To my mind, this has been one of the most important conclusions to which my observations on the geology of South America have led me; for we thus learn that one of the grandest and most symmetrical mountain-chains in the world, with its several parallel lines, has been together uplifted in mass between seven and nine thousand feet, in the same gradual manner as have the eastern and western coasts within the recent period. (I do not wish to affirm that all the lines have been uplifted quite equally; slight differences in the elevation would leave no perceptible effect on the terraces. It may, however, be inferred, perhaps with one exception, that since the period when the sea occupied these valleys, the several ranges have not been dislocated by GREAT and ABRUPT faults or upheavals; for if such had occurred, the terraces of gravel at these points would not have been continuous. The one exception is at the lower end of a plain in the Valle del Yeso (a branch of the Maypu), where, at a great height, the terraces and valley appear to have been broken through by a line of upheaval, of which the evidence is plain in the adjoining mountains; this dislocation, perhaps, occurred AFTER THE ELEVATION of this part of the valley above the level of the sea. The valley here is almost blocked up by a pile about one thousand feet in thickness, formed, as far as I could judge, from three sides, entirely, or at least in chief part, of gravel and detritus. On the south side, the river has cut quite through this mass; on the northern side, and on the very summit, deep ravines, parallel to the line of the valley, are worn, as if the drainage from the valley above had passed by these two lines before following its present course.)


The bulk of solid rock which has been removed in the lower parts of the valleys of the Cordillera has been enormous. It is only by reflecting on such cases as that of the gravel beds of Patagonia, covering so many thousand square leagues of surface, and which, if heaped into a ridge, would form a mountain-range almost equal to the Cordillera, that the amount of denudation becomes credible. The valleys within this range often follow anticlinal but rarely synclinal lines; that is, the strata on the two sides more often dip from the line of valley than towards it. On the flanks of the range, the valleys most frequently run neither along anticlinal nor synclinal axes, but along lines of flexure or faults: that is, the strata on both sides dip in the same direction, but with different, though often only slightly different, inclinations. As most of the nearly parallel ridges which together form the Cordillera run approximately north and south, the east and west valleys cross them in zig-zag lines, bursting through the points where the strata have been least inclined. No doubt the greater part of the denudation was affected at the periods when tidal- creeks occupied the valleys, and when the outer flanks of the mountains were exposed to the full force of an open ocean. I have already alluded to the power of the tidal action in the channels connecting great bays; and I may here mention that one of the surveying vessels in a channel of this kind, though under sail, was whirled round and round by the force of the current. We shall hereafter see, that of the two main ridges forming the Chilean Cordillera, the eastern and loftiest one owes the greater part of its ANGULAR upheaval to a period subsequent to the elevation of the western ridge; and it is likewise probable that many of the other parallel ridges have been angularly upheaved at different periods; consequently many parts of the surfaces of these mountains must formerly have been exposed to the full force of the waves, which, if the Cordillera were now sunk into the sea, would be protected by parallel chains of islands. The torrents in the valleys certainly have great power in wearing the rocks; as could be told by the dull rattling sound of the many fragments night and day hurrying downwards; and as was attested by the vast size of certain fragments, which I was assured had been carried onwards during floods; yet we have seen in the lower parts of the valleys, that the torrents have seldom removed all the sea-checked shingle forming the terraces, and have had time since the last elevation in mass only to cut in the underlying rocks, gorges, deep and narrow, but quite insignificant in dimensions compared with the entire width and depth of the valleys.

South American Geology Page 57

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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