These ranges are separated from each other by flat spaces, composed of stiff impure red clay, in which, at the distance of about two miles from the coast, I found by digging a few minute fragments of sea-shells. The sand-dunes extend several miles inland, and stand on a plain, which slopes up to a height of between one hundred and two hundred feet. Numerous, small, well-rounded pebbles of pumice lie scattered both on the plain and sand-hillocks: at Monte Hermoso, on the flat summit of a cliff, I found many of them at a height of 120 feet (angular measurement) above the level of the sea. These pumice pebbles, no doubt, were originally brought down from the Cordillera by the rivers which cross the continent, in the same way as the river Negro anciently brought down, and still brings down, pumice, and as the river Chupat brings down scoriae: when once delivered at the mouth of a river, they would naturally have travelled along the coasts, and been cast up during the elevation of the land, at different heights. The origin of the argillaceous flats, which separate the parallel ranges of sand-dunes, seems due to the tides here having a tendency (as I believe they have on most shoal, protected coasts) to throw up a bar parallel to the shore, and at some distance from it; this bar gradually becomes larger, affording a base for the accumulation of sand- dunes, and the shallow space within then becomes silted up with mud. The repetition of this process, without any elevation of the land, would form a level plain traversed by parallel lines of sand-hillocks; during a slow elevation of the land, the hillocks would rest on a gently inclined surface, like that on the northern shore of Bahia Blanca. I did not observe any shells in this neighbourhood at a greater height than twenty feet; and therefore the age of the sea-drifted pebbles of pumice, now standing at the height of 120 feet, must remain uncertain.

The main plain surrounding Bahia Blanca I estimated at from two hundred to three hundred feet; it insensibly rises towards the distant Sierra Ventana. There are in this neighbourhood some other and lower plains, but they do not abut one at the foot of the other, in the manner hereafter to be described, so characteristic of Patagonia. The plain on which the settlement stands is crossed by many low sand-dunes, abounding with the minute shells of the Paludestrina australis, d'Orbigny, which now lives in the bay. This low plain is bounded to the south, at the Cabeza del Buey, by the cliff-formed margin of a wide plain of the Pampean formation, which I estimated at sixty feet in height. On the summit of this cliff there is a range of high sand-dunes extending several miles in an east and west line.

Southward of Bahia Blanca, the river Colorado flows between two plains, apparently from thirty to forty feet in height. Of these plains, the southern one slopes up to the foot of the great sandstone plateau of the Rio Negro; and the northern one against an escarpment of the Pampean deposit; so that the Colorado flows in a valley fifty miles in width, between the upper escarpments. I state this, because on the low plain at the foot of the northern escarpment, I crossed an immense accumulation of high sand-dunes, estimated by the Gauchos at no less than eight miles in breadth. These dunes range westward from the coast, which is twenty miles distant, to far inland, in lines parallel to the valley; they are separated from each other by argillaceous flats, precisely like those on the northern shore of Bahia Blanca. At present there is no source whence this immense accumulation of sand could proceed; but if, as I believe, the upper escarpments once formed the shores of an estuary, in that case the sandstone formation of the river Negro would have afforded an inexhaustible supply of sand, which would naturally have accumulated on the northern shore, as on every part of the coast open to the south winds between Bahia Blanca and Buenos Ayres.

At San Blas (40 degrees 40' S.) a little south of the mouth of the Colorado, M.

South American Geology Page 11

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Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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