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WESTERN SECTION OF NORTH AMERICA.
NORTH AMERICA borders upon three great divisions of the ocean: the Atlantic on the east - - the Arctic on the north — and the Pacific on the south and west each of which receives, either directly or through its gulfs and bays, the superfluous waters from a corresponding great section of the continent.
These three great sections of North America are unequal in extent, and different in the character of their surface. At least one half of the continent is drained by streams entering the Atlantic; and of that half, the waters from the larger, as well as the more fertile portion, are carried by the Mississippi into the Mexican Gulf. Of the other two sections, that which borders on the Arctic Sea is probably the more extensive. The Atlantic and the Arctic sections present each a large proportion of surface, nearly plane, and comparatively little elevated above the sea; and the line of separation between them is so indistinctly marked as to be, in many places, imperceptible. The Pacific section, on the contrary, is traversed in every part by steep and lofty ridges of highland; and it is completely divided from the other portions, by a chain of mountains, extending, in continuation of the Andes of South America, from the Isthmus of Panamá, north-westward, to the utmost extremities of the continent in that direction.
Of the Atlantic coast of America it is unnecessary here to speak particularly. The irregularity of its outline, the numerous gulfs and bays enclosed by its sinuosities, the great rivers flowing through it into the sea, the archipelagoes in its vicinity, and all its other characteristic features, may be found minutely described in many works. The only parts of this coast, to which reference will be hereafter made, are those surrounding the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson's Bay, as many of the most important discoveries on the western side of the continent have been effected in consequence of the belief in the existence of a direct navigable communication between those portions of the Atlantic and the Pacific.
The Pacific coast extends from Panamá, near the 9th degree of latitude, * westward and northward, without any remarkable break in its outline, to
* All latitudes mentioned in the following pages are north latitudes, unless other. wise specially stated.
the 23d parallel, under which the Gulf of California, separating the peninsula of California from the main continent on the east, joins the ocean. From the southern extremity of this peninsula, called Cape San Lucas, situated near the entrance of the gulf, the American coast runs northwestward to the foot of Mount St. Elias, a stupendous volcanic peak, rising from the shore, under the 60th parallel; beyond which the continent stretches far westward, between the Pacific on the south and the Arctic Sea on the north, to its termination at Cape Prince of Wales, near the 64th degree.
Cape Prince of Wales, the westernmost point of America, is the eastern pillar of Bering's Strait, a passage only fifty miles in width, separating that continent from Asia, and forming the only direct communication between the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans. Beyond it, the shores of Asia and Europe have been explored in their whole length on the Arctic Sea, though no vessel has hitherto made a voyage through that sea from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or vice versa. The north coast of America has been traced from Cape Prince of Wales, north-eastward, to Point Barrow, near the 71st degree of latitude, and thence, eastward, more than fifteen hundred miles, though not continuously, to the Atlantic. The portion north of Hudson's Bay is still imperfectly discovered; and the interesting question whether the Arctic Sea there mingles its waters with those of the Atlantic, or is separated from them by the extension of the continent to the north pole, remains undetermined. Many circumstances, however, combine to favor the belief that a communication will be found between the two oceans, either through Fox's Channel, the northernmost part of Hudson's Bay, or through Lancaster Sound, which joins Baffin's Bay, under the 74th parallel ; though there is little reason to expect that any facilities for commercial intercourse will be gained by the discovery.
The Pacific coast, between the entrance of the Californian Gulf and the Strait of Fuca, which joins the ocean under the 49th parallel, presents few remarkable indentations, and the islands in its vicinity are neither numerous nor large. North of the 49th parallel, on the contrary, the mainland is every where penetrated by inlets and bays; and many peninsulas protrude from it into the sea. In its vicinity, moreover, are thousands of islands, some of them very large, lying singly or in groups, separated from each other, and from the continent, by narrow, intricate channels. The most extensive of these collections of islands is the NorthWest Archipelago, nearly filling a great recess of the coast, between the 48th and the 58th parallels. Kodiak is the centre of another archipelago, on the east side of the peninsula of Aliaska; and a long line of islands, forming the Aleutian Archipelago, stretches from the southern extremity of Aliaska, westward, across the sea, in the course of the 54th parallel of latitude, to the vicinity of the opposite Asiatic peninsula of Kamtchatka. The part of the Pacific called the Sea of Kamtchatka, or Bering's Sea, north of the Aleutian chain, likewise contains several islands, situated, nearly all, close to the shores of one or the other continent.
This coast, in its whole length, from the southern extremity of California to Bering's Strait, is bordered by lofty mountains, which appear to form a continuous chain, partially broken, in a few places, by the passage across it of rivers from the interior. The mountains rise, for the most part, immediately from the sea-shore, above which they may be seen towering one, two, and even three, miles in perpendicular elevation : in
GENERAL VIEW OF THE GEOGRAPHY.
some places, however, the main ridge is separated from the ocean by tracts of lower country, as much as one hundred miles in breadth, traversed by parallel lines of hills. This ridge, for which no general name has yet been adopted,* is almost entirely of volcanic formation ; being part of the great line or system of volcanoes, which extends from Mexico to the East Indies, passing along the west coast of America, from the southernmost point of California to the south-west extreme of Aliaska, thence through the Aleutian Islands to Kamtchatka, and thence southward through the Kurile, the Japan, the Philippine, and the Molucca Islands. There are many elevated peaks, nearly all of them volcanoes, in every part of the chain; the most remarkable break, or gap, is that near the 46th degree of latitude, through which the Columbia rushes, at the distance of a hundred miles from the Pacific.
The great chain of mountains which separates the streams emptying into the Pacific from those flowing into the other divisions of the ocean. runs through the northern continent, as through the southern, in a line generally parallel with the shore of the Pacific, and much nearer to that sea than to the Atlantic. Under the 40th degree of latitude, where the western section of America is widest, the distance across it, from the summit of the dividing chain to the Pacific, is about seven hundred miles, which is not more than one third of the distance from the same point of the mountains to the Atlantic, measured in the same latitude.
The dividing chain south of the 40th degree of latitude has received many names, no one of which seems to have been universally adopted. It has been called, by some geographers, the Anahuac Mountains; and by that name, though entirely unknown to the people of the adjacent country, it will be distinguished whenever reference is made to it in the following pages.
The portion of the great ridge north of the 40th parallel is generally known as the Rocky or Stony Mountains. From that latitude, its course is nearly due north-westward, and gradually approaching the line of the Pacific coast, to the 54th degree, where the main chain turns more westward, and continues in that direction so far as it has been traced, - probably to Bering's Strait. Another ridge, called the Chipewyan Mountains, indeed, extends, as if in prolongation of the Rocky Mountains, from the 53d parallel, north-westward, to the Arctic Sea, where it ends near the 70th degree of latitude; but the territory on its western side is drained by streams entering that sea either directly, or passing through the ridge into the Mackenzie River, which flows along its eastern base.
The Rocky Mountains, so far as their geological structure has been ascertained, consist of primary formations, principally of granite. Though rising, in many places, from eight to sixteen thousand feet above the ocean level, they do not, in general, appear very high to the beholder, on account of the great elevation of the country at their bases. On the east. ern side, within a hundred and fifty miles of the great chain, and running nearly parallel to it, are several ridges, from which the surface gradually declines, becoming more nearly plane as it approaches the Mississippi, the Red River, and Hudson's Bay. The part of the continent west of the Rocky Mountains is, as already stated, traversed, in its whole extent, by
* The author of this work ventures to propose, for the great ridge here mentioned, the name of FAR-West MOUNTAINS, which seems to be more definite, and in every respect more appropriate, than any other which could be adopted.
lofty ridges, separated only by narrow valleys, or plains of moderate width. The country at the base of the chain, on the Atlantic side, is probably nowhere less than four thousand feet above the level of the sea, and that on the Pacific side is doubtless much higher.
The most elevated portion of the Rocky Mountains is about the 54th degree of latitude, where the chain turns towards the west; several peaks in that vicinity have been ascertained to rise more than sixteen thousand feet above the ocean level. Many points, which are undoubtedly more than ten thousand feet in height, have been found in the portion of the dividing ridge called the Wind River Mountains, near the 420 degree of latitude, and farther south, in Long's Range, where the sources of the Arkansas River are situated.
Among these mountains, nearly all the greatest rivers in North America have their sources. Within a hundred miles of the point where the chain is crossed by the 41st parallel, rise - on the eastern side — the Missouri, the Yellowstone, the Platte, and the Arkansas, the waters of all which are carried through the Mississippi into the Mexican Gulf, and the River Bravo del Norte, which falls into the same arm of the Atlantic; while — on the western side — are found the springs of the Lewis, or Snake, the principal southern branch of the Columbia which enters the Pacific, and those of the Colorado, which terminates in the head or northern extremity of the Californian Gulf. The sources of the Platte, and those of the Green River, the largest head-water of the Colorado, are situated at opposite ends of a cleft, or transverse valley, in the Rocky Mountains, called the South Pass, in latitude of 42 degrees 20 minutes, which seems destined to be the gate of communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific regions of the continent. In another great cleft, called by the British traders the Punch Bowl, near the 53d parallel, overhung by the highest peaks of the chain, the northern branch of the Columbia issues from a lake, situated within a few feet of another lake, from which runs the west branch of the Athabasca, one of the affluents to the Mackenzie; and at a short distance south rises the Saskatchawine, which takes its course eastward to Lake Winnipeg, and contributes to the supply of Hudson's Bay. In many places between the 42d and the 50th degrees of latitude, the upper streams of the Missouri lie very near to those of the Columbia ; but no gap or depression, which appears to offer facilities for travelling or transportation of merchandise, has been discovered in that part of the dividing chain.
The ridges between the Rocky Mountains and the great westernmost chain which borders the Pacific coast, appear to be all united with one or both of those chains, and to run, for the most part, in the same general direction, from south-east to north-west. The most extensive of these intermediate ridges, called the Snowy Mountains, is believed to stretch uninterruptedly from the Rocky Mountains to the westernmost range, and even to the Pacific, nearly in the course of the 41st parallel of latitude, dividing the regions drained by the Columbia, on the north, from California, on the south. Another ridge, called the Blue Mountains, extends northward from the Snowy Mountains to the 47th parallel, bounding the valley of the Snake or Lewis River, the southern branch of the Columbia, on the west. A lofty ridge also runs from the westernmost chain, near the 48th degree of latitude, northward, to the Rocky Mountains, which it joins near the 54th degree, separating the waters of the northern branch
of the Columbia from those of Fraser's River on the west, and constituting another natural boundary to the territory drained by the former stream. Of the interior of California, little is known with certainty : it is, however, probable that a ridge extends from the Snowy Mountains, near their junction with the Rocky Mountains, about the 420 degree of latitude, southward, to the great westernmost chain, near the 32d degree, where the Californian peninsula joins the continent, forming the western wall of the valley of the Colorado River.
The territories west of the Rocky Mountains abound in lakes, several of which present surfaces of great extent: some of them communicate with rivers; others have no outlet, and their waters are consequently salt.* The largest, called the Timpanogos, or Utah Lake, among the Snowy Mountains, between the 40th and the 420 degrees of latitude, belongs to the latter class, and is probably not less than two thousand miles in area. The most extensive of the fresh-water lakes is the Kullispelm, or Clarke's Lake, formed by the expansion of the Clarke River, in a valley surrounded by high mountains, under the 48th parallel.
The countries on the Pacific side of North America differ materially in climate from those east of the great dividing range of mountains situated in the same latitudes, and at equal distances from and elevations above the ocean. These differences are less within the torrid zone, and beyond the 60th parallel; but in the intermediate space, every part of the Pacific section is much warmer and much drier than places in the Atlantic or the Arctic sections under the same conditions as above expressed. Thus the north-westernmost regions of America appear to be as cold, and to receive as much rain and snow from the heavens, as those surrounding Baffin's Bay, or those in their own immediate vicinity in Asia; but in the countries on the Pacific side corresponding in latitude and other respects with Wisconsin, Canada, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, the ground is rarely covered with snow for more than three or four weeks in each year, and it often remains unfrozen throughout the winter. In the countries on the west coast, opposite to Virginia and Carolina, the winter is merely a wet season, no rain falling at any other time; and in the Californian peninsula, which is included between the same parallels of latitude as Georgia and Florida, the temperature is as high as in any tropical region, and many years in succession pass by without a shower or even a cloud. It is likewise observed, especially between the 30th and the 50th parallels, that the interior portions of the Pacific section are much more dry, and the
Wherever water runs on or passes through the earth, it meets with salts, in quantities greater or less, according to the structure of the soil, and the space passed over or through: these salts it dissolves, and carries to its final recipient, either the ocean, or some lake or marsh, or sandy region, having no communication, either above or below the surface, with any lower recipient; and, as the water can only escape naturally from this recipient, by evaporation, which cannot abstract a single saline particle, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that the salt must always be accumulating there. Thus the Dead Sea, which has no outlet, is saturated with salts, while the Lake of Tiberias, from which it receives its waters through the Jordan, is perfectly fresh; and innumerable other instances may be cited. In like manner, the ground in countries from which the water is not regularly carried off by streams or infiltration, is generally impregnated with salt; of which examples are offered in the high plains of Mexico, in some valleys west of the Rocky Mountains, and in many parts of the United States. The reverse may not be always true ; but the saltness of a large body of water, or a large extent of ground, affords strong reasons for suspecting the want of a drain from it into a lower recipient.