National Geographic : 1939 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE Photograph from A. Rogers Studio OVER THE LOOPING RIO GRANDE AND ITS FLAT DELTA A BIG TRANSPORT ROARS, BOUND FOR MEXICO CITY In 1929 an important industry literally swooped down on Brownsville from the air. Pan American Airways established one of its two superstations for conditioning the flying ships that cross oceans and girdle continents. Engines for the trans-Pacific Clippers and planes in the Alaska service arrive in packing cases by freight from San Francisco; others are taken out of ships which have flown in. At the airport, four miles from the city, 150 mechanics are constantly tearing down, rebuilding, testing and reinstalling these powerful motors. The airport is the northern terminus of service which extends through the Mexican capital and Panama to all parts of South America. or of a visitor like myself on some business mission from the North. JUNGLE BLANKETS RICH SOIL Westward-faring pioneers in the early days of the United States had to chop down forests of sizable trees to earn their land. Later comers, on the wide prairies, had it for the taking. Here on the semitropical frontier there was work again, and lots of it, before the land could be put to use. Like most newly arrived outlanders, I was amazed when I saw for the first time the dense tan gle of virgin jungle growth that still covers parts of the region. The sight of it gave me a healthy respect for the early comers who had imagination and energy enough to peel off this ugly and tenacious "rind" to get to the rich, productive earth beneath. Left to itself the Rio Grande, even a few decades ago, fanned out in flood times, pouring its waters into the lagunas of the Gulf of Mexico through several widely sepa rated streams, and covering with a shallow, slow-moving, chocolate-brown flood vast areas of the delta lands as well. It was the fertile delta soil, aided by these periodical silt-bearing overflows, that made possible the heavy growth of jungle; but because of the limited rainfall between floods-and sometimes actual drought for considerable periods--only plants adapted to semidry conditions could survive. How long the Rio Grande Delta soil lay sleeping beneath its mantle of semitropical jungle, no one knows definitely. Few of the mesquite and ebony trees appear to have lived for more than a century.