Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/465

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447
THE STORY OF A STRANGE LAND.
THE STORY OF A STRANGE LAND.

By DAVID STARR JORDAN.

PRESIDENT OF THE LELAND STANFORD JUNIOR UNIVERSITY.

"In one strange land,
 And a long way from home,
 I heard a mighty rumbling, and I couldn't tell where." 

Negro Melody.

IT happened a long time ago, it may be fifty thousand years in round numbers, or it may have been twice as many, that a strange thing took place in the heart of the Great Mountains. It was in the middle of the Pliocene epoch, a long, dull time that seemed as if it would never come to an end. There was then on the east side of the Great Divide a deep, rocky basin surrounded by high walls of granite gashed to the base by the wash of many streams. In this basin, we know not how—for the records all are burned or buried—the crust of the earth was broken, and a great outflow of melted lava surged up from below. This was no ordinary eruption, but a mighty outbreak of the earth's imprisoned forces. The steady stream of lava filled the whole mountain basin and ran out over its sides, covering the country all around so deeply that it has never been seen since. More than four thousand square miles of land lay buried under melted rock. No one can tell how deep the lava is, for no one has ever seen the bottom. Within its bed are deep clefts whose ragged walls descend to the depth of twelve hundred feet, and yet give no glimpse of the granite below, while at their side are mountains of lava whose crags tower a mile above the bottom of the ravines.

At last, after many years or centuries—time does not count for much in these Tertiary days—the flow of melted lava ceased. Its surface cooled, leaving a high, uneven plain, black and desolate, a hard, cold crust over a fiery and smoldering interior. About the crater lay great ropes and rolls of the slowly hardening lava, looking like knots and tangles of gigantic reptiles of some horrible extinct sort. There was neither grass nor trees, no life of any sort. Nothing could grow in the coarse, black stone. The rivers and brooks had long since vanished in steam, the fishes were all dead, and the birds had flown away. The whole region wore the desolation of death.

But to let land go to waste is no part of Mother Nature's plan. So even this far-off corner of her domain was made ready for settlement. In the winter she sifted snow on the cold black plain, and in the summer the snow melted into a multitude of brooks and springs. The brooks gradually wore paths and furrows down the large bed, and the sands which they washed from one place