National Geographic : 1899 Aug
GEOGRAPHIC LITERATURE in other ways; at least two sand-buried cities of considerable antiquity were brought to light; the camel was found wild, under such conditions as to suggest to the author a domesticated ancestry; and the shiftings of Lob-nor, which, with so slender observational basis, have given rise to so voluminous literary discussion in the last lustrum, were analyzed with no little acumen. One of the most fruitful trips was the final journey eastward from Khotan through northern Thibet to Tsaidam desert and the Koko-nor; a full half of the route traversing a desolate. plateau, uninhabitable by reason of aerial rarity and consequent sterility. The plateau, fronted on the north by the Kuen-lun mountains, is corru gated in east-west ridges like the Pamir; but they rise so far above the zone of vapor-weighted clouds that the precipitation is insufficient to produce waterways opening to the sea, and the intervening valleys are lined with wind-blown as well as water-borne detritus and dotted with saline lakes, while the slopes are mantled with frost-fractured de bris well toward the crests. Here the classic khulan (wild ass) and the wild yak live, enjoying a seclusion so perfect that the passing car avans awaken curiosity rather than fear. The plains over which they skurry, and even the lakes whose shores they haunt, are amid the higher clouds, 15,000 to 18,000 feet above tide; the low pass in the second range (Arka-tagh) stands 18,180 feet; and even in midsummer the mountain chill is below freezing, always by night and often by day. The trip was not made without effort; all suffered from mountain sick ness, Islam Bai narrowly surviving, while the Chinese interpreter was sent back; and of the six camels, twenty-one horses, and twenty-nine donkeys of which the caravan consisted at the outset, but three camels, three horses, and one donkey crawled feebly down to the settlements on the borders of Tsaidam. Yet the observations, geographic and geologic, with studies of yak and khulan and smaller life, well repaid the cost. As the party pushed eastward through Tsaidam, the to-be-expected brush with Tangut robbers-who slew Dutreuil de Rhins and assailed Przhe valsky and Roborovsky-was realized; yet by some chance (or trick of Tangut superstition) the explorers, with three rifles, five revolvers, and two marksmen (not including the leader) escaped actual assault. The exploration was conducted under patronage of King Oscar of Sweden, the Nobel family, and other donors of the $8,000 or $10,000 expended; the support finding its warrant in the admirable outline of past and pro spective Asian exploration incorporated in the introductory chapters, and finding justification in the important results attained by Dr Hedin. The narrative is naive, and reveals the personality of the author in attractive fashion. By the vigorous and self-reliant explorers and sur veyors who have pushed geographic knowledge over the North Ameri can continent, this quiet, spectacled student, chronically homesick and frequently helpless, would be voted a tenderfoot; yet the fact remains that good chance and persistence carried him through stress of weather, hunger and thirst, tricky theft and threatened robbery, with all other explorers' ills, and enabled him to consummate a memorable task in mak ing known the previously unknown world. WJM.