National Geographic : 1968 Jan
Our Virgin Islands, 50 Years Under the Flag got off an airplane five years ago-against two for the man he was talking about! I was lucky to find a genuine native Cru cian, Jean Larsen, to show me the amazing geographic diversity of St. Croix. We drove along the flat plain of the southern coast, ideal for farming; then, moving northwest, we climbed the upper slopes of Mount Eagle and Blue Mountain, each lifting abruptly to above 1,000 feet. Leaving the car, we walked through rain forests, under primeval trees bearded by moss and festooned by airplants and vines thick as a man's leg. EKTACHROME© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Yet, ten miles away, the eastern end of St. Croix was a virtual desert. Cactus shapes and thorny acacias stood stark against a hard blue sky, while bosun birds rode the hot up drafts high above. Reaching the final rocky point that cleaves the trade-wind swells like a ship's bow, I stood at the easternmost terri torial extremity of the United States. "You can say now that you have the whole country behind you," laughed Jean. I could not resist replying, "What a place for a presidential candidate to build a house!" East Point has another distinction: It was the first part of the Virgin Islands to be sighted by Christopher Columbus. On the morning of November 14,1493, during his second voyage, he passed the island called Ayay by the Indi ans. The admiral called it Santa Cruz-Holy Cross-but the name that stuck was St. Croix, bestowed during French occupancy in the 17th century. Islands' Name Honors St. Ursula As Columbus sailed northward from Santa Cruz, he saw a multitude of peaks lifting over the horizon. They were so numerous that he was reminded of the legend of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. A popular version holds that Ursula was a British princess who be sought her father to allow her to go on a cruise before marrying a pagan king. So many other maidens asked to be included that 11 ships were needed to transport them. After three years of wandering, they arrived in Cologne as it was being sacked by the Huns. Ursula and her companions were slain, but their memory lives on in the paradise Columbus named Las Virgenes in their honor. The early Spaniards never tried to settle St. Croix or the other Virgins, but they re turned on systematic raids to capture Indians for work in the gold mines of Hispaniola. Later arrivals found no Indians. The Dutch and English moved onto St. Croix around 1625, but the latter soon crowded out the former, only to be ousted themselves by the Spanish. The French took possession Airborne successors to inter-island vessels, amphibian planes ferry passengers practi cally from doorstep to doorstep in the Vir gins. Here, beside the new Caravelle Hotel in Christiansted, St. Croix, an Antilles Air Boats ground crewman hoses sea salt from a Grumman Goose at the end of its day's work-seven round trips to St. Thomas.