I may add, that at Santa Cruz, in latitude 50 degrees S., the plains have been uplifted at least 1,400 feet, since the period when gigantic boulders were transported between sixty and seventy miles from their parent rock, on floating icebergs.

Lastly, considering the great upward movements which this long line of coast has undergone, and the proximity of its southern half to the volcanic axis of the Cordillera, it is highly remarkable that in the many fine sections exposed in the Pampean, Patagonian tertiary, and Boulder formations, I nowhere observed the smallest fault or abrupt curvature in the strata.


I will here describe in more detail than has been as yet incidentally done, the nature, origin, and extent of the great shingle covering of Patagonia: but I do not mean to affirm that all of this shingle, especially that on the higher plains, belongs to the recent period. A thin bed of sandy earth, with small pebbles of various porphyries and of quartz, covering a low plain on the north side of the Rio Colorado, is the extreme northern limit of this formation. These little pebbles have probably been derived from the denudation of a more regular bed of gravel, capping the old tertiary sandstone plateau of the Rio Negro. The gravel-bed near the Rio Negro is, on an average, about ten or twelve feet in thickness; and the pebbles are larger than on the northern side of the Colorado, being from one or two inches in diameter, and composed chiefly of rather dark-tinted porphyries. Amongst them I here first noticed a variety often to be referred to, namely, a peculiar gallstone-yellow siliceous porphyry, frequently, but not invariably, containing grains of quartz. The pebbles are embedded in a white, gritty, calcareous matrix, very like mortar, sometimes merely coating with a whitewash the separate stones, and sometimes forming the greater part of the mass. In one place I saw in the gravel concretionary nodules (not rounded) of crystallised gypsum, some as large as a man's head. I traced this bed for forty-five miles inland, and was assured that it extended far into the interior. As the surface of the calcareo- argillaceous plain of Pampean formation, on the northern side of the wide valley of the Colorado, stands at about the same height with the mortar- like cemented gravel capping the sandstone on the southern side, it is probable, considering the apparent equability of the subterranean movements along this side of America, that this gravel of the Rio Negro and the upper beds of the Pampean formation northward of the Colorado, are of nearly contemporaneous origin, and that the calcareous matter has been derived from the same source.

Southward of the Rio Negro, the cliffs along the great bay of S. Antonio are capped with gravel: at San Josef, I found that the pebbles closely resembled those on the plain of the Rio Negro, but that they were not cemented by calcareous matter. Between San Josef and Port Desire, I was assured by the Officers of the Survey that the whole face of the country is coated with gravel. At Port Desire and over a space of twenty-five miles inland, on the three step-formed plains and in the valleys, I everywhere passed over gravel which, where thickest, was between thirty and forty feet. Here, as in other parts of Patagonia, the gravel, or its sandy covering, was, as we have seen, often strewed with recent marine shells. The sandy covering sometimes fills up furrows in the gravel, as does the gravel in the underlying tertiary formations. The pebbles are frequently whitewashed and even cemented together by a peculiar, white, friable, aluminous, fusible substance, which I believe is decomposed feldspar. At Port Desire, the gravel rested sometimes on the basal formation of porphyry, and sometimes on the upper or the lower denuded tertiary strata. It is remarkable that most of the porphyritic pebbles differ from those varieties of porphyry which occur here abundantly in situ. The peculiar gallstone-yellow variety was common, but less numerous than at Port S. Julian, where it formed nearly one-third of the mass of the gravel; the remaining part there consisting of pale grey and greenish porphyries with many crystals of feldspar.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book