The boulders found by MM. Meyen and Gay on the upper plain of San Fernando (mentioned in a previous note) probably belong to this same class of phenomena.
These fringes of stratified gravel occur along all the great valleys of the Cordillera, as well as along their main branches; they are strikingly developed in the valleys of the Maypu, Mendoza, Aconcagua, Cachapual, and according to Meyen, in the Tinguirica. ("Reise" etc. Th. 1 s. 302.) In the valleys, however, of Northern Chile, and in some on the eastern flank of the Cordillera, as in the Portillo Valley, where streams have never flowed, or are quite insignificant in volume, the presence of a mass of stratified gravel can be inferred only from the smooth slightly concave form of the bottom. One naturally seeks for some explanation of so general and striking a phenomenon; that the matter forming the fringes along the valleys, or still filling up their entire beds, has not fallen from the adjoining mountains like common detritus, is evident from the complete contrast in every respect between the gravel and the piles of detritus, whether seen high up the valleys on their sides, or low down in front of the more precipitous ravines; that the matter has not been deposited by debacles, even if we could believe in debacles having rushed down EVERY valley, and all their branches, eastward and westward from the central pinnacles of the Cordillera, we must admit from the following reasons,--from the distinct stratification of the mass,--its smooth upper surface,--the well-rounded and sometimes encrusted state of the pebbles, so different from the loose debris on the mountains,--and especially from the terraces preserving their uniform inclination round the most abrupt bends. To suppose that as the land now stands, the rivers deposited the shingle along the course of every valley, and all their main branches, appears to me preposterous, seeing that these same rivers not only are now removing and have removed much of this deposit, but are everywhere tending to cut deep and narrow gorges in the hard underlying rocks.
I have stated that these fringes of gravel, the origin of which are inexplicable on the notion of debacles or of ordinary alluvial action, are directly continuous with the similarly-composed basin-like plains at the foot of the Cordillera, which, from the several reasons before assigned, I cannot doubt were modelled by the agency of the sea. Now if we suppose that the sea formerly occupied the valleys of the Chilean Cordillera, in precisely the same manner as it now does in the more southern parts of the continent, where deep winding creeks penetrate into the very heart of, and in the case of Obstruction Sound quite through, this great range; and if we suppose that the mountains were upraised in the same slow manner as the eastern and western coasts have been upraised within the recent period, then the origin and formation of these sloping, terrace-like fringes of gravel can be simply explained. For every part of the bottom of each valley will, on this view, have long stood at the head of a sea creek, into which the then existing torrents will have delivered fragments of rocks, where, by the action of the tides, they will have been rolled, sometimes encrusted, rudely stratified, and the whole surface levelled by the blending together of the successive beach lines. (Sloping terraces of precisely similar structure have been described by me "Philosophical Transactions" 1839 page 58, in the valleys of Lochaber in Scotland, where, at higher levels, the parallel roads of Glen Roy show the marks of the long and quiet residence of the sea. I have no doubt that these sloping terraces would have been present in the valleys of most of the European ranges, had not every trace of them, and all wrecks of sea-action, been swept away by the glaciers which have since occupied them. I have shown that this is the case with the mountains ("London and Edinburgh Philosophical Journal" volume 21 page 187) of North Wales.) As the land rose, the torrents in every valley will have tended to have removed the matter which just before had been arrested on, or near, the beach-lines; the torrents, also, having continued to gain in force by the continued elevation increasing their total descent from their sources to the sea.