National Geographic : 1900 Sep
THE COLORADO DESERT southward once more to the sea. The lake, fed irregularly and poorly, gradually dwindled as the silted banks of the Colorado became more secure, until it is represented today only by the Salton morass and other lagoons and the summer overflow streams by which these are supplied. All this took place in very recent time. The Coahuila Indians, who today inhabit the upper end of the valley, have a distinct and credible tradition of the drying-up of this lake and of the occasional sudden return of its waters; and the Dieguefios, who lived at a time when the supply of water along the central portion of the valley was probably much greater than at present, raised on the naturally irri gated soil abundant crops of maize, melons, and beans. But slowly the valley was abandoned to aridity. Almost unvisited by rainfall except about the edge of the mountains, the loss of the river left it cruelly dry. Low and inclosed between heat-reflecting ranges that shut off the breezes of the ocean, it gained a temperature which is one of the highest on the globe. The wind storms that rage up the valley from the southeast have drifted great dunes of sand over certain por tions, and much of the country never reached by the deposits of the lake is as black, stony, and repulsive as eruptive rock formations in the desert can be. Apparently about the middle of the first half of the century the overflow from the Colorado was largely checked and not resumed to any extent until the year 1849. The Indians, who had lived in plenty along the central valley, were driven by the drought forever from their homes. In November, 1847, the advance column of American'troops, under Kearny, moving across from Fort Leavenworth for the conquest of California, crossed the desert from Yuma to San Diego. The troops suffered severely from thirst, finding no water, except a scant supply at Alamo Mocho, the first station after leaving the Colorado. In the middle of the plain they found a salt pool, approached through a thick, soapy quagmire, but the water was unfit for man or beast. This lake indicates at least a slight overflow at that time, and Major Emory reported that captured Spaniards who guided them told of a stream of running water some miles south of Alamo. This stream the Amer icans were unable to find (no overflow taking place so late in the fall), and their experience led them to announce the desert as almost wholly without water supply.* But in 1819 came the rush of emigrant parties from the southern * See the report of Major Emory, "Notes of a Military Reconnoissance," etc., Washington, 1848, pp. 100-102.