I here found, at a point 140 miles from the Atlantic, and seventy miles from the nearest creek of the Pacific, at the height of 410 feet, a very old and worn shell of Patella deaurita. Lower down the valley, 105 miles from the Atlantic (longitude 71 degrees W.), and at an elevation of about 300 feet, I also found, in the bed of the river, two much worn and broken shells of the Voluta ancilla, still retaining traces of their colours; and one of the Patella deaurita. It appeared that these shells had been washed from the banks into the river; considering the distance from the sea, the desert and absolutely unfrequented character of the country, and the very ancient appearance of the shells (exactly like those found on the plains nearer the coast), there is, I think, no cause to suspect that they could have been brought here by Indians.
The plain at the head of the valley is tolerably level, but water-worn, and with many sand-dunes on it like those on a sea-coast. At the highest point to which we ascended, it was sixteen miles wide in a north and south line; and forty-five miles in length in an east and west line. It is bordered by the escarpments, one above the other, of two plains, which diverge as they approach the Cordillera, and consequently resemble, at two levels, the shores of great bays facing the mountains; and these mountains are breached in front of the lower plain by a remarkable gap. The valley, therefore, of the Santa Cruz consists of a straight broad cut, about ninety miles in length, bordered by gravel-capped terraces and plains, the escarpments of which at both ends diverge or expand, one over the other, after the manner of the shores of great bays. Bearing in mind this peculiar form of the land--the sand-dunes on the plain at the head of the valley--the gap in the Cordillera, in front of it--the presence in two places of very ancient shells of existing species--and lastly, the circumstance of the 355-453 feet plain, with the numerous marine remains on its surface, sweeping from the Atlantic coast, far up the valley, I think we must admit, that within the recent period, the course of the Santa Cruz formed a sea-strait intersecting the continent. At this period, the southern part of South America consisted of an archipelago of islands 360 miles in a north and south line. We shall presently see, that two other straits also, since closed, then cut through Tierra del Fuego; I may add, that one of them must at that time have expanded at the foot of the Cordillera into a great bay (now Otway Water) like that which formerly covered the 440 feet plain at the head of the Santa Cruz.
(DIAGRAM 6. NORTH AND SOUTH SECTION ACROSS THE TERRACES BOUNDING THE VALLEY OF THE RIVER SANTA CRUZ, HIGH UP ITS COURSE.
The height of each terrace, above the level of the river (furthest to nearest to the river) in feet:
A, north and south: 1,122 B, north and south: 869 C, north and south: 639 D, north: not measured. D, north? (suggest south): 185 E: 20 Bed of River.
Vertical scale 1/20 of inch to 100 feet; but terrace E, being only twenty feet above the river, has necessarily been raised. The horizontal distances much contracted; the distance from the edge of A North to A South being on an average from seven to ten miles.) I have said that the valley in its whole course is bordered by gravel- capped plains. The section (Diagram 6), supposed to be drawn in a north and south line across the valley, can scarcely be considered as more than illustrative; for during our hurried ascent it was impossible to measure all the plains at any one place. At a point nearly midway between the Cordillera and the Atlantic, I found the plain (A north) 1,122 feet above the river; all the lower plains on this side were here united into one great broken cliff: at a point sixteen miles lower down the stream, I found by measurement and estimation that B (north) was 869 above the river: very near to where A (north) was measured, C (north) was 639 above the same level: the terrace D (north) was nowhere measured: the lowest E (north) was in many places about twenty feet above the river.