These plains or terraces were best developed where the valley was widest; the whole five, like gigantic steps, occurred together only at a few points. The lower terraces are less continuous than the higher ones, and appear to be entirely lost in the upper third of the valley. Terrace C (south), however was traced continuously for a great distance. The terrace B (north), at a point fifty- five miles from the mouth of the river, was four miles in width; higher up the valley this terrace (or at least the second highest one, for I could not always trace it continuously) was about eight miles wide. This second plain was generally wider than the lower ones--as indeed follows from the valley from A (north) to A (south) being generally nearly double the width of from B (north) to B (south). Low down the valley, the summit-plain A (south) is continuous with the 840 feet plain on the coast, but it is soon lost or unites with the escarpment of B (south). The corresponding plain A (north), on the north side of the valley, appears to range continuously from the Cordillera to the head of the present estuary of the Santa Cruz, where it trends northward towards Port St. Julian. Near the Cordillera the summit-plain on both sides of the valley is between 3,200 and 3,300 feet in height; at 100 miles from the Atlantic, it is 1,416 feet, and on the coast 840 feet, all above the sea-beach; so that in a distance of 100 miles the plain rises 576 feet, and much more rapidly near to the Cordillera. The lower terraces B and C also appear to rise as they run up the valley; thus D (north), measured at two points twenty-four miles apart, was found to have risen 185 feet. From several reasons I suspect, that this gradual inclination of the plains up the valley, has been chiefly caused by the elevation of the continent in mass, having been the greater the nearer to the Cordillera.

All the terraces are capped with well-rounded gravel, which rests either on the denuded and sometimes furrowed surface of the soft tertiary deposits, or on the basaltic lava. The difference in height between some of the lower steps or terraces seems to be entirely owing to a difference in the thickness of the capping gravel. Furrows and inequalities in the gravel, where such occur, are filled up and smoothed over with sandy earth. The pebbles, especially on the higher plains, are often whitewashed, and even cemented together by a white aluminous substance, and I occasionally found this to be the case with the gravel on the terrace D. I could not perceive any trace of a similar deposition on the pebbles now thrown up by the river, and therefore I do not think that terrace D was river-formed. As the terrace E generally stands about twenty feet above the bed of the river, my first impression was to doubt whether even this lowest one could have been so formed; but it should always be borne in mind, that the horizontal upheaval of a district, by increasing the total descent of the streams, will always tend to increase, first near the sea-coast and then further and further up the valley, their corroding and deepening powers: so that an alluvial plain, formed almost on a level with a stream, will, after an elevation of this kind, in time be cut through, and left standing at a height never again to be reached by the water. With respect to the three upper terraces of the Santa Cruz, I think there can be no doubt, that they were modelled by the sea, when the valley was occupied by a strait, in the same manner (hereafter to be discussed) as the greater step-formed, shell- strewed plains along the coast of Patagonia.

To return to the shores of the Atlantic: the 840 feet plain, at the mouth of the Santa Cruz, is seen extending horizontally far to the south; and I am informed by the Officers of the Survey, that bending round the head of Coy Inlet (sixty-five miles southward), it trends inland. Outliers of apparently the same height are seen forty miles farther south, inland of the river Gallegos; and a plain comes down to Cape Gregory (thirty-five miles southward), in the Strait of Magellan, which was estimated at between eight hundred and one thousand feet in height, and which, rising towards the interior, is capped by the boulder formation.

South American Geology Page 16

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Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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