These fringes are worn into steps or terraces, which present a most remarkable appearance, and have been compared (though not very correctly) by Captain Basil Hall, to the parallel roads of Glen Roy in Scotland: their origin has been ably discussed by Mr. Lyell. ("Principles of Geology" 1st edition volume 3 page 131.) The first section which I will give (Figure 9), is not drawn across the valley, but in an east and west line at its mouth, where the step-formed terraces debouch and present their very gently inclined surfaces towards the Pacific.
The bottom plain (A) is about a mile in width, and rises quite insensibly from the beach to a height of twenty-five feet at the foot of the next plain; it is sandy, and abundantly strewed with shells.
Plain or terrace B is of small extent, and is almost concealed by the houses of the town, as is likewise the escarpment of terrace C. On both sides of a ravine, two miles south of the town, there are two little terraces, one above the other, evidently corresponding with B and C; and on them marine remains of the species already enumerated were plentiful. Terrace E is very narrow, but quite distinct and level; a little southward of the town there were traces of a terrace D intermediate between E and C. Terrace F is part of the fringe-like plain, which stretches for the eleven miles along the coast; it is here composed of shingle, and is 100 feet higher than where composed of calcareous matter. This greater height is obviously due to the quantity of shingle, which at some former period has been brought down the great valley of Coquimbo.
Considering the many shells strewed over the terraces A, B, and C, and a few miles southward on the calcareous plain, which is continuously united with the upper step-like plain F, there cannot, I apprehend, be any doubt, that these six terraces have been formed by the action of the sea; and that their five escarpments mark so many periods of comparative rest in the elevatory movement, during which the sea wore into the land. The elevation between these periods may have been sudden and on AN AVERAGE not more than seventy-two feet each time, or it may have been gradual and insensibly slow. From the shells on the three lower terraces, and on the upper one, and I may add on the three gravel-capped terraces at Conchalee, being all littoral and sub-littoral species, and from the analogical facts given at Valparaiso, and lastly from the evidence of a slow rising lately or still in progress here, it appears to me far more probable that the movement has been slow. The existence of these successive escarpments, or old cliff- lines, is in another respect highly instructive, for they show periods of comparative rest in the elevatory movement, and of denudation, which would never even have been suspected from a close examination of many miles of coast southward of Coquimbo.
(FIGURE 10. NORTH AND SOUTH SECTION ACROSS THE VALLEY OF COQUIMBO.
From north F (high) through E?, D, C, B, A (low), B?, C, D?, E, F (high).
Vertical scale 1/10 of inch to 100 feet: horizontal scale much contracted.
Terraces marked with ? do not occur on that side of the valley, and are introduced only to make the diagram more intelligible. A river and bottom- plain of valley C, E, and F, on the south side of valley, are respectively, 197, 377, and 420 feet above the level of the sea.
AA. The bottom of the valley, believed to be 100 feet above the sea: it is continuously united with the lowest plain A of Figure 9.
B. This terrace higher up the valley expands considerably; seaward it is soon lost, its escarpment being united with that of C: it is not developed at all on the south side of the valley.
C. This terrace, like the last, is considerably expanded higher up the valley. These two terraces apparently correspond with B and C of Figure 9.
D is not well developed in the line of this section; but seaward it expands into a plain: it is not present on the south side of the valley; but it is met with, as stated under the former section, a little south of the town.