Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/403

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389
THE COLORADO DESERT.

verde," on account of the pale-green color of the branches. The blossoms are of a bright yellow, hang in long clusters all over the tree, and are visited by great numbers of wild-bees for the honey they contain. When in blossom there are no leaves on the trees, these coming out afterward, small, awl-shaped bodies, almost invisible to the eye. It would seem that the branches serve the purpose of leaves, and probably contain the stomata, in the same way as do the trunks and branches of the cacti. The Fouqueria spitiosa, the "ochotilla" of the Mexicans, is one of the most remarkable of all the desert-plants. The stem or trunk is very short, and branches into a number of long, lithe, whip-like shoots, covered with curved spines an inch or so long. The flowers are bright red, forming clusters at the ends of the shoots, and are succeeded by oblong capsules filled with minute seeds.

When the borders of the desert are reached, and we catch the first glimpse of the Colorado River near Yuma, the eye rests with delight upon the broad, rolling stream, and the banks lined with mesquite trees. No one can fully appreciate the beauty of forest vegetation unless he has spent some time on a desert waste, where even water to drink is scarce, and where vegetation of any consequence is unknown. The mesquite-trees along the Colorado are quite large, and the Yuma Indians find a considerable store of food in the beans.

It is surprising to a stranger to see these Indians walking round in the sun without any bead-covering except their hair, and nothing whatever on their feet, with the sand hot enough to scorch the skin of any one unaccustomed to it. They are not bothered with clothes, the braves at all events, for their dress is often solely a breech-clout about the waist, or occasionally a thin under-shirt in addition. Some have finely-formed figures, straight as an arrow, and, with their bronzed skin, look almost like statues when they pose. They are a worthless set, however, and live upon what they steal or find on the trees or take from the river. The squaws do the household work and carry wood and water, while their lazy lords spend the time roaming about or sleeping in their tents.

The Colorado River at Yuma is a good-sized stream. The water is very muddy, and, even when settled, has a milky tinge. It is, nevertheless, very good to drink, being, in fact, the best in the country. The stream is navigable for small steamers for about three hundred and seventy-five miles above Yuma, but in low water the boats often run aground on the sand-bars, and have to be stilted over them with timbers. An old navigator said that sometimes it was necessary to turn the bow down-stream, start the engine backward, and use the paddle to dig a way over the shallow places!

Yuma itself is situated in a hollow, surrounded on three sides by sand-hills. No breeze can cool the air, and the sun, beating down with almost tropical fervor, often causes the thermometer to register 120° in the shade. Even at night it is hot, for the earth radiates the heat