Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/402

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a bush of any consequence anywhere near, though they are common enough near Indio. Frink's Spring has no water within six miles; and at Cactus, strange to say, there is hardly a plant in sight.

The animal life in the desert is meager in the extreme, and in many places there is none at all. Along one stretch of twenty miles, where there are no trees of any size, the woodpeckers and little wrens have made their nests in holes dug in the telegraph-poles. It is strange that the habits of these birds have not been modified to suit the surroundings, but they have probably come into the country since the poles were erected. Snakes are in places comparatively common, but still, one might travel for two or three days and not see any. Rattlesnakes live under the stones, and resemble the ground so closely that they are hard to distinguish. Lizards delight in the hot, sandy wastes, and at all times are darting hither and thither with the rapidity of light. In places are regular beaten tracks made by them along one side of the rails. Horned toads, really lizards (Phrynosoma cornutum), are common, and so near the color of the sand that it is almost impossible to recognize them except when running, and utterly impossible to catch them. Three or four kinds of beetles are common in places. Cryptoglossa verrucosa, Cysteodema armata, and Endrotes ventricostis, are the most common. The first has such hard elytra that they can almost be stepped on without fear of crushing them. They generally take refuge from the sun on the shady side of the rails, and the tracks left by them are plainly visible. Great numbers are found dead on the sand, and it would seem that the heat of the sun and of the sand combined was too much for them. The much dreaded scorpion and the centiped are also found, but are not common.

The vegetation of the desert is, of course, of a peculiar character. For about twenty miles near Indio, the mesquite (Prosopis juliflora) is very common. It forms a tree twenty or thirty feet high, with a very rough bark, scraggy branches, and sharp thorns. The leaves are like those of the acacia, and the flowers yellow, in long racemes. The pods succeeding the flowers are long and crooked, and are used by the Indians for food. The branches are often burdened by huge masses of mistletoe, sometimes as large as a barrel, and serve as nesting-places for birds. The mesquite-wood is excellent for fires, and the Indians cut and stack it along the road to sell to the company for fuel.

Cacti are common over a large part of the desert, and the brilliant crimson and yellow flowers serve to enliven the otherwise desolate wastes. Larrea Mexicana, the creosote-plant, is also common. It is so called on account of its peculiar odor. The leaves are small and sticky, the flowers yellow, and the seeds are covered with a whitish fuzz. Nothing will eat it, it is unfit for burning, and it is hard to tell what place it fills in the economy of nature. The Parkinsonia Torreyana is another peculiar desert-plant. The Spaniards call it "palo