National Geographic : 1943 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine The source of the water is a large number of hot springs just above the cliff. Beyond them are curious rock cones, some of them 40 feet high. It seems that there were once springs at these spots. The water bubbling from the ground formed a deposit of car bonate of lime. This grew higher and higher, until the spring, having no force to rise farther, found a new outlet. Green Paradise of the Tell As we ride through the green paradise of the Tell, nothing seems more remote than the desert. The Americans of the present expedition will be curious to know what lies behind the mountain wall. Few will find out. But it is safe to say that their interest will be so aroused that, in some more peace ful year, some of them will return to Algeria to take a trip farther south. They will cross fertile plains, see thou sands of fig and olive and orange trees, and then dive through a tunnel and rub their unbelieving eyes as they come out on the brink of the Sahara, golden yellow in the setting sun, stretching away to a plum-colored horizon. It is a sudden change from abun dance to desolation. But the desolation, too, has its beauty and its possibilities. The first large oasis is Biskra and a won derful place it is. But those who are really anxious to see the Sahara will hardly pause here. At Biskra or Touggourt they will fit out a camel caravan and set out by compass over the yellow ocean to discover the secrets of the Sahara. One of the secrets will dawn upon them before they have gone a mile. It is that riding a camel is not as easy as it looks when a Bedouin does it. I had ridden a horse since childhood. That fact did me no good. The motion of a camel was a complete surprise. It is a violent pitch, forward and backward. The wave passes up the spine like the crack of a whip. The neck becomes tired from the effort of the head to adhere to the body. After a few hours of such going, what a re lief it is to transfer your disjointed bones to one of the humble horses or donkeys! The camel has no bridle. A cord is tied about his nose. If you want him to go to the right, you pull his head to the right, where upon he goes where he wants to! It is the same for going to the left. If you find the cord unsatisfactory, you may use your bare toes, as the Arab does, wriggling them against either side of the camel's neck. To make your beast go, you persuasively say "Oo-sss! Oo-sss!" To slow him down or stop him, you cluck like a hen. But if you do not give the correct Arabic intonation to these sounds, he will not understand you. And do not think that the same vocabulary will do for your other animal friends. A horse will go only if you say "Ash!" and stop at "Whoa-la!" A donkey picks up speed when he hears a threatening "Ar-r-r-r-r zit!" You bring him to a halt with a "Uishshshsh." The mehari, or racing camel, is a triumph of evolution. He is a beautiful sleek animal, lighter in color than the freight camel, and has a much more amiable disposition. Meat, Hide, and Hair of Camel All Utilized The camel can go five to ten days without water, and live on the fat of his hump. His padded feet, as big as platters, carry him over soft sand, his nostrils may be closed against the dust, and his eyes are protected from glare and sand by sweeping eyelashes that would be the envy of a Hollywood star. Dead, he is still useful. His meat is whole some, his hide is turned into fine leather, his coarse hair becomes clothing, tent cloth, and rope, and his fine hair has painted many great works of art and gone into valuable shawls and rugs. The Sahara, larger than the United States, has had a varied history. It was once partly flooded. When the waters subsided, it became a fertile tropical country. Fossils of animals that demand a damp green habitat have been found in the Sahara-the hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and elephant. The camel was introduced much later. The parching of the Sahara, with extremes of temperature day and night, broke up the old granite and other hard rocks, which cropped out here and there, into sand, and the wind distributed the grains over the pres ent Sahara area. This apparently arid soil is in some places even more fertile than much land where rain is common. Here the potash and other fertilizing matter have not been leached out of the soil by flood. Everything is there waiting only for seed and water. Of water there is an abundance, if you drill for it deep beneath the crust. The French have been sinking artesian wells, and many new oases have been made to bloom. Desert travel is not monotonous. On one night we camp in a green oasis; on another, upon the hamada, or rocky desert; on an other, among the great dunes; on another, at the edge of a salt lake over which a mirage makes weird changing scenes.