Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/17

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WE started, at 1:55 P.M., with a light breeze from the south, and steered down the bay, along the coast, towards Wady Mojeb, the river Arnon of the Old Testament. The shore presented the barren aspect of lofty perpendicular cliffs of red sandstone, and here and there a ravine with patches of cane, indicating that water was, or had recently been, there.

At 4:45, passed a date-palm-tree and some canes, their tops withered, at the foot of a dry ravine; soon after, saw an arch, twenty feet from the water, spanning a chasm twelve feet wide. The mountains of red sandstone were beautifully variegated with yellow and capped by high cliffs of white in the background. At 5:25, stopped for the night in a beautiful cove on the south side of the delta, through which, its own formation, the Arnon flows to the sea. The stream, now eighty-two feet wide and four deep, runs through a chasm ninety-seven feet wide, formed by high, perpendicular cliffs of red, brown, and yellow sandstone, mixed red and yellow on the southern side, and on the north, a soft, rich red, — all worn by the winter rains into the most fantastic forms, not unlike Egyptian architecture. It was difficult to realize that some were not the work of art.


The chasm runs up in a direct line for 150 yards, then turns, with a slow and graceful curve, to the south-east. In the deepest part, within the chasm, the river did not at that time exceed four feet in depth; but after passing through the delta, narrowing in its course, it is ten feet deep, but quite narrow at the mouth. We saw here tracks of camels, and marks of an Arab encampment. There must be some passage down the ravine, the sides of which seemed so precipitous. There were castor-beans, tamarisks, and canes, along the course of the stream from the chasm to the sea. Fired a pistol up the chasm; the report reverberated finely against the perpendicular sides. Walked and waded up some distance, and found the passage of the same uniform width, turning every 150 or 200 yards gradually to the south-east. Observed a dead gazelle, and saw the tracks of gazelles and of wild beasts, but could only identify those of the tiger. The report of a gun, which we fired, reverberating like loud and long-continued peals of thunder, startled many birds. The highest summit of the inner cliffs, north of the chasm, were yellow limestone. Saw a large brown vulture, its beak strong with two denticulations. After bathing in the cool, refreshing stream, and supping on rice and tea, we spread our awnings upon the beach, and slept soundly under the bright stars. At midnight, thermometer 78°, wind N.W., and very cold. George Overstock, one of the seamen, had a chill this day. We feared that the fever which had heretofore attacked all who had ventured upon this sea was about to make its appearance. It was to a city, “in the border of Arnon,” to which Balak, king of the Moabites, came to meet Balaam. From the Arnon to the Jabbok, “which is the border of the children of Ammon,” was the land given to the tribes of Reuben and Gad.


THURSDAY, MAY 4. A warm, but pleasant morning. Overstock better, but I feared the recurrence of his chill the next day. Started at 6:50, after filling the water-breakers. As we were shoving off, heard voices and two gun-shots in the cliffs above, but could see nothing. Sent Lieut. Dale, in the Fanny Skinner, to sound across to Ain Turabeh. Our course was northwardly, parallel with, and a short distance from, the Arabian shore, sketching the topography as we passed. It presented the same lofty, rugged, brown parched hills as heretofore. At 8:40, a beautiful little stream; along the banks of which were twenty-nine date-palm-trees, in groups of two or three, a grateful relief to the monotonous and dreary hue of the mountains and the sea.

At 9, we passed a stream which was visible, in a long white line, from the summit to the sea, into which it plunged, a tiny, but foaming cataract. Its whole course was fringed with shrubbery, and its brawling noise was distinctly heard.

At 10:37, stopped to examine some huge, black boulders, lying confusedly upon the shore, which proved to be trap [dark, fine-grained igneous rocks] interspersed with tufa [calcareous & siliceous rock]. The whole mountain, from base to summit, appeared one black mass of scoriae [cinder-like fragments of dark lava] and lava, the superposition of the layers giving them a singular appearance. In the rocky hollows of the shore were incrustations of salt, of which, as well as of the lava, we procured specimens.


At 10:50, started again, — the scenery grand and wild; wherever there was a rivulet, lines of green cane and tamarisk, and an occasional date-palm-tree, marked its course: a fine breeze from the southward. At 12:20, stopped in a cove formed by the Zerka main, the outlet of the hot springs of Callirohoe. The stream, twelve feet wide and ten inches deep, rushes, in a southerly direction, with great velocity, into the sea. Temperature of the air, 77°; of the sea, 78°; of the stream, 94°; one mile up the chasm, 95°. It was a little sulphureous to the taste. The stream has worn its bed through the rock, and flows between the perpendicular sides of the chasm, and through the delta, bending to the south, about two furlongs, to the sea. The banks of the stream, along the delta, are fringed with canes, tamarisks, and the castor-bean. The chasm is 122 feet wide at the mouth; and, for one mile up, as far as we traced it, does not lessen in width. The sides of the chasm are about eighty feet high, where it opens upon the delta; but within they rise in altitude to upwards of 150 feet on each side, where the trap formation is exhibited. In the bed of the chasm, there was one stream, on the south side, eight feet wide and two deep, and two small streams in the centre, all rushing down at the rate of six knots per hour. There were no boulders in the bed of the ravine, which, in the winter, must, throughout its width, and high up the sides, pour down an impetuous flood. The walls of the chasm are lofty and perpendicular, of red and yellow sandstone, equally majestic and imposing, but not worn in such fantastic shapes, nor of so rich a hue, as those of the Arnon. Waded up about a mile, and saw a few date-palm-trees, growing in the chasm. The turns, about 200 yards apart, at first gently rounded, but subsequently sharp and angular. There was a succession of rapids, and a cascade of four, and a perpendicular fall of five or six feet. A little above the rapid, trap shows over sandstone.


The current was so strong that, while bathing, I could not, with my feet against a rock, keep from being carried down the stream; and, walking where it was but two feet deep, could, with difficulty, retain a foothold with my shoes off. There were many incrustations of lime, and some tufa. In the loneliest part of the chasm, nearly trod upon a sparrow before it flew away. Had this been a settled country, the wee thing would not have been ignorant that, in mere recklessness, man is its greatest enemy. Saw a white butterfly, some snipes and brown hawks, and gathered some heliotrope (heliotropum Europeum), which was scentless, and a beautiful purple flower, star-shaped, five petals, calix and seed-stalk a delicate yellow. Pulled up a species of willow by the roots, in the hope of preserving it.

At 7 P.M., bathed first in the sea and afterwards in the stream; a most delicious transition from the dense, acrid water of the sea, which made our innumerable sores smart severely — to the soft, tepid and refreshing waters of Callirohoe. The water of the sea was very buoyant; — with great difficulty, I kept my feet down; and when I lay upon my back, and, drawing up my knees, placed my hands upon them, I rolled immediately over.


At 8 P.M., we had half a cup of tea each, to which we were limited from scarcity of sugar, and slept upon the gavel until 2 A.M. There was a large fire on the western shore, in the direction of Feshkhah. Quite cool in the night; thermometer ranging from 70° to 68°. The great number submitted cheerfully to privation, but a few looked discontented at our scanty fare. This selfishness was painful to witness. If ever there was an occasion requiring a total exemption from it, this was surely one. In low minds this trait betrays itself in matters of the stomach and the purse; in those less sordid, but equally ungenerous, in the gratification of sensual love; and, in minds more aspiring, but no less unrestrained by principle, in matters of ambition. Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage; and, for a few pieces of silver, the reprobate sold his heavenly Master: Charles II., instead of fervent thankfulness, spent the first hours of his restoration in seducing an unhappy lady of his court; and Napoleon never hesitated to sacrifice a friend on the altar of his ambition.