On the banks of the River Mendoza it is seen to be composed of a great accumulation of stratified shingle, estimated at 400 feet in thickness. In general appearance, and in numerous points of structure, this plain closely resembles those of Chile.

The origin and manner of formation of the thick beds of gravel, sandy clay, volcanic detritus, and calcareous tuff, composing these basin-like plains, is very important; because, as we shall presently show, they send arms or fringes far up the main valleys of the Cordillera. Many of the inhabitants believe that these plains were once occupied by lakes, suddenly drained; but I conceive that the number of the separate breaches at nearly the same level in the mountains surrounding them quite precludes this idea. Had not such distinguished naturalists as MM. Meyen and Gay stated their belief that these deposits were left by great debacles rushing down from the Cordillera, I should not have noticed a view, which appears to me from many reasons improbable in the highest degree--namely, from the vast accumulation of WELL-ROUNDED PEBBLES--their frequent stratification with layers of sand--the overlying beds of calcareous tuff--this same substance coating and uniting the fragments of rock on the hummocks in the plain of Santiago--and lastly even from the worn, rounded, and much denuded state of these hummocks, and of the headlands which project from the surrounding mountains. On the other hand, these several circumstances, as well as the continuous union of the basins at the foot of the Cordillera, with the great plain of the Rio Rapel which still retains the marks of sea-action at various levels, and their general similarity in form and composition with the many plains near the coast, which are either similarly marked or are strewed with upraised marine remains, fully convince me that the mountains bounding these basin-plains were breached, their islet-like projecting rocks worn, and the loose stratified detritus forming their now level surfaces deposited, by the sea, as the land slowly emerged. It is hardly possible to state too strongly the perfect resemblance in outline between these basin-like, long, and narrow plains of Chile (especially when in the early morning the mists hanging low represented water), and the creeks and fiords now intersecting the southern and western shores of the continent. We can on this view of the sea, when the land stood lower, having long and tranquilly occupied the spaces between the mountain-ranges, understand how the boundaries of the separate basins were breached in more than one place; for we see that this is the general character of the inland bays and channels of Tierra del Fuego; we there, also, see in the sawing action of the tides, which flow with great force in the cross channels, a power sufficient to keep the breaches open as the land emerged. We can further see that the waves would naturally leave the smooth bottom of each great bay or channel, as it became slowly converted into land, gently inclined to as many points as there were mouths, through which the sea finally retreated, thus forming so many watersheds, without any marked ridges, on a nearly level surface. The absence of marine remains in these high inland plains cannot be properly adduced as an objection to their marine origin: for we may conclude, from shells not being found in the great shingle beds of Patagonia, though copiously strewed on their surfaces, and from many other analogous facts, that such deposits are eminently unfavourable for the embedment of such remains; and with respect to shells not being found strewed on the surface of these basin-like plains, it was shown in the last chapter that remains thus exposed in time decay and disappear.

(FIGURE 13. SECTION OF THE PLAIN AT THE EASTERN FOOT OF THE CHILEAN CORDILLERA.

From Cordillera (left) through Talus-plain and Level surface, 2,700 feet above sea, to Gravel terraces (right).)

I observed some appearances on the plains at the eastern and opposite foot of the Cordillera which are worth notice, as showing that the sea there long acted at nearly the same level as on the basin-plains of Chile.

South American Geology Page 52

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book