautiful 
asters, and gilias that excited the 
cupidity of expert botanists when 
their eyes fell on them; thousands of 
specimens of Mohavea viscidia, their 
primrose leaves dotted with reddish Gum 
spots, and many varieties of erigeron. plant 
The enotheras were marvelously rep- 
resented, and, as in the flowers of the cactus, these desert speci- 
mens were unusually delicate and beautiful in coloring. Lupines, 
borages, kramerias, mentzelias — but why merely name them ? 
Suffice it to say that hours were required to merely go over the 
specimens we brought home. 

In their growth and native arrangement they often delighted 
beyond measure. A richly green creosote bush would be sur- 
rounded by the flowers in circular beds, but devoid of the rigidity 
of division that ordinary gardeners seem to prize, and that Nature 
ever abhors. First there would be a circle of blue, then white, 
yellow, pink, white and yellow, terminating at last in a long ap- 
proach of a rare and beautiful gilia. Sometimes these gilias were 
white, but there were equal numbers of pink, and yellow. 

The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

Altogether the picture of the flowers of Pinto Valley has made 
an epoch in my memory. That is one of the things I can never 

There is no doubt that to the plant life some of the healing 
virtues of the desert are attributable. The air is often redojent 
with the pungent odors extracted by the fierce sun from the plants, 
which, full of resinous and other oily substances, render them 
forth only on such strong persuasion. Being thus held in sus- 
pension in the atmosphere that closely hugs the earth, they 
constitute of it a specially medicated area in which every breath 
taken, whether through mouth or nostrils, penetrates to the 

bronchial tubes and lungs and 
deposits there the tiny particles 
of healing virtue. Here is the vis 
medicatrix natures at its best. 

Among other plants one here 
finds the wild tobacco, which with 
its large long leaves and rich 
yellow blossoms grows profusely. 
It is common to find it six feet 
high, and now and again one will 
see a clump of it with stalks fif- 
teen and even twenty feet high. 
The Mexicans claim that it is not 
indigenous to, this part of Califor- 
nia but that it was brought here 
from Mexico. 
The quelite is a large species of chenopodium, the seeds of 
which the Indians have long used in making a rude bread which 
is by no means unpalatable. In the days of early emigration to 
the gold country this plant formed the chief feed of the horses 
and cattle. The emigrants called it "careless weed" from an 
imperfect hearing or rendition of the Indian name. It would 
better be spelled kel-e-tey. 

Of lichens alone the desert has a wonderful assortment, not, 
of course, in the actual sandy barren areas, but in the oases and 
on the mountain slopes. On the granite and other rocks, on 
the earth, among the mosses, on living pines and oaks, on dead 

Desert thistle poppy 

(Argemone platyceras) 

Plant Life on the Desert 


pine wood logs and branches, fertile in some places, barren in 
others close by, these modest and unobtrusive members of the 
plant family grow. 

The trees of the desert are equally as interesting as the flow- 
ers. There is not a large variety, but each one has its own 
peculiar attractiveness. There are several trees that immediately 
attract the attention of newcomers to the desert, and that grow 
upon acquaintance. These are the honey-pod mesquite (the 
Algarobia glandulosa of Torrey, and the Prosopis velutinea of 
later botanists); the screw-bean mesquite {Prosopis pubescens), 
the smoke tree {Dalea spinosa), the desert willow (Chilopsis 
sahgna), the small-leaved palo verde {Parkinsonia microphylla), 

oj old 

and the creosote bush (Larrea mexicana). In various canyons 
as well as on the plain near Indio the fan-palm (A 7 eo-ivashingtonia 
filifera) has its native and only habitat, this palm being now 
determined as a distinctively Colorado Desert species. 

On the mountains are the nut-pines, Pinus caulteri, which 
produce the largest cone known. It abounds on Mount San 
Jacinto. Though the Saboba and Santa Rosa Indians do not eat 
the nuts it is said that other Indians do, but of this I am not sure. 
The pinion pine (Pinus monophxlla), commonly known as the 
Pinus edulis, is found on many of the mountain slopes and is 
justly esteemed for the rich flavor of its nuts. The Mexican 
locust tree {Robinia neo-mexicana) is also found on the desert. 

In several of the dry washes near the Chuckwalla range I 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

found specimens of the cat's claw {Acacia greggn, Gray) and it 
is seen occasionally as far west as Banning. 

In some of the valleys the principal feature of vegetable growth 
is the ocatilla (Fouquiera splendens). This peculiar tree is a 
bunch of thorny sticks shooting up from a common center, each 
stick evidently trying to grow up straight but, being compelled 
to yield room to its fellows, finally compromising on a slight 

angle. Each stalk grows inde- 
pendently of all others and at- 
tains its own individual height. 
Some are very straight, others 
fall over almost like the grace- 
ful palm, and still others have 
sudden angles and strange twists. 
Sometimes the very tips, after the 
stem has grown up straight to a 
height of twelve, fifteen, and even 
eighteen feet, droop over with an 
air of dejection which seems to 
say the battle to keep straight is 
too hard. Occasionally they at- 
tain a height of twenty feet. I 
have counted one hundred and 
twenty stems on one ocatilla, 
though few have so many. The 
general appearance of the tree is 
as if a handful of straight- 
stemmed plants had been put 
into a vase, so that, while at the 
base the stems were kept all 
together, they had spread out t up above, in every direction. I 
found them in full flower at the end of March. The flower is a 
flaunting panicle of a brilliant scarlet, composed of beautiful 
bell-like blossoms. Sometimes, when looking toward the sun, 
the flower appears like a flaming plumaged paroquet or other 
brilliantly feathered bird resting on the end of the limb. 

The ocatilla has the remarkable habit of leafing out after a 
rain. The leaves are a tender green and spring out along the 



Photo, by George Wharton James 


Plant Life on the Desert 


stems, side by side with the thorns. Even though it be but a 
slight rain and only the stems (not the root) get wet, the leaves 
appear. Padre Junipero Serra, the founder of the California 
missions, had a very poor idea of this "candle cactus," as he 
called it. He said it was useless, even for fire-wood. Between 
Yuma and Pilot Knob there are quantities of them, as also at the 
upper end of Crawford Valley. 

A noticeable peculiaritv of such desert trees as the mesquite, 
palo verde, and desert willow is that they are seldom so tall as 
the same species elsewhere. This is owing to the intense heat, 
causing atrophy of the growing bud of the upright stem of the 
tree. This bud, being above 
the rest of the tree, necessarily 
receives the direct, full ravs of 
the sun. Unless it is specially 
protected — as some of the 
desert plants, are — it becomes 
scorched and either grows very 
slowly or dies and falls off. 
This compels the outforcing of 
lateral buds, an instinct of na- 
ture to protect the tree from 
destruction. These lateral buds 
grow with comparative pro- 
fusion, consequently the tree 
gains in density and breadth 
what it loses in height. The 

result is that many desert trees have the appearance of being 
stunted or dwarfed in height, but are "stockv" and bulk}' below. 

The mesquite is a fine illustration of this, for it is no uncom- 
mon thing in the Coachella Vallev to find this tree with branches 
outspreading far and wide from the ground up. Thev appear 
as if some great weight had pressed them down, and like truth 
they had risen again, vet bearing in their aspect the proof of 
their having been forced down to the earth. 

The desert palm, however, is not a "croucher" like the mes- 
quite. It shoots bravely up into the fiercelv heated atmosphere, 
for it loves its head in the fire. The young palms always have a 


or the 


cha ir 

216 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

mantle of drooping dead leaves which clothes them to the ground. 
Thus the tender young stem is protected from the too fierce 
heat of the sun, and "the mold within the curtained area is kept 
cool and moist while all around is hard-baked soil. When the 
tap-root is deep down to water level, the sheath of thatch may be 
burned away as is done by the Indians" to render the fruit 
more easily gathered. The palm is an endogen, its core of life 
in the heart of the thick, dense mossy bole. So even after these 
fires the trees survive, the perfect harmony of their natural 
growth unaltered, their glorious crowns of vivid green still trust- 
fully reaching up toward the sun that has destroyed every other 
sprout of tender verdure. 

The screw mesquite is a more beautiful tree than the bean 
mesquite, its narrow outline and ascend- 
ant branches giving it a strikingly differ- 
ent appearance and much more graceful 

Almost all old prospectors and desert 
dwellers contend that the coolest and 
most comfortable shade of the desert is 
that of the mesquite, though their expla- 
nations for that fact often vary greatly. 

~, , Probably the reason is that the deli- 

I he screw-bean ■> , 

mesquite cately divided leaves allow a perfect 

circulation of air which is cooled by pass- 
ing over the countless cool surfaces of the leaves, at the same 
time keeping off the direct rays of the sun. 

The mesquite leaves out after the rains, if there are any, or 
generally about the end of March. Its tender leaves are a sweet 
soft green that is peculiarly restful to the eye awearied with the 
long stretches of gray sand, alkali-crusted clays, and effloresced 
salt. In the summer the darker green is crowned and variegated 
here and there with patches of the parasitic mistletoe, which, 
however pernicious in its influence upon the tree, certainly has a 
picturesque effect upon its color, for its rich Vandyke brown with 
a tinge of reddish gray is most effective and agreeable. 

The mistletoe (Phoradendron) is a common feature of desert 
trees, the parasite growing so abundantly as to almost hide the 

Plant Life on the Desert 


leafage and growth of its host. Several varieties are found on 
the desert. 

The bean mesquite and screw mesquite both flower from April 
to July, while the cat's claw or desert acacia {Acacia greggii) is a 
month later. The palo verde (Parkinsonia torreyana) generally 
blossoms in May, but I have seen it in full bloom as early as March. 

The mesquite, palo verde, ironwood and cottonwood do well 
under cultivation, the two former being especially desirable in 
this desert region. As a decorative and 
landscape tree there is nothing superior 
to the mesquite for desert regions. They 
are hardy in the most adverse conditions, 
and yet can stand a much larger supply 
of water than they ever receive in their 
natural condition. For wood they are both 
useful and necessary. During the past 
years the mesquite regions have been al- 
most denuded of this valuable tree, and 
as far as I know not one single effort has 
been made to preserve it. If this course 
is long continued people on the desert will 
suffer as those elsewhere have done who 
have neglected proper and natural pre- 
cautions to provide for a continuance of 
supply. The mesquite grows well from 
seed, needs little care, and in eight to ten 
years attains full size. 

Bee-keeping can profitably be carried on in the regions where 
mesquites abound. It is found that an ordinary sized tree, one, 
say, fifteen feet high and thirty feet in diameter, will contain as 
many as fifty thousand blossoms, which will give at least two and 
one-third pounds of honey. Mesquite honey is one of the best 
that finds its way into the market, being of pure white color, rich 
in sweetness, and of delicious flavor. In the excessive heat and 
dryness of the desert the honey products would speedily evapo- 
rate the surplus moisture and ripen, a natural process which 
enhances its keeping quality. It also increases the weight some 
two to four pounds per five-gallon can. 

False tidytips 
(Leptosyne doiiglasri) 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

The arrow-weed, which is very common on the desert, is also 
found to be a good honey plant, making a rich amber-colored 
honey, which, while not equal to mesquite honey, is still most 
palatable and finds a ready market. 

The flower of the palo verde is a soft, beautiful, alluring yellow. 
Every point becomes a flower, and each seems more charming 
than the other. Riding along in a deep-walled canyon, the mind 

as well as the body 
oppressed by the 
heat of the desert 
sun and the height of 
the enclosing walls, 
which are devoid of 
every vestige of ver- 
dure, you suddenly 
come upon a side 
wash or c a nyon 
where there is soil 
and moisture enough 
to give nourishment 
to this interesting 
and singular tree. It 
has blossomed from 
top to bottom and all 
around. It is a 
vision of loveli- 
ness all the more 
startling that it 
is so unexpected. 
Green and yel- 
low, blended and blending in such soft, sweet shades, you cannot 
keep from the reflection that God must love beauty for its own 
and His own sake, for here is this desert glory wasting the 
sweetness of its beauty on the desert. 

The dalea spinosa is often called by the prospectors the smoke 
tree. It is seen nowhere else than on the desert. There are 
several varieties of dalea, but they are all desert habitants. Its 
leaves are a kind of spine, which, however, look like foliage at a 

Plant Life on the Desert 


distance. With its gray limbs and delicate sage-green spiculae it 
appears, when seen at a short distance, not unlike a filmy, wind- 
blown, smoke cloud, ascending from some strange and deserted 
camp-fire, with white streaks of sunlight darting through it. But 
beware how you allow its peculiar beauty to allure you to ap- 
proach it too nearly and too carelessly. For if you do you will 
soon discover why it is also called by the miners and teamsters 
"the porcupine tree." 

When flowering the dalea spinosa is a most gorgeous and glow- 
ing spectacle. Every point blossoms into flower, and every 
flower is a treasure of deep purple. Imagine 
a tree covered with fifty to a hundred thousand 
of these blossoms, bathed in the pure, lumi- 
nous desert atmosphere, and made glowing 
and resplendent in the desert sun. It is a 
spectacle of royal purple that the eyes of man, 
unfamiliar with the desert, have never gazed 
upon, — a spectacle of color that would have 
dazzled the eyes of those used to the royal 
purple of the great Solomon when he and his 
spouse ascended the throne, aye, even had he 
and his whole court been robed in the tran- 
scendent richness of the Tyrian purple. 

Greasewood of many kinds {Atriplex) is 
found on the desert. Like the creosote bush 
it is ubiquitous. Though at first it looks 
"bloodless" and uninteresting, it becomes 
vested with its own charm when one understands its difficulties, 
its habits of growth, and its desert triumphs. 

It is one of the atriplexes — the black salt-bush — that the 
Indians of Martinez use for coloring the splints of their basketry 
black. Their name for it is gnah-yil. They boil the plant and 
squeeze out the juice, and in the liquor, in which they allow the 
stalks to remain mixed with ashes, they soak their splints for 
about a week. The black is not as deep and perfect as the natural 
black of the martynia, but it is effective and permanent. 

The white salt-bush is very common in various parts of the desert, 
and in Mesquite Land grows to a great height. I have seen in- 

(Baeria gracilos) 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

dividual bushes fully twenty feet high. In Santa Barbara this 
beautiful plant is cultivated for hedges. Trimmed and pruned, 
it looks far better than most hedge growths, and it adds quite 
a novel factor of beauty to that always beautiful town of the 
Virgin Saint. This is not exactly the same species as that found 
on the desert, but it appears very similar, and is a "beach" 
sister of its desert brother. 

Some kinds of greasewood and palo verde are used by animals 
as "browse" when other forage is short. Looking at them, the 
uninformed observer would declare that there can be no nutrition 

in them, yet analysis shows that they 
are rich in protein, fats, and carbo- 
v v ,- - hydrates. Indeed, some grease- 

/^MtjlM' , '^yQ W/lljfJ2- woods are said to contain more 

protein than alfalfa. 

The creosote bush {Larrea tri- 
denta) is one of the commonest of 
the desert plants. It is singular 
how different people regard it. By 
some it is liked both in appearance 
and odor, and others disparage it 
in every way. Dr. Asa Gray says it 
is "so vile in odor that even mules 
will not eat it," and I think to most 
people it is objectionable. But Fre- 
mont says : " Its leaves are small, 
covered with a resinous substance ; 
and, particularly when bruised and crushed, exhale a singular but 
very agreeable and refreshing odor. " Mr. Eytel agrees with Dr. 
Gray, while I find the odor affects me as it did Fremont. Its leaves 
are of rich olive-green, and its flowers are a delicate yellow, coming 
out of a green calyx, and with separate seed-pods tufted like a tiny 
bunch of cotton. It grows as high as ten and fifteen feet, though 
its average is perhaps not more than eight or nine feet, and in form, 
in pliancy of its branches, in the richness of its color, in the shape 
of its leaves, as well as in its yellow flowers and white cottony tufts, 
it constitutes a singularly graceful bush. Indeed, to me, there are 
few of our garden shrubs that surpass it in general effect. 

Plant Life on the Desert 22 1 

The desert willow (Chilopsis seligna) has somewhat the appear- 
ance of the catalpa. It flowers beautifully after the winter rains, 
a delicate white, with purple and pink tintings of color in a bell- 
like blossom. It is fairly abundant in the canyons on the north- 
east of the Salton Basin. 

While to the ordinary eye there are not many varieties of cactus, 
it is possible that the scientists have discovered in the American 
Southwest pretty well on to a thousand different species. 

I once asked an old Colorado Desert prospector how many 
varieties of cactus he was familiar with. "By gosh," said he, 
"you city fellers have no idea how many kinds we got. I know 
every one of 'em. There's the 'full of stickers,' 'all stickers,' 
'never-fail stickers,' 'stick everybody,' 'the stick and stay in,' 
'the sharp stickers,' 'the extra sharp stickers,' 'big stickers,' 
'little stickers,' 'big and little stickers,' 'stick while you sleep,' 
'stick while you wait,' 'stick 'em alive,' 'stick 'em dead,' 'stick 
unexpectedly,' 'stick anyhow,' 'stick through leather,' 'stick 
through anything,' 'the stick in and never come out,' 'the stick 
and fester cactus,' 'the cat's claws cactus,' 'the barbed fish-hook 
cactus,' 'the rattlesnake's fang cactus,' 'the stick seven w T ays at 
once cactus,' 'the impartial sticker,' 'the democratic sticker,' 
'the deep sticker,' and a few others." 

I am not scientist enough to pass judgment upon the accuracy 
of the old prospector's classification, but to my layman-like mind 
he seems to have been pretty successful in his endeavors to tabu- 
late them all. 

It is interesting to note that different species of cactus are found 
on both sides of the mountain ranges that separate the desert 
from the coast. The species are much alike, yet clearly distinct, 
and are not known to cross the range. This applies to the echino- 
cactus, the opuntia, the mamillaria, and the cereus. 

Dr. Veatch, who was one of the earliest of scientists to visit 
the mud volcanoes of the desert, had quite an experience among 
the cactuses, as he journeyed over the San Felipe Pass. His 
horse became irritated or frightened and began to plunge, so he 
threw himself off, and in the struggle that ensued, as the horse 
tried to get away, the doctor was dragged and shoved alternately 
amongst opuntias higher than his head, until his clothes, to use 

The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

his own expression, "were literally pinned to the flesh from 
head to foot by the barbed needle-like prickles." 

Cactuses thrive on the desert as if specially guarded. Here 
are the tiny mamillaria in several varieties, though one has to 
hunt for them. But how well such a hunt is repaid! Small, 
armored, armed balls, they have tufts of flowers of super- 
earthly beauty and of tints and colors not surpassed by any 
flowers of earth. I have found the Mamillaria echinus, with its 
plum-like buds out of which the dainty flowerets burst; the M . 
macromeris, with its long spines and floral crown of feather-like 
petals; the bunchy M. radios a, with its starlike 
clusters of spines and its lanceolate petals; the 
M. phellos perma and M. grahami and several 
other species. 

The Marnillaria grahami is a most beautiful 
specimen of a desert plant. It grows not far 
from the Colorado River. Each bunch of spines 
has one, two, or three central spines, the chief 
one of which is generally hooked at the end. 
The flower is an exquisite and dainty blossom 
of a tender rose color. It was named for Colonel 
Graham of the U. S. Corps of Topographical 
Engineers whose unfortunate quarrel with Bart- 
lett led to his withdrawal from the work of the 
Mexican Boundary Commission. 

Here, too, are the opuntias, especially the 
0. basilaris with its look of velvety softness. 
But beware how you touch it. In a moment 
a million (more or less) of microscopic thorns have pierced 
your flesh, and sometimes they do not come out until after 
they have festered. One sees also with delight a number of 
echinoc actus, and is charmed into excited runnings to and fro 
as new and more beautiful specimens in flower appear. There 
are scores of the most conspicuous of the species, the glorious 
E. lecontei, named after the former president of the State Uni- 
versity of California, who discovered it. It is the well-known 
"barrel cactus," so useful to travelers on the Colorado Desert, 
and I have found it in the tributary canyons of the Grand Canyon, 





Plant Life on the Desert 


in Northern Arizona. It is also found in Lower California below 
the mouth of the Colorado River. The Mexicans call it "bis- 
nagna," and they and the Indians often use its water storage 
when traveling across the desert. The mode of obtaining the 
water, which, of course, is the juicy pulp of the plant, is very 
simple if one has an axe, hatchet, or large hunting-knife. Cut- 
ting off the top of the barrel, the pulp inside is crushed with a stick 
or the axe-handle, thus releasing from the cells of the inner tissue 
the copious flowof juice therein stored. The tough and water-tight 
coating of the plant makes a perfect reser- 
voir, and I have known one cactus yield 
nearly four pints of the refreshing liquid. 
It is slightly acid in taste, but relieves 
thirst admirably. 

Some of the opuntias are beautiful in 
the extreme. They have a color, shading 
from light sage-green to ebony-yellow, — 
tones to make a connoisseur rave with 
delight. As the sun shines on this mass 
of ivory spines they become a halo, more 
exquisitely beautiful than any ever painted 
over sainted figure by enraptured artist. 
In shape their shiny limbs are almost like 
bunches of bananas turned upward. When 
the spines fall off, as they do each year, 
they look like small bunches of porcupine 

quills, long, sharp, and penetrating, and the slightest breeze blows 
them toward you. This has given rise to the popular superstition 
that they are attracted by the human presence and come to you 
in obedience to this weird influence. 

The lizard, however, has no fear of the thorns. He runs in 
and out, under and over them, apparently without a thought, 
while to the unsuspecting human animal, let him but approach 
near enough, they seem to reach out and pierce him to the quick. 

In Arizona some of the commoner forms of cactus have been 
singed and used as forage plants. The season of 1903-4 was 
one of great drought. Cattle suffered on the ranges for want of 
feed. Stockmen were at their wits' end to know what to do for 


224 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

their cattle, which, half starved, were wandering away from the 
ranges in search of food, and wearied and unsuccessful were 
dying by scores. The Experimental Farm tested the matter, and 
analyzed the nutriment values of certain cactuses. A gasoline 
burner was designed, on the principle of the familiar plumber's 
gasoline torch, and it was found that on the desert from seven 
thousand to eleven thousand pounds of cactus forage could be 
singed each day. Hungry cattle ate it with avidity, literally 
devouring every particle of the prickly pears and leaving only 
the trunks and woody branches of the chollas. The cactus is 
valuable to cattle not only because of its nutritive qualities, but 
even more so because it contains so much water, fully seventy- 
five to eighty per cent being moisture. 

But Luther Burbank, the wizard of plant life, has solved the 
spine problem without singeing. He has developed a species 
of spineless cactus which has high nutritive and water value. 
This cactus will undoubtedly, in time, be planted in large areas 
of the Colorado and other deserts and thus aid cattle, if not 
man, in solving that most difficult of desert problems, — the 
permanent and well-distributed supply of water in the dryest 
areas. 1 

The many contrivances of nature in the desert to aid tree and 
plant life in the struggle for existence against the great heat and 
the scarcity of water make a most fascinating branch of study. 
How comes it that delicate plants and flowers are able to bear 
the heat ? What are the special adaptations of plant life in the 
desert ? This subject has been most carefully studied and thor- 
oughly presented by Frederick Vernon Coville in his "Botany 
of Death Valley," and what follows is based upon his remarks. 

On the desert as elsewhere the customary methods of pollina- 
tion appear to be sufficient. Insects in their hunts for food carry 
the pollen and distribute it where needed. The wind also does 
its share. 

1 Since the above was written I have seen the spineless cactus of Mr. Burbank, have 
rubbed my hands and cheeks all over it. It is a marvel. But the suggestion that this 
cactus will soon be planted on the desert needs qualification. If planted in the open it is 
so attractive as an article of food to all animals, wild and tame, that it would soon disap- 
pear. It will need to be planted in a protected area, and then fed to stock, as are corn, 
beets, etc. 


Plant Life on the Desert 


There is wide adaptation and variety of methods in disseminat- 
ing the seeds. The "downy" seeds of many compositae, such as 
Aster mohavensis, Tetrad ymia spinosa, etc., are easily wind- 
borne; the fruits of the Larrea and Eurotia by the long divergent 
hairs on their surfaces; those of the J triplex, Grayia, and Sarco- 
batus by the plate-like enlargement of the involucre; and those 
of the Salazaria by a bladdery inflated calyx. While in none of 
these cases is the fruit buoyant enough to remain suspended in 
the air, it is sufficiently light to be blown 
along the surface of the ground by an ordi- 
nary wind. In other plants the stem breaks 
off as a base and the whole plant goes rolling 
over and over as a tumbleweed to scatter its 
own seeds. Other seeds have barbed bristles 
that catch in the fur of desert animals and 
are thus transmitted. The fruits of 
the Opuntia are all dry (though fleshy 
away from the desert), and are thus 
able to be carried by the wind. 

The chief problem of desert plant 
life is that of ordinary growth. 
There is sufficiency of light and 
food, but moisture, both in the air 
and the soil, is deficient. "A plant 
absorbs moisture from the soil 
through its roots, carries it along its 
stem, and transpires it by evapora- 
tion from the stomata (breathing 
pores) of the leaves. Transpira- 
tion is an absolute necessity in the growth of a plant, for upon 
it depends directly the performance of several of the vital func- 
tions. If a plant of ordinary structure, such, for example, as red 
clover, were exposed to the climatic conditions of the desert, it 
would wilt, dry up, and die. To speak in physiological terms, 
the hot, dry air has caused more water to be transpired from 
the leaves than the roots can supply, the soft tissues have lost 
their turgescence, and the dependent vital functions have ceased. 
The first theoretical necessity of the plant is that the water it ab- 

Vol. I.— 15 

white lupin 

2 20 

The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

sorbs from the ground shall practically equal in amount that which 
it transpires. Desert shrubs accomplish this by the reduction of 
transpiration and by the increase of means for absorption." 

I have already referred to the great roots of some desert 
plants. The mesquite roots extend enormously and can often 
be found fifty, sixty or more feet away. Yet "during the season 
of drought the largest amount of moisture that the roots can by 
any possibility absorb is comparatively small, and the greatest 
burden of modification must fall on the transpiratory system." 
A careful examination of many desert species led to the follow- 
ing conclusions. The leaves of desert plants are strikingly mod- 
ified in size, form, and thickness. As 
a rule they are small, only six out 
of forty-one shrubs examined hav- 
ing leaves with a single surface area 
which exceeds one square centimeter 
(about half a square inch). There 
is no limit to the smallness of the 
leaves, for the Cereus and Echino- 
cactus have no leaves at all, and in 
the Ephedra they are represented 
by scales devoid of chlorophyll and 
so constructed as to preclude the 
possibility of transpiration. In such 
cases all the transpiration is carried 
on by stem. 
In this connection it is interesting to note the peculiar leafing 
habits of the ocatilla (Fouqueria splendens). As I have elsewhere 
said, this "candle cactus "will lose all its leaves in hot, dry weather. 
At such times it transpires through the stem. On the first rain, 
even though the roots are barely wet, the plant immediately 
leaves out, undoubtedly for the purpose of affording it the op- 
portunity for a period of leaf transpiration. Able to do without 
leaves when it has to, it leaps to avail itself of them at the first 
possible advantage. 

The form and thickness of the leaves of desert shrubs are direct 
modifications for reducing the evaporating surface. It is sur- 
prising to the superficial observer to find the peculiar forms of 

The creosote bush 

Plant Life on the Desert 


these leaves; all of them clearly adapted to resist rapid evapora- 
tion; and in all the forty-one specimens examined not one had a 
thin leaf. 

Then, too, the early falling of the leaves of desert shrubs that 
have none of the special adaptations for preventing rapid evapo- 
ration, such as hairy, scaly, or resinous epidermis, is a special 
provision for their protection. The leaves grow rapidly during 
the spring rains and carry on most rapid 
transpiration, but when the intense heat 
comes they are unable to continue, and not 
being able to adapt themselves to a slower 
transpiration they dry up and fall away. In 
some plants the means for transpiration is 
in the epidermis of the stem, which is well 
supplied with chlorophyll to permit the as- 
similation of food. 

"In the majority of plants, however, the 
leaves remain on the stems during the greater 
part of the summer, carrying on theii func- 
tions. To confine transpiration to that min- 
imum which alone it is possible for a plant 
in such environment to support, the surfaces 
of the leaves are protected either by a 
resinous exudate or by a close covering 
of dry hairs. 

"In Larrea tridentata (the creosote 
bush) is found the apparently simplest 
form of resinous coating. The leaves and 
small twigs are thinly spread with a cov- 
ering that closely resembles in appearance 
ordinary shellac. To the abundance of 

this resinous matter the plant's popular name, creosote bush, is due, 
for in burning the green wood and leaves of Larrea a pungent odor 
is detected, and a dense smoke arises. That the function of the 
coating is to minimize transpiration, there can be no doubt, but 
the precise method by which this is brought about has not been 
ascertained. If it were simply by the complete mechanical var- 
nishing of the leaf-surface, all transpiration would cease. It 


larkspur \ 

228 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

should be pointed out here that in winter, when we first became 
familiar with the creosote bush, its leaves were thoroughly var- 
nished; but in June, when the spring growth had nearly ceased, 
the leaves appeared to have very little of the coating. There is in 
this fact an evident correlation between rapid transpiration and 
absence of resinous covering, and a similar correlation between 
slow transpiration, and the presence of such a covering." 

Resinous exudate, when it occurs on desert plants, is usually 
definitely associated with conspicuous glands. Some of these 
glands are on the surface of the epidermis or partly imbedded in 
the tissue. In some species the glands are confined almost 
entirely to the stem and branches, and are found only very spar- 
ingly on the leaves. In other species the glands are confined to 
the leaves. "These two types of the distribution of glands are 
seen at once to be correlated with the functions of stem and leaf. 
Plants which rely principally upon their leaves for transpiration 
have these organs more glandular than their stems, while plants 
in which the leaves drop ofF early, and which, therefore, are 
forced to transpire from their stems, have precisely the opposite 
provision." In some of these species the contents of the glands 
do not exude over the surface of the adjacent tissues, and there- 
fore only a portion of the surface is protected by the exudation. 
This fact suggests strongly the idea that in such cases some other 
function than the mere mechanical sheltering of the transpiration 
surface must be ascribed to these glands. The elucidation of 
the problem is likely to be attained only by direct experiment. 

Fourteen of the forty-one shrubs examined by Mr. Coville 
have a conspicuously developed hairy coating of the leaves or 
stems. These hairs are varied and individualistic, and the why 
of this is not yet fully understood. "The general important fact, 
however, is that from almost any form of trichome there may be 
developed, under a desert environment, a close hairy covering, 
so constructed as to greatly reduce the amount of heat transmitted 
from the air to the plant. In general the individual hairs of such 
a covering have no moist cell-contents, but are minute sacks or 
tubes of cellulose filled with air and closely felted together. The 
air contained in the cavities of the hairs and in the spaces between 
them constitutes an excellent non-conductor of heat. It is un- 

Plant Life on the Desert 


doubtedly true also that the circulation of air through the inter- 
stices between the hairs is comparatively sluggish, and the ex- 
tremely dry atmosphere is therefore admitted very slowly to the 
stomata and through them to the moist interior of the leaf." 

"A few genera of desert plants, Ephedra, Cereus, and Echino- 
cactus, carry on transpiration through their stems only, and are 
protected by neither glands, resinous exudate, nor hairy covering. 
In Ephedra transpiration is reduced un- 
doubtedly by a thickened and extremely 
impervious cuticle, aided by the mechanism 
of the stomata. In the other three genera, 
all belonging to the order cactaceae, there 
is likewise a marked thickening 
of the cuticle, together with a 
special modification of the in- 
terior tissues of the stem to re- 
tain water. If a leaf or stem 
of any plant not containing 
these water reservoirs be split, 
the organ is speedily desic- 
cated, since the soft tissues exposed 
by cutting are not adapted to resist 
the drying effect of the air. But if an 
Echinocactus stem be cut open, the 
outer layers of cells on the raw surface 
become dry and form an artificial coat- 
ing. With this slight protection the 
interior tissues are capable of retaining 
their moisture, even in the plant press, 
for several weeks." 

The vast importance and interest of this phase of the subject 
is my only excuse for making such lengthy extracts from Mr. 
Coville's interesting and lucid paper. He suggests many other 
phases of the subject that are yet in the process of elucidation, 
and to these suggestions those who are interested to go further 
are respectfully referred. 

Another provision for the protection of desert plants is the 
fierce thorns with which they are garnished. Like the knights of 





The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

old, they sleep in their armor, which covers them from head to 
foot. And what armor it is! The thick and impenetrable 
epidermis is covered with thorns sharper than any needle and 
far more tough and strong. The various cactuses present a 
perfect arsenal of weapons to you, and bid you begone. But 
it is not as defense against man that they are thus panoplied. 
The desert animals are great "stayers" without water, and if they 
could get at these succulent plants, especially 
when young, they would find life an easy thing. 
But the plants fight hard for life, and these are 
their weapons. The thorns of the cactuses are 
a marvel, both in form and variety of arrange- 
ment of their stars. Let those who say there is 
no beauty in them look at the starry clusters of 
spines in the accompanying pictures, and if he 
fail to see beauty his eyes register very differently 
from mine. From the report of the scientists 
of the Mexican Boundary Commission I have 
taken these exquisite engravings, 
and several of them have been 
reproduced for this work, to 
give a true conception of the won- 
drous beauty of even the defensive 
weapons of these little known and 
seldom seen desert plants. Who can 
look, for instance, on the Mamillaria 
pusilla, with its dainty arrangement 
of these formidable spines, and not 
see wondrous beauty ? And, in fact, every one of these plates is 
worthy a careful study from the esthetic standpoint alone. It 
will be noticed that some of the starry spine clusters have one, 
some two, some three central spines, one of which is generally 
hooked. These central spines give surer protection, for no animal 
can worm his way into the heart of any plant thus armored. 
Some of the spines are long, some short, some hooked, some are 
barbed, and some are so sheathed that when the thorn penetrates 
part of the sheath remains in the wound and festers. 

The spines of the Echlnocactus add a color value also to their 

Ehia salvia 





Plant Life on the Desert 


general beauty. They are ivory-like, with streaks of delicate 
pink throughout and across them. Compare the star clusters 
of the Echinocactus horizonthalonius with those of the E. inter- 
textus. How different, yet how perfect in arrangement and 
how beautiful! Then in the Cereus viridiflorus an entirely 
different but equally classic and exquisite arrangement is given. 
When I see the labored efforts of the commercial designers, 
and think of the wealth freely offered by Nature in these 
desert suggestions, in cactus, lizard, snake, and animals, I am 
amazed at the gnorance and stupidity of those who prefer to 
work over old and insane conventional designs instead of strik- 
ing out boldly by giving to the world these original conceptions 
of Nature. 

As to the flowers of the various cactuses, there is nothing in the 
floral world, to my mind, that can equal them in fineness of tex- 
ture, loveliness of color, and perfect grace. 

Evolution of Indian dwellings 


The Indians of the Desert 



The Indians of the Desert 

'OME white men are naturally antagonistic to the 
desert. They fear, dread, and shun it. Its hard- 
ships and dangers, its perils and deaths, daunt 
and restrain them, and comparatively few ever 
venture into its secret and hidden places. 

The Indians have no such dread. They do not 
complain of the desert's hardships. They have no 
fear of its perils. While they regard some things on the desert 
with veneration and awe, such as the rumblings heard near Tau- 
quitch Peak, on Mount San Jacinto, and the noises caused by 
the wind in the rocks on Mount Palomar, they are familiar with 
everything on the desert at all times. It is their home, chosen 
for them by the gods, where they are bound to reside until their 
supreme guides lead them elsewhere. For the Indian is nothing 
if not reverent. His reverence may to us seem to be superstition, 
yet, all the same, it is real and sincere to him. 

It will be impossible to devote as much space to a considera- 
tion of the desert tribes of Indians as I desire. I must leave the 
subject for fuller presentation in books which I have in contem- 
plation. 1 

Below the. Grand Canyon there are several tribes of Indians 
who live on the Colorado River. These are the Mohaves on the 
Fort Mohave reservation, and then a band of Chemehuevis, the 
latter being renegade Paiutis who found a home here many years 
ago when there was a famine in their own habitat. Below the 
Chemehuevis is another group of Mohaves, on the Colorado River 
reservation. Near Yuma are the Indians who gave the name to 
the city, and nearer to the gulf are the Cocopahs. 

1 These are in preparation. One will deal with the Indians in the Mount San 
Jacinto region and will be entitled "The Indians of Ramona's Country;" and the 
other will fully discuss the Indians of the Colorado River. 

The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

In the hot weather it is no unusual sight in the more secluded 
parts of the river to find a group of Yumas sitting in the mud with 
fresh mud on their heads, and one writer facetiously remarks 
that "by dint of constant dipping and sprinkling they manage 
to keep from roasting, though they usually come out parboiled. 

Strangers coming sudden- 
ly upon a group squatted 
in water up to their necks, 
with their mud-covered 
heads glistening in the sun, 
frequently mistake them 
for seals. Their usual 
mode of traveling down 
the river is astride of a log, — 
their heads only being visible. 
It is enough to make a man 
stare with amazement to see a 
-_— - group of mud-balls floating on the 
current, laughing and talking to each 
other as if it were the finest fun in the 
world. I have never tried this mode of locomo- 
tion, but I have an idea it must be delightful in such a glowing 
summer climate." 

There are a few Cocopahs who now reside near Calexico, and 
until recently a village 
of the Dieguienos at 
San Felipe. 

The chief group, [ TH*3BUtoX~% J 
however, is ofthe f W JJ 
Coahuilla tribe on the **' 

western side of the 
Coachella Valley, as 

far north as the San Gorgonio Pass, where, a few miles below 
Banning, the Potrero Village is located. Here are two hun- 
dred and twenty-five Coahuillas and Serranos — the latter being 
the mountain tribes, who have considerably intermarried. At 
Palm Springs (to the white settlement of which I have devoted 
a whole chapter) are twenty-nine Indians on three thousand 

Indian does 

The Indians of the Desert 


eight hundred and forty-four acres. Water, however, is scarce, 
and without water the desert land is useless. 

Recently an inspector of the Indian department visited Palm 
Springs and proceeded forthwith to .file upon all the unappro- 
priated water of the region. When asked if he intended to take 
all the water his reply was characteristic: "I'm here for one 
purpose, and that is to look after the interests of the Indians. 
They are poor, downtrodden, and incapable of caring for them- 
selves. I'll do all I can for them. The whites must look out 
for themselves." 

'■ *?.?■' 

Coco pah Indians, near Calexico 

At Cabazon on six hundred and forty acres are twenty-eight 
Indians. They have no water and their land produces nothing, 
and were it not for the mountain plants and seeds found on the 
foot-hills of the San Bernardino these poor wretches would die 
of starvation. 

Below Indio are Torres, Martinez, Alamo Bonita, and Agua 
Dulce, all on the Torres reservation of 19,200 acres and with 
a population, all told, of 213. A reservation eleven miles long 
and varying in width from one to four miles, with plenty of 
water and exceedingly rich soil, is looked upon with envious 
eyes by not a few white men in Southern California. But let us 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

hope there will be no chicanery in dealing with this small rem- 
nant of a once powerful people. This reservation should be 
kept for them so long as there is a family to require it. 

For many years the only water the Indians had was gained 
from surface wells they themselves had dug. 

Potrero Indian 

reservation at Banning 

The earth was taken away from these excavations by the In- 
dian women in baskets. They were, in the main, the excavators. 
To the white mind this is but another proof of the laziness of the 

Indian man, and his rude brutality 
to his squaw in allowing or compel- 
ling her to do hard and severe work 
that only a man is fitted to perform. 
But here as in other things the white 
mind is in error because of its 

Granaries at Torres 
stupidity in insisting up- 
on looking at a problem 
concerning other people from its own angle of vision. The 
Indian woman laughs at the folly of the white reasoner. She 
says in explanation: "There are two kinds of labor, — man's 
and woman's. Man's labor is to hunt, to provide the food, and 
to fight, to protect the home. Woman's is to do all the work 

The Indians of the Desert 




of the home. To provide water is woman's work. What 
though it means hard labor to get the water, Indian women are 
well and strong, and thankful to be well and strong. Those 
above give them strength and health. Do not white women 
want to be healthy and strong and capable of doing hard work ? 
We do! We are grateful for our health and our strength. We 
like to use our strength, and we do not want our men to interfere 
in work that belongs to us and not to them." 

Thus our pity is wasted, — bestowed upon those who scorn 
it, and whose scorn also is not undeserved when applied to those 

who would prefer to 
be dainty in appear- 
ance and "look nice," 
rather than be healthy, 
strong, vigorous, and 
capable of hard toil. 

But now the old In- 
dian well is deserted. 
The labor of the past 
is forgotten. The new 
artesian wells have rendered use- 
less the once priceless possession 
of this small pool of surface water. 
It is some fifteen or twenty feet 
down, cut out at one side to allow free 
and easy access, and now it has a 
neglected appearance. Brush and 
weeds grow freely around it, and the 
water that accumulates has a yellow appearance and is some- 
what brackish to the taste, so that even the wild animals despise 
and forsake it. 

This is not surprising when it is remembered that there are 
now ten artesian wells on the reservation. It is generally sup- 
posed that the first artesian well in the Coachella Valley was the 
one bored by the government on this reservation. This is an 
error. The Southern Pacific Company had first demonstrated 
the existence of artesian water at Mortmere and then at Mecca, 
after which the government set apart $2,500 for a well at Mar- 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

tinez. The expenditure of this sum is an example and evidence 
that the days of the unscrupulous politician are not gone by. 
Less than half, even a third, of this money would have secured 
the well, but the appropriation was all exhausted. Thus are the 
Indians robbed by scoundrel whites who are supposed to con- 
serve their interests. The chief good, however, was attained. 
The securing of artesian water assured the material prosperity 
of these Indians, for with thrift and industry they can become 
more independent than many whites in less favored regions. 

While all the villages of this reservation are of the same tribe, 
their inhabitants have not always been friendly one with an- 
other. Stories are rife among them that show that fights were 
not uncommon. The usual jealousies sprang up. Men of dif- 
ferent villages went hunting in 
the same place at the same 
time and the women would go 
to gather wild seeds and find 
women from one of the other 
villages there ahead of them. 
These things engendered strife 
and quarrelings, and occasional 
slayings were not uncommon. 
In various parts of the des- 
ert, scattered under clusters of 
mesquites, are numbers of 
pieces of broken pottery. Careful examination shows the 
major portion of these to have been large ollas. There was 
no evidence of any other than temporary habitation and no 
apparent reason for this. These locations were not on the 
line of any Indian travel to be used as camping places, and 
certainly no reason could be found for choosing such stopping 
places even if they were on any trail. For a long time I 
was puzzled to account for these places, until at last I was 
informed that they were used by Indians of the Yuma and 
Cocopah tribes, who, long ago, occasionally made raids on the 
mountain tribes. Their squaws accompanied them, and, as 
these raids were generally made in the hottest seasons of the 
year, the large ollas were filled with water. The squaws then 

Indian boy on horseback 

The Indians of the Desert 

settled themselves down under the chosen location of mesquite, 
keeping the ollas filled, while the warriors went on ahead and 
perpetrated their designs of murder, rapine, theft, and destruc- 
tion. Then, rapidly retreating to these spots, they rested awhile, 
knowing full well that the mountain tribes would hesitate at 
following them into the desert at such a heated time. Thus the 
crafty and heat-resisting Indians of one tribe preyed upon the 
fear of another tribe and their known dread of venturing upon 
certain parts of the desert in very hot weather. 

In the remaining portion of this chapter I shall confine myself 
to the village of Martinez. 

The only native officials are a capitan and alcalde — a captain 
and a judge. These the Indians are allowed to elect themselves, 
subject, however, to the 
veto of the Indian agent. 
Generally the election 
takes place in June, and 
the officer elected serves 
for one year. The capitan 
for this year is Poncho 
Lomas, and the alcalde is 
Francisco Nombre. It may 
be interesting to note that 
Francisco has four genera- 
tions of married children living, so that he certainly cannot be ac- 
cused of failing in his duty to replenish the earth. Captain Poncho 
informs me that the original name of his people was E-va-at, which 
signifies people. They came into the desert from over the San 
Jacinto Mountains, though originally, "in the beginning," as he put 
it, they came from the East. They were traveling many days, 
and all he knows of the journey is that his people were naked 
and had little to eat, having to subsist on pinion nuts, prickly 
pear, and wild grass seeds, with the few animals they could snare. 

Those who settled in this spot found the surface water which 
led to the digging of the well, and there were many mesquite 
and other good things to eat that grew profusely. The moun- 
tains were close by where there was an abundance of game, so 
they settled here and were content. 

A Coahuilla basket 

240 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

Then the waters rose on the desert and drove them forth, 
and they ascended Martinez Canyon, toward the village of 
Santa Rosa, and lived there for many years, catching fish from 
the inland sea. The water remained for many, many years, 
and it was during this time that they made the so-called fish 
traps found on the level of the ancient lake beach. These traps 
are rudely circular in shape, and are simple depressions, sur- 
rounded by a wall of granite. They are from two and a half 
to nine feet in diameter, and give the impression that they were 
built out at low tide, so that as the water came in fish would enter 
and be caught. They may, says Major Rust, have been pens 
for holding fish that the Indians had caught. Then the water 
receded and the Indians slowly came down from the mountains 
and took up their residence again in the valley. 

When the water first went down the 
land had very little on it, only a few 
grasses, and the people did not have 
much to eat. Then the grasses grew 
more plentifully, and soon the prickly 
pear and the mesquite came and then all 
Indian pony was well. Those were the prosperous 
days. Every one had plenty to eat, they 
got fat and grew fast. "Ah," said Poncho, "when people have 
little to eat and they are small and thin, they grow slow. It 
takes a boy with little to eat long years before he becomes a 
man, but when he can eat much he becomes a man pretty quick." 
Poncho's son Augustin is a farmer of no mean order. He has 
seven acres of barley, half an acre of onions, and three or four 
acres of cantaloupes as well as a good stand of alfalfa for feeding 
his horses. Besides attending to these horticultural and agri- 
cultural operations he is the chief partner in a hay-baling machine 
which the white men of Coachella Valley keep busy during the 
baling season. He is also a shipper of wood to the city markets. 
He engages the men of his tribe to cut mesquite wood and de- 
liver it to him at the railroad for a certain price, on a given date. 
At that time he has a car there ready for loading, into which the 
wood is directly placed from the wagons, so that it is imme- 
diately ready for shipment. In addition to these sources of in- 

The Indians of the Desert 241 

come he is the interpreter of the little mission church, and he 
has learned the art of barbering. 

The population of Martinez is 320, men, women, and children. 
The men are generally well employed, attending to their own 
well-cultivated and fairly prosperous farms. When their own 
work permits they go out and work at various occupations in the 
valley. Some are farmers, others prune trees, — and at this they 
are skilful, — pick fruit, pack fruit, some are machinists, and not 
a few work on the railway as section hands. 

Land is held in community. All members of the tribe, male or 
female, who wish to use land may make application for it. A 
council is then held, and the land apportioned according to the 
judgment of those concerned, and the 
agent then confirms or alters the ap- 
portionment according to his own judg- 
ment. The amount of land on the 
reservation would allow each Indian to 
have sixty-two and one-half acres, but 
for some reason or other the agent re- 
stricts the allotment to 'ten acres. 

The Indians now have very little stock 

(about two hundred and fifty head in all), 

and what they have is kept in fenced r ' $A,Mf 

r 11 TTTi • 11 j ^ -ii Indian horse ' ■■■?' 

fields. When it was allowed to run wild 

there was constant friction between the 

Indians and the few whites who had located in the desert. The 

latter contended that the horses and cattle of the Indians 

ate and trampled down their grain, destroyed their gardens, 

ruined their irrigation ditches, and they would impound the 

offending animals and refuse to release them until they had been 

paid the sometimes unreasonable and unjust claims they made 

for damages. It can be well imagined what confusion and irrita-. 

tion arose from this course of procedure. As white men came into 

the valley in large numbers, the Indians seemed to realize that 

discretion was the better part of valor. With the best grace they 

could they submitted to the inevitable, sold the major portion of 

their stock, fenced their lands, and thus kept up the balance, so 

that there is little annoyance on either side in this regard. 

Vol. I.— 16 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 


At one time they had over one thousand burros, but few are now 
left. The way they were defrauded of their burros is another 
evidence of the superiority (!) of the white man. During one of 
the spasmodic mining excitements that now and again thrill 
Southern California, a few "clever fellows" bethought themselves 
of the burros of the Coachella Valley Indians. 
They were in great demand, for a prospector 
without a burro is as unthinkable as Othello 
without Iago or Desdemona. These rare speci- 
mens of the "superior race" built a pound or 
corral not far from Martinez, and then coolly 
proceeded to capture all the burros they could 
find, running wild over the desert or in the near- 
by canyons. They succeeded in capturing sev- 
eral hundreds which they then drove off and 
sold to the would-be discoverers of gold mines, 
in Los Angeles, Riverside, Redlands, and San 
Bernardino. Thus again was the superiority of the whites over 
the reds demonstrated, for the former got the burros and also the 
money for their sale. 

A stout, well-built Indian named Anastasio is the chief medicine- 
man. But he feels that his art is on the wane. The medicines of 
the missionary, the things 
purchasable at the store, 
the prosperity brought by 
the artesian water, all help 
to render his services less 
necessary, so little by little 
the importance of his func- 
tions is disappearing and 
soon, like so many things 
of "the old," his office will 
become a mere name, a 
thing of the past. 

Their native houses are called kish, and are built of a frame- 
work of strong poles, — mesquite, cottonwood, or willow, — 
into which are worked in a variety of ways willows, arrow-weed, 
palm leaves, etc. Sometimes the filling-in material is rudely 

Indian granary 

The Indians of the Desert 


woven or wattled; again it is stacked in upright layers held in 
place bycrosspieces, one inside and one outside the kish, tied to 
the upright poles, and fastened to each other by buckskin or 
yucca fiber thongs. In two kisrhes that I saw there was a success- 

Nbft .M 







"Jlsr. «i 


Brush shelter 

-3 wn- |p^e 

Evolution of Indian dwellings 

ful attempt at beautification by tying small bunches of willow or 
arrow-weed together and then placing the bunches side by side, 
and fastening them in place by the crosspieces as before described. 
The tying of the weeds together makes a marked improvement in 
the appearance of the dwelling. 

Willow huts 

Evolution of Indian dwellings 

As is found in most aboriginal dwellings in the hot Southwest, 
the desert kish is provided with a rude porch, called al'-a-nut. 
This is generally large enough to be a valuable acquisition to the 
kish. It is often larger than the hut proper, and serves as a place 

244 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

for working, cooking, eating, social intercourse, and indeed, 
winter and summer alike, for every purpose except sleeping and 
storing goods. 

It is a rude, primitive affair, a mere shelter, open on three sides, 
supported by poles and covered with arrow-weed, willows, or 
palm leaves, and, during the few scant rains, made as waterproof 
as is necessary by throwing on a few loads of earth which the 
palm leaves do not allow to sift through. Here and there a white 
man's tent, kar-pa, is seen, and one family lives in an adobe house 
with a most pretentious adobe chimney, while the captain, Poncho 
Lomas, lives in a composite dwelling, the kitchen being of lumber, 
and the sleeping-rooms the ordinary willow kish of the aborigine. 

In one style of house the arrow-weed is used with good effect 
and picturesque appearance. Small bunches of the weed are 
fastened by a cross-pole to the upper portion of the house frame. 
The butts of the weed are upward, and the tips downward. 
These are then plaited together in neat and regular fashion, new 
weeds being introduced as required, until the whole side of the 
house is completed. Here, then, is a house of basketry. It keeps 
out the sun and rain, and breaks very materially the force of the 

Who knows what fetiches are hidden in the shadowy re- 
cesses of these dwellings, — the charms to keep off the witches, 
to prevent the bats flying into the rude houses and sucking away 
the breath of the sleeping inmates at night, to keep lizards and 
horned toads from creeping into one's belly and giving terrible 
cramps, to keep the Evil One out of the stomachs of pot-bellied 
children -at corn and melon time, to keep the rattlesnakes from 
biting, bears from hugging, mountain lions from leaping upon 
one, to ward off sidewinders, and the harm that comes from the 
hoot of the owl at night ? What a melange of charms and amulets 
one would need to give one a good husband or wife, to procure 
long life, to determine the sex of the unborn child, to make the 
barren woman bear, to produce a flow of milk, to make the sheep 
and cows more prolific and add to the number of the horses, 
mules, and burros, to make the corn, melons, and onions grow, to 
give one a sweet voice, to win the love of a shy and timid maiden, 
or to compel the caresses of a wilful and strong-minded man, — 

T - ~ ' ''".»; »'" "■ ■■■ ■ "'.,. j . ,»"■ ~ "fi 7 

~v, # ft! 

■;■- • ?& 

The Indians of the Desert 


ah, only those who know the real inner heart, the real supersti- 
tious life of the Indian, can dream of the number of these strange 
things hidden in a village like this. 

The Coahuilla Indians do not have many native arts now left 
to them. They still make a few baskets, however, their work 
being of fair quality. A few weavers do excellent work. In all 
there are now thirteen women who do basket-making with some 
degree of regularity. Careful inquiry among them has so far 
failed to find any weavers who use any symbolism in the designs 
of their baskets. One or two weavers imitate birds, reptiles, etc., 
such designs as those of the eagle, turtle, lizard, and butterfly 
being not uncommon, but many other designs of evident vegetable 
origin are said to have no meaning, 
and are used merely "to make the 
basket look pretty." 

The Coahuillas make a rude pot- 
tery in somewhat similar fashion to 
that of the pueblo tribes of Arizona 
and New Mexico. They find the 
clay in the mountains, soak it, and 
then pound and puddle it with round 
rocks. As soon as it is properly 
worked, the pottery-maker takes a 
piece of the clay, rolls it out into a 
long rope, and then begins her coil 

just as if she were making a basket. One coil is laid upon an- 
other, and the two are pinched together, then smoothed out 
with a small bone, wood, or gourd-shell paddle. When the 
vessel is complete it is dried in the sun for a short time and then 
put in a fire of mesquite wood. Burning is a difficult process, 
and requires watching closely. Sand is thrown upon the fire 
when it seems to burn too rapidly. 

While the morality of the Martinez Indians is good, there are 
cases that arise occasionally that require considerable care in 
the handling. For instance, the alcalde of 1905 had a family 
of six children. In addition he cared for his father and mother. 
Near the end of the year the husband of his oldest daughter 
died, leaving her with four children. This daughter and her 

A Coahuilla 


246 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

children came home, thus making in all a family of twelve for 
the alcalde to care for. His second daughter was about twelve 
years of age, not yet having come to puberty. She felt the bur- 
den her father was bearing, and when a young man of some 
eighteen years offered her a home, she accepted it, and went 
to live with him. Her father could not persuade her to return 
and he went to see the missionary about it, who at once com- 
municated with the Indian agent, and also his own superintend- 
ent whose word has great power with 
most of the Indians of this reserva- 
tion. Immediately letters were re- 
ceived from the agent and superin- 
tendent, the former demanding the «——--— j^idian dogs 
immediate return of the girl to her 

home, and the other suggesting the same thing. Though very 
angry, the young man deemed discretion the better part of valor, 
especially as he was informed that if he were patient for a 
couple of years, and the girl then wished to marry him, all ob- 
jections would cease. 

Tattooing used to be universal among them. The thorn of 
the mesquite tree was used to make the puncture, after which 
the bruised leaves of the same tree were rubbed into the holes 
until the juice soaked in. Then the juice of the leaf was forced 

into the flesh by making 
the puncture deeper. The 
color thus produced was a 
very deep green. A few of 
the older men and women 
are still found bearing the 
tattoo. Others have re- 
moved it. They inform me that the marks are effaced by 
repacking them and letting out the blood. As soon as the 
pricks heal the color disappears. 

A study of the native plants, grasses, seeds, roots, and fruits 
used by the Indians as food and medicine is most interesting, 
and Dr. D. P. Barrows has gone over the ground in a fairly 
exhaustive manner in his "Ethno-Botany of the Coahuilla 
Indians." Here are a few additional facts. 

Indian doe 

The Indians of the Desert 



One of the chief plants used for medicine is the metch-o-wol. 
Its leaves are supposed to be efficacious in curing sore throat, 
and an infusion from its root is considered good for a cold. The 
leaves are taken and well soaked in a pan of boiling water. 
Then the patient kneels down with his head over the pan con- 
taining the infusion. A blanket is thrown over the head and 
then a red-hot rock is dropped into the liquor. The steam is 
thus breathed in through the mouth and nostrils and the sore 
throat soon disappears. 

The root is cut into pieces about the size of a lima bean, and 
then boiled for twenty minutes to an hour. The patient drinks 
a spoonful or so of the infusion every hour. While the older 
people still believe in the efficacy of these medicines, the young 
ones are unanimous in pro- 
nouncing them "no good." 

In the same category of 
uselessness they place the 
sweat-bath of the elders. 
This is taken not oftener 
than once a month, and 
never by the young. A 
small hut is kept for the 
purpose. It is a rude frame 

covered with mesquite bark, fan-palm leaves, mud, etc., to 
make it retain the heat. In the center a fire is lit and when 
the heat is intense two or three persons in a nude condition 
sit down around the fire until they perspire freely. When 
they come out they wrap themselves up in blankets and lie in 
the hot sun, still sweating, and when by and by the sweat- 
ing ceases and the body is dry they wash themselves off with 
hot water. For soap they use the leaves of a plant called seh'-wel, 
which, when bruised and rubbed in hot water, produces a fine 
lather. In washing clothes the sehwel leaves are not only rich 
in saponaceous qualities, but they help whiten them, having an 
effect somewhat similar to that of bluing. 

With these Indians, as with us, medicine and medicine-men 
alike often fail to heal, and death ensues. They bury their dead 
after a ceremonial of wailing that is as piteous as it is pathetic. 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

The wail of mourners on the desert seems to have greater 
potency than elsewhere. Shrill and loud, it seems to pierce the 
stars and reach to the far-away edges of the wilderness, striking 
the mountain slopes with its wild frenzy and falling back in 
slightly diminished power to echo and reecho among the cliffs 
and up the canyons. The Indian wailing for her dead! It is 
the articulate voice of sorrow of the ages, the cry of the aborigine 
against the unbearable hand of Fate. 

While there is little or no music in the conventional wailing 
of the Indians, there are times, both of sorrow and of rejoicing, 
when they indulge in their primitive music. At such times I 
feel as if I were being taken back to the very beginning of the 
world. These simple and primitive songs bring before me 


Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Noah and all the Hebrew 
patriarchs. I can imagine such songs being sung when the 
flood came, and when the ark finally settled on Mount Ararat 
and the family of Noah came out of the ark. It is a wonderful 
thing to hear primitive music, sung in primitive fashion, by a 
primitive people when they imagine themselves alone. 

The mesquite bean, men'-a-kish, and screw bean, queen'-yl, 
are two of their chief articles of diet. The granary in which 
their supply is stored is made of willow and arrow-weed and is 
called pen'-a-vat. These granaries are three and four feet in 
diameter, and are generally made by the men. They stand 
about two and one-half to three feet in height and are placed 
on platforms, in order that predatory animals and vermin may 
not set to their contents. 

The Indians of the Desert 249 

To make a food or drink of the beans they are pounded in a 
wooden mortar, generally made from the trunk of a tree, hollowed 
out as far as needed with a stone axe. As soon as the beans 
are pounded into meal, this is sifted through a basket screen. 
The flour is then put into a basket or pail and water sprinkled 
over it, where it remains for two or three days. By this time it 
is hard and ready to eat. 

For drink the flour is soaked a few minutes, the liquor, ka'-hat, 
is then poured off and drank. It is never allowed to ferment. 

For candy, pah'-vas-ni-at' , the flour is especially chosen from 
well-ripened beans and ground exceedingly fine. It is made 
the same as the bread. 

In preparing barley for food they dampen it a little, pound it 
in a mortar, and then, placing it in a saucer-shaped basket, 
shake the basket and toss the barley up and down with a 
peculiar circular motion. Soon the hulls are edged off and drop 
to the ground, while the grain is gathered together toward the 
operator. It is an interesting process, for the dexterity of move- 
ment is remarkable. 

It is only within comparatively recent times that we have 
learned of the rich treasure-house of legend, myth, and story the 
Indians' memory is. These stories have been handed down 
from the "old times," and reveal the mental processes of the 
Indian as nothing else can. 

Captain Poncho gave me the following Coahuilla story of the 
advent of man and of the creation of the earth: "In the long, 
long ago, before the world was created, there was nothing but 
darkness and lightning. For a long period of time it would be 
all dark, and then suddenly, with ilash and zigzag, the fierce 
brilliancy of the lightning would strike through the darkness. 
Once these flashes and zigzags struck so often that they formed 
an egg, which grew bigger and bigger until it was fully as large 
around as a big man is tall. There were two babies in that 
egg. There was nothing to hold up the egg but the air, yet it 
floated until the babies grew bigger and bigger, so that they 
knew things. When they were old enough to know things they 
thought they would break their shell and come out, and one of 
them did so. As soon as he broke his half of the shell and 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

emerged, he exclaimed, 'I'm the oldest!' The other said, 'No! 
I'm the oldest! But if you are older than I, go ahead and make 
something for us to stand on. We can't float around here in 
this rotten egg-shell forever and by and by it will give way and 
we shall sink and sink until we go nowhere and that will be the 
end of us.' 

"'I shall not obey you/ said the first one to emerge. 'You 
are younger than I, so you must do what I tell you!' 

" 'No! You are the one to do it because you claim to be older 
than I. You make something to stand on. The fact is, you 
can't make anything!' 

"This taunt angered the older one, so he exclaimed, 'You 
think I cannot make anything. I will make the earth;' and he 
at once proceeded to make the earth and the people to live upon 


Corral at Martinez 

it. But there was no sun and no moon and everything was 
dark and the people cried for light. So the older said to the 
younger, 'Make some light for the people to see by,' and the 
younger one made the stars. But that was not enough. They 
gave but little light and the people cried out for more light. 
Then the older one said to the younger, 'Your light is not enough. 
Make more.' So in obedience the younger made the moon. 
But there was still not enough light, and when the people com- 
plained the older said to the younger for the third time, 'Make 
more light!' This time, however, the younger brother refused. 
He said, 'I have made all the light there is, and I do not intend 
to make any more. You command me to make the light be- 
cause you don't know how to make it yourself.' This taunt 
made the elder brother fiercely angry and he cried out, 'Do I 
not know? Look!' And with a swift stroke of anger he created 
the sun, which has ever since made light for the whole world. 

The Indians of the Desert 


"The younger one recognized his brother's power, but con- 
soled himself by saying as he walked away, 'Well, he would 
never have made such a great light as the sun, unless I had first 
showed him the way.'" 

In the early days the Martinez Indians used to have a fire- 
dance. A few of the medicine-men made a large bonfire, around 
which they danced in an almost naked condition, singing the 
while their songs and incantations. When the flames died down 
and only the bed of incandescent coals was left they walked right 
into the center of the hot mass and remained there for several 
minutes, suffering neither injury nor inconvenience therefrom. 


Watering place 
at Torres 

But this power 

seems now to 
.. ' be lost. There 
are but two 
old medicine-men, 
Ignacio Ormega and Juan 
Pedro, and the extent of 
their fire charms consists 
merely in taking live coals into their mouths and then breathing 
out flames and smoke. Occasionally a fire-dance is now given, 
but as both the priest and the pastor of the Moravian mission 
are opposed to it, and most of the people attend one church 
or the other, the dance has fallen into disrepute and will un- 
doubtedly soon disappear. 

On the map, to the southwest of Mecca, will be noticed the name 
Fig Tree John's. This is the home of an Indian who receives his 
name from the fact that he has a number of fig trees planted 
around the springs upon which he has been located for many 
years. The water has demonstrated the rich fertility of the 
soil and his trees have grown until they are large and bear well. 
Thirty of his trees are fully thirty years old, and he has a smaller 

252 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

orchard of younger trees. He claims to have started the orchard 
himself from the cuttings of a tree which he found at some de- 
serted settlement. His figs are among the finest and earliest 
in Southern California, and are about the size and shape of a 
turkey's egg. They ripen early in May, and in the Los Angeles 
market they bring about twenty-five cents a pound. The figs 
on my own trees at Pasadena this year, 1906, did not ripen until 
the middle of August, so that the advantage of Fig Tree John's 
early shipments will be evident. 

The Stage Line Across the Desert 253 


The Stage Line Across the Desert 

ESISTLESSLY progress marches in every new country 
where the Anglo-Saxon sets his foot. The Army 
of the West crossed the Colorado River from Yuma 
to San Diego in 1846 to find California already 
l £ enrolled under the 1 United States flag; the battle 
of San Pasqual was fought December 6 and 7, 1 846 ; 
P. St. George Cooke, with the Mormon Battalion, 
came through a month later (in January, 1847) and 
gave his name to Cookes Wells; gold was discovered next year, 
January 24, and by the end of 1848 the world's gaze was turned 
to the new Eldorado. In 1849 the real exodus began, and, as 
Sonora was nearer to California than any other well-peopled 
country, the Sonoranian emigration was the first in the field. 
For three-quarters of a century California had held direct in- 
tercourse — more or less frequent — with Sonora and the route 
was fairly well known, by way of Tubac, Tucson, the Gila 
Valley, across the Colorado River and the Colorado Desert, 
either to the mission of San Diego, over the lower road, or to 
the mission of San Luis Rey, through the San Felipe Pass, while 
a third road went up by Indio and Palm Springs, over the San 
Gorgonio Pass, to mission San Gabriel. 

From 1850 to 1853, J. R. Bartlett was engaged in determining 
the boundary line between Mexico and the United States, and he 
fully describes the route from San Diego to Yuma by way of 
San Pasqual, Warner's Ranch, and San Felipe, thence by Cam- 
eron Lake to the Colorado River. 

In September, 1853, Arizona was purchased from Mexico, 
under the Gadsden treaty; in 1853-54, Jefferson Davis, then 
Secretary of State, ordered a survey of the country west of the 
Mississippi in order to find the best railroad route to the Pacific, 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

and in accordance with his instructions Lieutenant Williamson 
and his aids made surveys of the country from Los Angeles 
south to San Diego and from both points to Yuma, thus cover- 
ing the southern and the San Gorgonio Pass routes over the 
Colorado Desert. 

In 1854-55 the new boundary survey was made, including 
Arizona, by Major Emory and Lieutenant Michler, and when 
Arizona mines began to be developed, as they did about this 
time, the slow methods of wagon transportation were found 
inadequate to meet the needs. 

During the whole of this period immigration travel was de- 
sultory and irregular, people coming 
in with their own wagons and gen- 
erally returning by the Isthmus. 

An early-day 


In August and September, 1857, the San Diego and San An- 
tonio semimonthly stage line was established, under the direc- 
tion of I. C. Woods. James Burch was contractor. This con- 
tinued in spite of the bad habit contracted by the Indians of 
personally undertaking to distribute not only the mails, but the 
dead bodies of the mail carriers, the mail coaches, and the 
stock, over the plains, and the occasional playful acts of im- 
paling the station keepers with arrows and spears, and burning 
the stage stations. 

But the pressure upon Congress now was so great for a regular 
mail service to California that one of the last acts of the Congress 
sitting at the termination of the Pierce administration was to 

The Stage Line Across the Desert 255 

authorize the Postmaster-General to establish a postal route 
between the Mississippi River and San Francisco, California, 
for a period of six years. Advertisements were published asking 
for bids, but limiting the amounts to not more than $300,000 
per year for semimonthly, $450,000 for weekly, or $600,000 
for semiweekly service. The bids were opened on the first of 
July, 1857. There were nine bids in all. It was decided not 
to use the northern routes, as the Post-office Department already 
had had large and distressing experiences on those routes ow- 
ing to snows. As for instance, the mails for November, 1850, 
by way of Salt Lake, did not reach their California destination 
until March, 1851, owing to the unprecedented falls of snow in 
the Sierras that winter. 

On the second of July, 1857, the Postmaster-General accepted 
the bid and made the order for the route "from St. Louis, Mis- 
souri, and from Memphis, Tennessee, converging at Little Rock, 
Arkansas; thence via Preston, Texas, or as nearly as may be 
found advisable, to the best point of crossing the Rio Grande 
above El Paso, and not far from Fort Fillmore; thence along the 
new road being opened and constructed under the direction of 
the Secretary of the Interior, to Fort Yuma, California; thence 
through the best passes and along the best valleys for safe and 
expeditious staging, to San Francisco." 

It took a year to get the line in operation and on September 
15, 1858, the overland letter mail, in four and six horse and mule 
coaches, left St. Louis and San Francisco simultaneously on their 
long trip across the country. The schedule time was twenty- 
five days, three days less than that of the ocean route by way of 

The line was finely equipped, there being over 100 specially 
constructed Concord coaches, 1,000 horses, 500 mules, and 750 
men, of whom about 150 were employed as drivers. 

The fare was $100 in gold for each passenger, whether he 
were a Tom Thumb, a Falstaff, or a Daniel Lambert. Six 
passengers went through from San Francisco to St. Louis on the 
first stage, and their arrival at St. Louis was considered a 
great public occasion. In San Francisco the rejoicing was on 
a gigantic scale. The long-hoped-for, dreamed-of, and desired 

256 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

overland mail was now a reality and the pioneers showed their 
joy and appreciation in a great round of festivities. 

The line was known as the "Buttei field Overland Mail." 
It was the longest continuous line ever organized and the 
best operated. It ran twice a week, under a six years' contract 
with the Postmaster-General, at a subsidy of $600,000 per year. 
Considering the difficulties, it was one of the most wonderful 
private enterprises of history. To span the continent, and in 
so doing ford treacherous rivers where changing quicksands 
made every trip dangerous, and floods often carried away horses, 
coaches, and drivers; traverse barren, sandy deserts where water 
and feed had to be provided for both man and beast, and where 
moving sand-hills, heat, and storm often rendered travel im- 
possible; cross towering mountains where, in winter, deep snows 
buried roads twenty, fifty, and even a hundred feet out of sight; 
through marshy quagmires where miles of road had to be con- 
structed of corduroy; through dense forests where wild animals 
lurked; and where, from one end to the other, the sole reliance 
was upon the grit and nerve of man and the endurance of horse- 
flesh; in spite of a score of hostile tribes, all of whom seemed 
to concentrate their efforts to stop this new movement of their 
white foe, — I say to span the continent, a distance of nearly 
two thousand five hundred miles, in twenty-four and, later, 
twenty-one days, was a feat of which man might well be proud. 
That it ran well is evidenced by the fact that the Los Angeles 
Star records that it came in ahead of time, and had flaming 
head-lines calling for "A Hundred Guns for the Overland 
Mail, Twenty Days from St. Louis." But as J. M. Guinn 
says: "The sleepy old city could not keep awake. The next 
issue of the Star says: 'The Overland Mail arrived at midnight. 
There was no one in the post-office to receive it, and it was car- 
ried on to San Francisco,' to be returned six days later, with all 
the freshness of the news gone." The route from Los Angeles 
was by El Monte, Temecula, Warner's Ranch, Vallecita, and 
Alamo Mocho to Yuma. 

The roads over which the stages traveled were all natural. 
There were no "made" roads, save in a few isolated places 
over steep grades, or where a marsh had to be "corduroyed." 

The Stage Line Across the Desert 


And it is the same on the desert to-day. As soon as a road be- 
comes too deeply rutted or too muddy, the driver strikes out 
and makes a new road for himself, and the result is some regions 
are cut up with diverse roads all made during a period, say, of 
wet weather to avoid too much mud, or some peculiarly bad 

While the Butterfield line was in successful operation, running 
its biweekly stages, a monthly mail line was plying between 
St. Louis and Salt Lake, and it was soon to become the main 
line and the forerunner of the first overland railway. Trouble 
with the South was pending and finally the Civil War broke 

■in abandoned 
light stage 
for swift work 



3 $ 

out. Almost immediately the Butterfield line went out of 

The Confederates levied on all the stock, etc., on the east 
end of the line, and the Apaches and other Indians, who had 
been making constant endeavors to drive the stage-coach line 
out of the country, seeing the change in affairs, even though 
they did not understand the cause, seized the opportunity and 
stole all the stock and furnishings, burnt and pillaged the sta- 
tions and as far as possible wiped out every vestige of the Over- 
land Mail at the western end. 

On the twelfth of March, 1 86 1, the southern overland route was 
ordered discontinued and a bonus of one month's extra pay given 
to the contractors. St. Joseph, Missouri, was selected as the 

Vol. I.— 17 

258 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

starting point for the new line, and it operated as the "Central 
Overland California and Pike's Peak Express" (abbreviated to 
C. O. C. & P. P.), via Atchison, Kansas, Salt Lake City, and 
Placerville, California. July i, i86i,it went into operation as a 
daily line, and thenceforth the southern line was practically aban- 
doned. For in 1863, when J. Ross Browne was invited by 
Charles D. Poston, the first Indian agent for Arizona, to go 
from Oakland with him on a trip through Arizona, they had to 
rely upon personal conveyances, though the government supplied 
an escort of five soldiers and an officer, as well as mules for the 
ambulance and rations for the soldiers. 

At the close of the war, when matters were more settled, a 
freight and passenger service was organized by the Hooper- 
Whiting Company of Yuma. Vessels plied between San Fran- 
cisco and other California points, and sailed into the Gulf of 
California and thence up the Colorado River to Yuma. For 
many years the main bulk of supplies for the Arizona miners 
and those located on the river above Yuma came this way and 
stage service on the southerly route, by Warner's Ranch, was 
desultory and finally abandoned. 

In 1872 the stage from Prescott to Los Angeles came by way 
of Ehrenberg, Chuckwalla, Indio, Palm Springs, and the San 
Gorgonio Pass. P. W. Dooner, who came to Los Angeles in 
hat year by stage, tells of his first stop on the desert at Chuck- 
walla. This was then, says he, "a station where refreshments 
and lodging are supposed to be furnished. The place was just 
about as classic in its surroundings as the jingle of its name 
would suggest. We came upon the scene at a moment when all 
the indications pointed to a recent domestic calamity. We were 
informed by the driver that the occupant was blessed by an 
Indian wife, taken according to Indian rites, and that unhappy 
differences of opinion had agitated the domestic hearth within 
the period of twenty-four hours which had deprived the estab- 
lishment of its mistress, and which would materially affect the 
accommodations of the place. A notice which had just been 
posted in a conspicuous place upon the outer front wall of the 
family hut gave the only other information that we could gather 
concerning the family trouble. This was scrawled in plain but 

The Stage Line Across the Desert 


uncouth letters — Roman and script intermixed — and was care- 
fully copied into my diary. It reads as follows: 

"'Notice: — An oldish squaw about 30; blind in one eye — 
the left one; a slight halt in one leg; a thoroughbred. She has 
abandoned the ranch, and any one who will get her back will 
receive two sacks of mesquite beans.' 

"We were detained here for some four hours, and up to the 
time of our departure no person had come to claim the prof- 
fered reward. 

"From Chuckwalla westward was the usual desert journey, 
undisturbed by incident, but still an experience that must have 
been undergone in order to be appreciated. No words can con- 
vey an adequate conception of the desolation of the mid-desert 
region. The stillness and silence are unbroken by any motion 

or sound except it be the vibration of the palpitating air under 
the torrid heat, or the voice of the driver as he urges the weary 
mules to renewed exertion. In one direction the view is swal- 
lowed up in the mirage, or exhausts itself over an endless ex- 
panse of sand, and in the opposite direction a reddish brown 
sandstone bluff* rims the horizon. Of indigenous life there is 
none at all — nothing but sky and sand and sweltering heat. 
One might reasonably suppose that the twilight hour would 
bring some relief from the oppressive heat, but, while the tem- 
perature of the night may have been much lower than that of 
the day, there was always some compensating influence in the 
atmosphere of the night that made such change hardly, if at all, 
perceptible. The night breeze, if such there happened to be, 
was invariably so warm as to make it much more comfortable 
to screen the face from its contact than to invite exposure to its 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

biting influence; while, in a calm, the constant radiation of heat 
from the burning sands of the preceding hours of day main- 
tained the atmosphere at a temperature always above the normal 
heat of the body." 

As is recounted in other chapters the old stage stations of the 
desert still stand, some in ruins and deserted, others used as 
ranch-houses or present-day stopping places for miners and pros- 
pectors. Many are the stories that travelers tell as to what 
occurred in the old days at these stations. 

A lady friend of mine, the wife of a former U. S. Army officer, 
once took the journey from San Francisco to Tucson. She 
well remembers stopping at one of the stations on the Colorado 

Modem visitors on the desert 

Desert after the Indians had made a raid and cleaned out the 
commissary department. The meal had to be cooked and served 
by the station-keeper, and as he came to the table with a bat- 
tered, grimy, and unclean looking coffee-pot, and stood at her 
elbow, he asked, "Will yer have cofFee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, or 
milk?" Then apparently as an afterthought he exclaimed, 
"Yer'll have to take cofFee, damit, for that's all there is." 

Mr. J. L. Vosburgh, of Los Angeles, came from St. Louis, Mis- 
souri, to Los Angeles, California, on the Butterfield stages. Said he 
in a recent conversation: "Those were strenuous days for travelers 
as compared with the ease of Pullman travel to-day, but all hard- 
ships and inconveniences were taken, as a rule, in the spirit of 
fun. We looked upon them as fit subjects for jokes, and the 

The Stage Line Across the Desert 261 

travelers who complained and whined were generally either 
guyed unmercifully, scored by the driver, or left severely alone. 
I well remember stopping at one station, the keeper of which 
shall be nameless. We found him in an awfully disagreeable 
mood. The stage-driver 'jollied' him a good deal, without re- 
moving the dark pall of gloom and moroseness that had settled 
on his countenance. He had warned us beforehand to look out 
for 'fun' when he mentioned 'cats.' Accordingly when he 
asked, 'How's your cats? All gone?' and received no reply, 
and then turned to us, and, with a merry twinkle in his eyes, 

assured us that 'H shoots all the cats he can find and serves 

them up to poor hungry travelers as rabbits,' we were all alert 
for something, we hardly knew what. But we were not pre- 
pared to see H reach for his revolver, and with a curse for 

his tormentor seek to shoot, which he certainly would have 
done, had not I, who happened to be nearest to him, taken the 
revolver from him. It afterwards transpired that the poor fel- 
low's daughter had that day run away with a Texan without 
saying, 'By your leave,' or 'Give me your blessing,' and he was 
in no joking humor." 

Mr. Vosburgh then told of another trip he made from Yuma 
over the sandy wastes where he saw the heads and horns of a 
large number of cattle sticking out of the drifted sand. A 
cattleman had started with a band of six hundred fine steers for 
the Los Angeles market from Southern Texas. It was a long, 
hot drive to Yuma, but having reached the Colorado River and 
crossed it in safety, though his animals were very weary, their 
owner had begun to congratulate himself that the worst part 
of the journey was over. A few days later he was able to tell 
another story. The desert had tried the poor creatures fear- 
fully and they were compelled to camp one evening without 
water. The herders comforted themselves with the assurances 
that they had received that they would be able to water before 
noon the next day, and themselves stretched out to rest, as the 
extreme exhaustion of the wearied cattle satisfied them that there 
was little fear of a runaway or stampede that night. During 
the late hours a sand-storm arose of such dreadful furv that every 
effort of the cowboys to compel the herd to get up and resume 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

the march was in vain. The poor creatures, too tired to battle 
against the drifting sand, allowed it to rise around them, and 
when at last they themselves seemed to realize that they must 
make an effort to extricate themselves or they would perish, it 
was too late, and when morning dawned it found the cattleman 
ruined, his herd all dead or dying, and a mass of shapeless forms 
with here and there a protruding head or pair of horns, all that 
remained to tell of what, the day before, had seemed to be 
enough to bring him in a small fortune. 


Old stage-station at Vallecito 

Water on the Desert 



Water on the Desert 

jOTHIXG is more precious to either the desert 
denizen or the desert traveler than water. 
There is no wonder that the desert tribes 
have symbols that they constantly and 
persistently force upon the attention of 
■ , their gods which tell of their love for and 
■',!/ need of water. "Give us water, more 
water," is the motive of these inarticu- 
late prayers. They weave the zigzag of 
the lightning into their blankets and baskets, paint it upon their 
leather ornaments and articles of dress and upon their bodies, 
sprinkle it with different colored sands upon their sacred altars and 
sing, dance, and pray to the gods controlling the "fire connected 
with rain" — the lightning — that they may be propitiated to aid 
in sending the needed water. They weave rainbows in their bas- 
kets and sprinkle the sacred meal before the altars of the rain- 
bow gods in rainbow shape in order that the sky may again be 
arched by this beautiful sign. They cherish the snake as the 
guardian of the springs and watercourses, for is he not always 
found where water is ? and is not his winding, sinuous course a 
living type of the winding, sinuous course of the streams ? They 
paint the snake on their girdles, weave him into their blankets, 
mold and shape him in silver into rings and bracelets for fingers 
and wrists, carve his effigy out of stone, and represent him by 
numerous hieroglyphics upon the cliffs and cave-walls of their 
dwelling-places and camps. They have their snake dances, 
which are solemn prayers for rain, and their flute dances, which 
are petitions that the springs may be filled up, and their rain 
dances and songs, which have the same objects in view. 

The Indians of the Colorado Desert not only discovered and 

Water on the Desert 265 

terraces are still quite distinct. Since other water supply has 
been found, many of these wells have become more or less 
choked up with sand and earth, though quite a number are still 
in use away from the mountain streams and the artesian flows. 

Blake describes (1853) the Indians clustered around the hot 
spring at Palm Valley, and then tells ol the deep well, twelve 
miles southeast, where his party camped on the following day: 
"It was at the base of a high sand-drift, and about twenty-five 
feet deep, but contained only a little water. It was wide at the 
top, but became smaller towards the bottom, being a funnel- 
shaped depression. The water was obtained by means of steps 
cut in the sides of the pit, the clay having hardened by drying so 
as to become like stone. This excavation appeared to have 
been made by the hands of Indians, for there were no marks of 
implements, and the clay that had been removed appeared to 
have been taken out while very moist and plastic. The open- 
ing to the well was shaded by several mesquite trees." 

Ever since the advent of the white man there has been con- 
flict between him and the Indian for the possession of the springs, 
water-pockets, and streams on the desert. Outrages innumerable, 
violence incalculable, hatred immeasurable, murders unnum- 
bered have been the result of this conflict, — all owing to the 
scarcity of this precious fluid. Nor has war between red and 
white alone been an evidence of water's preciousness. White 
men have cursed, maimed, wounded, and slain each other times 
without count on the deserts of our Southwest because water 
was scarce. Not a few have located on the only source of supply 
in a particularly barren, desolate, desert region, and by force 
have collected large toll of the unfortunate beings whose jour- 
neyings led them over this inhospitable road. Men have been 
found, knife and gun in hand, slain in a desperate conflict for 
possession of this precious supply. 

Early day travelers and prospectors on the desert were en- 
tirely dependent either upon the favor of Indians or their own 
skill to discover water-holes, "seeps," or springs. The history 
of the tragedies of those days has never been written and never 
will be, for no man knoweth how many lives were lost in the 
eager search for wealth prior to and succeeding the great gold 

266 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

discovery of '49. In later years men have banded together a 
little more. There has been a kind of freemasonry among 
prospectors. They have told each other where water was to 
be found. Occasionally a man would find himself in a region 
which promised well and he would clean out a good sized "tank," 
or even dig a well, if the water seemed to be near the surface. 
But not until recently have the officials of the counties made 
any endeavor to provide water, even on the roads more often 
traveled. On the county road going north from Mecca to the 
Mohave Desert country, twelve miles out is a well which bears 
the name of Shaver, he being the county commissioner under 
whose direction it was dug. 

At Cottonwood, some miles farther on, is a good spring or 
seep, which the owners of the Iron Chief 
Mine have gone to considerable expense to 
conserve. They have built two stone and 
cement reservoirs, piped the water into 
troughs in large feed corrals, and also 
erected a pumping plant to force the 
water to their mine some twenty-five to 
twenty-eight miles away. 

Four miles southwest from Cotton- 
Our canteens wood is Palm Tree Canyon, where 

"Charley" Anschultz has his mining 
prospects. Here there is a fair supply of water which makes 
his work possible. Without the water he would either have to 
abandon his mining endeavors or "pack" water over the trail 
from Cottonwood springs. 

Knowledge of the few water-holes, springs, and wells on the 
desert is essential to the prospector, hence it is singular, to say 
the least, that no more definite effort has been made by the desert 
county officials to make these locations better known. 

As I show in a later chapter on Sign-boards on the Desert, 
George W. Parsons, of the Mining Committee of the Los Angeles 

1 Since the above was written this well-known desert prospector and miner has come to 
an untimely end. Two men and a woman stole two horses from Mecca on Sunday night, 
September 9, one of which belonged to Anschultz. The next morning he followed the 
thieves, alone, and indications show that he was ambushed and murdered when he came 
up to them. 

Water on the Desert 267 

Chamber of Commerce, has been agitating a concerted move- 
ment to this end for some years. The desert wells should be 
cleaned out, covered so that animals will not fall in and drown, 
and buckets and ropes provided to reach the water. Then signs 
should be erected on all the trails giving explicit instructions 
how to reach water in every direction. Regular visits should 
also be made to see that the wells are kept in good order. River- 
side leads the state in this regard, and it is to be hoped the good 
work will continue until the desert wells are as numerous and 
easily reached as they should be. 

But even on the line of the railway, where water can be had 
every ten to fifteen miles, one should be exceedingly careful 
about venturing without a full supply. 

The reflection of the heat from the sand is so intense that no 
person, however well used to the desert, should think of going 
unprovided for more than two or three miles. Men have started 
off, in perfect derision of kind cautions, to walk along the rail- 
way track. The idea that any man could not walk from one 
station to another on a railway track without water was too 
preposterous for them to consider. Yet in the years since the 
railway was completed in 1881 it is safe to say fifty men have 
thus lost their lives. 

The most careless observer can scarcely fail to notice that 
each train, going east or west, over the desert, has its own water- 
car. Eastward water-cars are put on at Indio and taken as far 
as Mammoth Tank, and westward bound the engines fill up 
their tender and then hook on the water-car at Mammoth, drop- 
ping it at Indio. Freight and passenger trains alike are thus 
compelled to draw their own water supply. To remedy this, if 
possible, three artesian wells were bored, some years ago, at 
Mortmere (not the present Mortmere, but the one that is now 
under the waters of the Salton Sea), and a full flow was secured 
in all cases, the water pouring out in good volume two feet over 
the casing. But on testing it, it was found to be unsuitable for 
the use of the locomotives, some mineral or other substance in 
it producing foaming in the boilers. Hence the railway company 
was compelled to go back to its old method of hauling water- 
cars, which it still continues. 


The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

In 1899 a successful well was bored by the Southern Pacific 
Railway Company at Mecca, from which a good flow of pure 
soft water was obtained. Then the government appropriated 
$2,500 for the sinking of an artesian well at Martinez, in order 
to see if something could not be done to change the abject con- 
dition of the Indians. It proved to be a wonderful well, and is 
still flowing constantly. The flow was so abundant that it and 
the well at Mecca may be said to have given the present life to 
the Coachella Valley, for without artesian water nine-tenths of 
the present white inhabitants would be unable to live there. 
The settlement of the valley dates from the discovery of this belt 
of artesian water. Immediately all available land was taken up 

under the homestead and 
desert land acts, except 
that which is on the rail- 
way grant. 

There are now nearly 
three hundred artesian 
wells in the Coachella 
Valley. They range gen- 
erally from 450 to 550 
feet deep, though there 
are some that range be- 
tween 330 to 650 feet. 
The cost of boring is about $1.00 per foot, according to the 
casing used, a four-inch pipe being the regular size. The 
well at the experimental date farm, at Mecca, is 482 feet deep 
and yields 35 miner's inches of water. 

Surface wells can be dug anywhere in the Coachella Valley 
and water found at from 50 to 300 feet. In the upper part of 
the valley, say near Indio, this surface water is of fair quality, 
but it becomes more alkaline as one goes farther south. 

The water that flows from the artesian wells is about 6o° 
Fahrenheit, and is warm enough to promote the growth of the 
plants to be irrigated, even though it immediately come in 
contact with them. Too cold water will often retard plant 

This water also is "soft," so that for domestic purposes it is 

The modern artesian well 

Water on the Desert 269 

greatly to be desired. To one used to a "hard" water, where 
soap does not lather freely, this desert water is peculiarly agree- 
able. It is good to the "feel," and when, as was our case on 
the desert, we were often compelled to do our own laundrying, 
it was a great comfort to have cold water that lathered easily 
and that seemed to second all our untutored attempts to make 
our soiled garments and belongings clean. 

This artesian water doubtless has its origin from the flow of 
the near-by mountains. These comprise the entire eastern slope 
of Mount San Jacinto and the southeastern slope of Mount San 
Gorgonio. For fully five months, from April to August, the White- 
water River will discharge three thousand inches of water. For 
the same period from Tauquitch, Chino, Murray, Andreas, and 
Palm Canyons a flow of nine thousand inches is a reasonable 
estimate. All these streams disappear within a mile of their 
debouch on the desert to add to the inexhaustible artesian supply 
of the valley below. 

In and around the artesian wells at Mecca and in the streams 
leading from them to the Salton Sea are countless thousands of 
tiny fish, like minnows. Whether these came from the wells 
or from the Salton I am unable to say. 

In arid regions, where the clouds do not furnish rain in sufficient 
quantities for crops, water for irrigation is as great a desideratum 
as land. Given the best soil in the world, without water to make 
it productive it is valueless. Hence in the desert, where all pros- 
perity depends upon the welfare of the farmer, it is to the interest 
of all to see that the water supply is conserved, is properly dis- 
tributed and wisely utilized. While at first sight it may not 
appear relevant, it is nevertheless true that every desert 
farmer should be personally interested in the forest region from 
which he directly obtains his water supply. In the case of those 
who rely upon the Colorado River this is impossible, but as a gen- 
eral proposition the statement holds good. The water supply 
of the region is well known to have most intimate connection with 
the state of the forests. Denudation of forest areas is invariably 
followed by the conversion of constantly flowing streams into dry 
washes subject to destructive floods. The forests conserve the 
moisture and act as feeders to the springs, and when they are 

270 The Wonders of the Colorado Desert 

removed, the rain, having nothing to hold it, runs off immediately 
with great force, carrying with it the humus that helps retain the 
moisture and renders vegetation possible. Thus in two ways 
the irrigation farmer is injured: first, his water supply is incon- 
stant and uncertain, either a flood or a drought; and, second, 
a bare country is soon washed and gullied by its floods which 
thus carry off a large amount of sediment. This silt and sand 
fill up reservoirs, canals, and ditches, thus causing considerable 
annoyance and often great expense. 

Of the use of artesian and Colorado River water for purposes 
of irrigation, a subsequent chapter will deal. There is still, how- 
ever, a vast amount of water running to waste from the San Ber- 
nardino and the San Jacinto ranges, which might, and ulti- 
mately will be, impounded and then conveyed in pipes or other 
conduits for the irrigation of the desert. Thousands of acres of 
fertile land in both the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, far above 
the present canal levels and above the flow of artesian water, 
await the magic touch of the vivifying fluid to produce abundantly. 

Mexican hauling, water at Mexicali