National Geographic : 1911 May
A LAND OF DROUGHT AND DESERT LOWER CALIFORNIA Two Thousand Miles on Horseback Through the Most Extraordinary Cacti Forests in the World BY E. W. NELSON OF THE U. S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE With Photographs by E. A. Goldman OWER CALIFORNIA is the long, narrow peninsula that projects about 800 miles southeasterly from the southern border of California. Its width varies from about 30 to over Ioo miles, and its irregular coast-line, over 2,000 miles long, is bordered by numer ous islands. Being mainly a mountainous, desert region, it is thinly peopled and presents many sharply contrasting con ditions. Here low, sun-scorched plains, where death by thirst awaits the unwary traveler, lie close to the bases of towering granite peaks, belted with waving pine forests and capped in winter by gleaming snow. Vast desolate plateaus of ragged black lava embosom gem-like valleys, where verdure-bordered streams and the spread ing fronds of date palms recall the mys terious hidden vales of the "Arabian Nights." Its western coast is bathed by cool waters and abundant fogs, while the eastern shore is laved by the waves of a warm inland sea, sparkling under almost continuous sunshine. Although adjoining some of our best known territory and with a recorded history which goes back almost four centuries and teems with varied events, the peninsula still remains one of the least - known parts of North America. The early chronicles tell of its discovery in 1533 by an expedition sent out by Cortes in search of a fabulously rich island said to have been inhabited by Amazons. THE PATIENT WORK OF THE JESUITS It has been estimated that at the time of its discovery the peninsula, including many of the bordering islands, was peo pled by about 25,000 Indians. The in habitants vigorously resented the intru sion of newcomers, and for more than a century efforts to establish military colonies in the new land resulted in dis astrous failures. Then the occupation of Lower California was put in the hands of the Jesuits, and their missionaries were wonderfully successful. They ex plored all parts of the peninsula and es tablished missions throughout most of its extent, at the same time introducing many of the crops and fruits of the old world. In addition they established the three main trails, which extend practically the entire length of the peninsula and to this day serve as the regular routes of travel. One leads along each coast and the third down the mountainous interior. The coast trails are easier to travel, because less broken; but the middle one is most used, owing to its better grazing and more numerous water-holes. We fol lowed this route most of the time, but at intervals changed back and forth to the others.