This page presents excerpts in which Darwin comments on the following topics:
St. Paul's Rocks. This small island is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, nearly one degree north of the equator,§ and 540 miles distant from South America, in 29° 15' west longitude. Its highest point is scarcely fifty feet above the level of the sea; its outline is irregular, and its entire circumference barely three-quarters of a mile. This little point of rock rises abruptly out of the ocean; and, except on its western side, soundings were not obtained, even at the short distance of a quarter of a mile from its shore. It is not of volcanic origin; and this circumstance, which is the most remarkable point in its history (as will hereafter be referred to), properly ought to exclude it from the present volume. It is composed of rocks, unlike any which I have met with, and which I cannot characterise by any name, and must therefore describe.
§ Darwin's “small island” [note singular] was correctly noted as a “cluster of rocks” in both editions (1839 & 1845) of his Journal. Likewise, his “nearly one degree” was a specific 0° 58' north latitude. See Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle for additional comments in a footnote.
The simplest, and one of the most abundant kinds, is a very compact, heavy, greenish-black rock, having an angular, irregular fracture, with some points just hard enough to scratch glass, and infusible. This variety passes into others of paler green tints, less hard, but with a more crystalline fracture, and translucent on their edges; and these are fusible into a green enamel. Several other varieties are chiefly characterized, by containing innumerable threads of dark-green serpentine, and by having calcareous matter in their interstices. These rocks have an obscure, concretionary'structure, and are full of variously-coloured angular pseudo fragments. These angular pseudo fragments consist of the first-described dark green rock, of a brown softer kind, of serpentine, and of a yellowish harsh stone, which, perhaps, is related to serpentine rock. There are other vesicular, calcareo-ferruginous, soft stones. There is no distinct stratification, but parts are imperfectly laminated; and the whole abounds with innumerable veins, and vein-like masses, both small and large. Of these vein-like masses, some calcareous ones, which contain minute fragments of shells, are clearly of subsequent origin to the others.
A glossy incrustation.—Extensive portions of these rocks are coated by a layer of a glossy polished substance, with a pearly lustre and of a grayish white colour; it follows all the inequalities of the surface, to which it is firmly attached. When examined with a lens, it is found to consist of numerous exceedingly thin layers, their aggregate thickness being about the tenth of an inch. It is considerably harder than calcareous spar, but can be scratched with a knife; under the blow-pipe it scales off, decrepitates, slightly blackens, emits a fetid odour, and becomes strongly alkaline: it does not effervesce in acids.* I presume this substance has been deposited by water, draining from the birds' dung, with which the rocks are covered. At Ascension, near a cavity in the rocks, which was filled with a laminated mass of infiltrated birds' dung, I found some irregularly-formed, stalactitical masses of apparently the same nature. These masses when broken, had an earthy texture, but on their outsides, and especially at their extremities, they were formed of a pearly substance, generally in little globules, like the enamel of teeth, but more translucent, and so hard as just to scratch plate-glass. This substance slightly blackens under the blow-pipe, emits a bad smell, then becomes quite white, swelling a little, and fuses into a dull white enamel; it does not become alkaline; nor does it effervesce in acids. The whole mass had a collapsed appearance, as if in the formation of the hard glossy crust, the whole had shrunk much. At the Abrolhos Islands on the coast of Brazil, where also there is much birds' dung, I found a great quantity of a brown, arborescent substance adhering to some trap-rock. In its arboresent form, this substance singularly resembles some of the branched species of Nullipora. Under the blow-pipe, it behaves like the specimens from Ascension; but it is less hard and glossy, and the surface has not the shrunk appearance.
* In my Journal I have described this substance; I then believed that it was an impure phosphate of lime.§
§ Darwin's “phosphate of lime” description in his 1839 Journal is omitted in the second (1845) edition.
The valley of the R. Santa Cruz. — This valley runs in an east and west direction to the Cordillera, a distance of about 160 miles. It cuts through the great Patagonian tertiary formation, including, in the upper half of the valley, immense streams of basaltic lava, which as well as the softer beds, are capped by gravel; and this gravel, high up the river, is associated with a vast boulder formation.* In ascending the valley, the plain which at the mouth on the southern side is 355 feet high, is seen to trend towards the corresponding plain on the northern side, so that their escarpments appear like the shores of a former estuary, larger than the existing one: the escarpments, also, of the 840 feet summit-plain (with a corresponding northern one, which is met with some way up the valley), appear like the shores of a still larger estuary. Further up the valley, the sides are bounded throughout its entire length by level, gravel-capped terraces, rising above each other in steps. The width between the upper escarpments is on an average between seven and ten miles; in one spot, however, where cutting through the basaltic lava, it was only one mile and a half. Between the escarpments of the second highest terrace, the average width is about four or five miles. The bottom of the valley, at the distance of 110 miles from its mouth, begins sensibly to expand, and soon forms a considerable plain, 440 feet above the level of the sea, through which the river flows in a gut from twenty to forty feet in depth. 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 (Long. 71° 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.
* I have described this formation in a paper in the Geological Transactions, vol. vi. p. 415.§
§ Darwin's un-named paper was: On the Distribution of the Erratic Boulders and on the Contemporaneous Unstratified Deposits of South America, which includes his Description of the Boulder Formation in the Valley of the [River] Santa Cruz (pp. 415-416).
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 to 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 N. and S. 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.
No. 6. — NORTH AND SOUTH SECTION ACROSS THE TERRACES
BOUNDING THE VALLEY OF THE R. S. CRUZ, HIGH UP ITS COURSE.
The height of each terrace above the level of the river, is shown by the number under it. Vertical scale 1/20 of inch to a 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 n. to A s. 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 following section, supposed to be drawn in a N. and S. 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) 1122 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 (n) was 869 above the river: very near to where A (n) was measured, C (n) was 639 above the same level: the terrace D (n) was nowhere measured: the lowest E (n) was in many places about twenty feet above the river. These plains or terraces were best developed, where the valley was widest; the whole five, like gigantic steps, occurred together only at a few points. The lower terraces are less continuous than the higher ones, and appear to be entirely lost in the upper third of the valley. Terrace C (s), however, was traced continuously for a great distance. The terrace B (n), at a point fifty-five miles from the mouth of the river, was four miles in width; higher up the valley this terrace (or at least the second highest one, for I could not always trace it continuously) was about eight miles wide. This second plain was generally wider than the lower ones,—as indeed follows from the valley from A (n) to A (s), being generally nearly double the width of from B (n) to B (s). Low down the valley, the summit-plain A (s) is continuous with the 840 feet plain on the coast, but it is soon lost or unites with the escarpment of B (s). The corresponding plain A (n), on the north side of the valley, appears to range continuously from the Cordillera to the head of the present estuary of the S. Cruz, where it trends northward towards Port S. Julian. Near the Cordillera the summit-plain on both sides of the valley is between 3200 and 3300 feet in height; at 100 miles from the Atlantic, it is 1416 feet, and on the coast 840 feet, all above the sea-beach; so that in a distance of 100 miles the plain rises 576 feet, and much more rapidly near to the Cordillera. The lower terraces B and C also appear to rise as they run up the valley; thus D (n), measured at two points twenty-four miles apart, was found to have risen 185 feet. From several reasons I suspect, that this gradual inclination of the plains up the valley, has been chiefly caused by the elevation of the continent in mass, having been the greater the nearer to the Cordillera.
All the terraces are capped with well-rounded gravel, which rests either on the denuded and sometimes furrowed surface of the soft tertiary deposits, or on the basaltic lava. The difference in height between some of the lower steps or terraces; seems to be entirely owing to a difference in the thickness of the capping gravel. Furrows and inequalities in the gravel, where such occur, are filled up and smoothed over with sandy earth. The pebbles, especially on the higher plains, are often white-washed, and even cemented together by a white aluminous substance, and I occasionally found this to be the case with the gravel on the terrace D. I could not perceive any trace of a similar deposition on the pebbles now thrown up by the river, and therefore I do not think that terrace D was river-formed. As the terrace E generally stands about twenty feet above the bed of the river, my first impression was to doubt whether even this lowest one could have been so formed; but it should always be borne in mind, that the horizontal upheaval of a district, by increasing the total descent of the streams, will always tend to increase, first near the sea-coast and then further and further up the valley, their corroding and deepening powers: so that an alluvial plain, formed almost on a level with a stream, will, after an elevation of this kind, in time be cut through, and left standing at a height never again to be reached by the water. With respect to the three upper terraces of the S. Cruz, I think there can be no doubt, that they were modelled by the sea, when the valley was occupied by a Strait, in the same manner, (hereafter to be discussed) as the greater, step-formed, shell-strewed plains along the coast of Patagonia.
From Coy Inlet, where the high summit-plain trends inland, a plain estimated at 350 feet in height, extends for forty miles to the river Gallegos. From this point to the Strait of Magellan, and on each side of that Strait, the country has been much denuded and is less level. It consists chiefly of the boulder formation, which rises to a height of between 150 and 250 feet, and is often capped by beds of gravel. At N.S. Gracia,§ on the north side of the Inner Narrows§ of the Strait of Magellan, I found on the summit of a cliff, 160 feet in height, shells of existing Patellæ and Mytili, scattered on the surface and partially embedded in earth. On the eastern coast, also, of Tierra del Fuego, in latitude 53° 20' S., I found many Mytili on some level land, estimated at 200 feet in height. Anterior to the elevation attested by these shells, it is evident by the present form of the land, and by the distribution of the great erratic boulders* on the surface, that two sea-channels connected the Strait of Magellan both with Sebastian Bay and with Otway Water.
§ N. S. [Nuestra Señora de] Gracia is the modern Cabo Gracia; Inner Narrows is Angostura Segunda (2nd Narrow).
* Geolog. Transactions, vol. vi. p. 419.
(Abrolhos Islets footnote in Rio de Janeiro section)
Abrolhos Islets, lat. 18° S. off the coast of Brazil.— Although not strictly in place, I do not know where I can more conveniently describe this little group of small islands. The lowest bed is a sandstone with ferruginous veins; it weathers into an extraordinary honey-combed mass; above it there is a dark-coloured argillaceous shale; above this is a coarser sandstone—making a total thickness of about sixty feet: and lastly, above these sedimentary beds, there is a fine conformable mass of greenstone, in some parts having a columnar structure. All the strata, as well as the surface of the land, dip at an angle of about 12° to N. by W. Some of the islands are composed entirely of the sedimentary, others of the trappean rocks, generally, however, with the sandstones cropping out on the southern shores.
Although I crossed the Cordillera only once by this pass, and only once by that of the Cumbre or Uspallata (presently to be described), riding slowly and halting occasionally to ascend the mountains, there are many circumstances favourable to obtaining a more faithful sketch of their structure than would at first be thought possible from so short an examination. The mountains are steep and absolutely bare of vegetation; the atmosphere is resplendently clear; the stratification distinct; and the rocks brightly and variously coloured: some of the natural sections might be truly compared for distinctness to those coloured ones in geological works. Considering how little is known of the structure of this gigantic range, to which I particularly attended, most travellers having collected only specimens of the rocks, I think my sketch-sections, though necessarily imperfect, possess some interest. The section given in Plate I, fig. 1, which I will now describe in detail, is on a horizontal scale of a third of an inch to a nautical mile, and on a vertical scale of one inch to a mile or 6,000 feet. The width of the range, (excluding a few outlying hillocks) from the plain on which St. Jago the capital of Chile stands, to the Pampas, is sixty miles, as far as I can judge from the maps, which differ from each other and are all exceedingly imperfect. The St. Jago plain at the mouth of the Maypu, I estimate from adjoining known points at 2,300 feet, and the Pampas at 3,500 feet, both above the level of the sea. The height of the Peuquenes line, according to Dr. Gillies,* is 13,210 feet; and that of the Portillo line (both in the gaps where the road crosses them) is 14,345 feet; the lowest part of the intermediate valley of Tenuyan is 7,530 feet—all above the level of the sea.
* ‘Journal of Nat. and Geograph. Science,’ August, 1830.
The Cordillera here, and indeed I believe throughout Chile, consist of several parallel, anticlinal and uniclinal mountain-lines, ranging north, or north with a little westing, and south. Some exterior and much lower ridges often vary considerably from this course, projecting like oblique spurs from the main ranges: in the district towards the Pacific, the mountains, as before remarked, extend in various directions, even east and west. In the main exterior lines, the strata, as also before remarked, are seldom inclined at a high angle; but in the central lofty ridges they are almost always highly inclined, broken by many great faults, and often vertical. As far as I could judge, few of the ranges are of great length: and in the central parts of the Cordillera, I was frequently able to follow with my eye a ridge gradually becoming higher and higher, as the stratification increased in inclination, from one end where its height was trifling and its strata gently inclined to the other end where vertical strata formed snow-clad pinnacles. Even outside the main Cordillera, near the baths of Cauquenes, I observed one such case, where a north and south ridge had its strata in the valley inclined at 37°, and less than a mile south of it at 67°: another parallel and similarly inclined ridge rose at the distance of about five miles, into a lofty mountain with absolutely vertical strata. Within the Cordillera, the height of the ridges and the inclination of the strata often became doubled and trebled in much shorter distances than five miles: this peculiar form of upheaval probably indicates that the stratified crust was thin, and hence yielded to the underlying intrusive masses unequally, at certain points on the lines of fissure.
The valleys, by which the Cordillera are drained, follow the anticlinal or rarely synclinal troughs, which deviate most from the usual north and south course; or still more commonly those lines of faults or of unequal curvature (that is, lines with the strata on both hands dipping in the same direction, but at a somewhat different angle) which deviate most from a northerly course. Occasionally the torrents run for some distance in the north and south valleys, and then recover their eastern or western course by bursting through the ranges at those points where the strata have been least inclined and the height consequently is less. Hence the valleys, along which the roads run, are generally zigzag; and, in drawing an east and west section, it is necessary to contract greatly that which is actually seen on the road.
Commencing at the western end of the coloured section [Plate I.] where the R. Maypu debouches on the plain of St. Jago, we immediately enter on the porphyritic conglomerate formation, and in the midst of it find some hummocks [A] of granite and syenite, which probably (for I neglected to collect specimens) belong to the andesitic class. These are succeeded by some rugged hills [B] of dark-green, crystalline, feldspathic and in some parts slaty rocks, which I believe belong to the altered clay-slate formation. From this point, great mountains of purplish and greenish, generally thinly stratified, highly porphyritic conglomerates, including many strata of amygdaloidal and greenstone porphyries, extend up the valley to the junction of the rivers Yeso and Volcan. As the valley here runs in a very southerly course, the width of the porphyritic conglomerate formation is quite conjectural; and from the same cause, I was unable to make out much about the stratification. In most of the exterior mountains the dip was gentle and directed inwards; and at only one spot I observed an inclination as high as 50°. Near the junction of the R. Colorado with the main stream, there is a hill of whitish, brecciated, partially decomposed feldspathic porphyry, having a volcanic aspect but not being really of that nature: at Tolla, however, in this valley, Dr. Meyen* met with a hill of pumice containing mica. At the junction of the Yeso and Volcan [D] there is an extensive mass, in white conical hillocks, of andesite, containing some mica, and passing either into andesitic granite, or into a spotted, semi-granular mixture of albitic (?) feldspar and hornblende: in the midst of this formation Dr. Meyen found true trachyte. The andesite is covered by strata of dark-coloured, crystalline, obscurely porphyritic rocks, and above them by the ordinary porphyritic conglomerates,—the strata all dipping away at a small angle from the underlying mass. The surrounding lofty mountains appear to be entirely composed of the porphyritic conglomerate, and I estimated its thickness here at between 6,000 and 7,000 feet.
* ‘Reise um Erde,’ Th. 1. SS. 338, 341.
Beyond the junction of the Yeso and Volcan, the porphyritic strata appear to dip towards the hillocks of andesite at an angle of 40°; but at some distant points on the same ridge they are bent up and vertical. Following the valley of the Yeso, trending NE. (and therefore still unfavourable for our transverse section), the same porphyritic conglomerate formation is prolonged to near the Cuestadel Indio, situated at the western end of the basin (like a drained lake) of Yeso. Some way before arriving at this point, distant lofty pinnacles capped by coloured strata belonging to the great gypseous formation could first be seen. From the summit of the Cuesta, looking southward, there is a magnificent sectional view of a mountain-mass, at least 2,000 feet in thickness [E], of fine andesitic granite (containing much black mica, a little chlorite and quartz), which sends great white dikes far into the superincumbent, dark-coloured, porphyritic conglomerates. At the line of junction the two formations are wonderfully interlaced together: in the lower part of the porphyritic conglomerate, the stratification has been quite obliterated, whilst in the upper part it is very distinct, the beds composing the crests of the surrounding mountains being inclined at angles of between 70° and 80°, and some being even vertical. On the northern side of the valley, there is a great corresponding mass of andesitic granite, which is encased by porphyritic conglomerate, dipping both on the western and eastern sides, at about 80° to west, but on the eastern side with the tips of the strata bent in such a manner, as to render it probable that the whole mass had been on that side thrown over and inverted.
In the valley-basin of the Yeso, which I estimated at 7,000 feet above the level of the sea, we first reach at [F] the gypseous formation. Its thickness is very great. It consists in most parts of snow-white, hard, compact gypsum, which breaks with a saccharine fracture, having translucent edges; under the blowpipe gives out much vapour; it frequently includes nests and exceedingly thin layers of crystallised, blackish carbonate of lime. Large, irregularly shaped concretions (externally still exhibiting lines of aqueous deposition) of blackish-gray, but sometimes white, coarsely and brilliantly crystallised, hard anhydrite, abound within the common gypsum. Hillocks, formed of the hardest and purest varieties of the white gypsum, stand up above the surrounding parts, and have their surfaces cracked and marked, just like newly baked bread. There is much pale brown, soft, argillaceous gypsum; and there were some intercalated green beds which I had not time to reach. I saw only one fragment of selenite or transparent gypsum, and that perhaps may have come from some subsequently formed vein. From the mineralogical characters here given, it is probable that these gypseous beds have undergone some metamorphic action. The strata are much hidden by detritus, but they appeared in most parts to be highly inclined; and in an adjoining lofty pinnacle they could be distinctly seen bending up, and becoming vertical, conformably with the underlying porphyritic conglomerate. In very many parts of the great mountain-face [F], composed of thin gypseous beds, there were innumerable masses, irregularly shaped and not like dikes, yet with well-defined edges, of an imperfectly granular, pale greenish or yellowish-white rock, essentially composed of feldspar, with a little chlorite or hornblende, epidote, iron-pyrites, and ferruginous powder: I believe that these curious trappean masses have been injected from the not far distant mountain-mass [E] of andesite whilst still fluid, and that owing to the softness of the gypseous strata they have not acquired the ordinary forms of dikes. Subsequently to the injection of these feldspathic rocks, a great dislocation has taken place; and the much shattered gypseous strata here overlie a hillock [G], composed of vertical strata of impure limestone and of black highly calcareous shale including threads of gypsum: these rocks, as we shall presently see, belong to the upper parts of the gypseous series, and hence must here have been thrown down by a vast fault.
Proceeding up the valley-basin of the Yeso, and taking our section sometimes on one hand and sometimes on the other, we come to a great hill of stratified porphyritic conglomerate [H] dipping at 45° to the west; and a few hundred yards farther on, we have a bed between 300 or 400 feet thick of gypsum [I] dipping eastward at a very high angle: here then we have a fault and anticlinal axis. On the opposite side of the valley, a vertical mass of red conglomerate, conformably underlying the gypsum, appears gradually to lose its stratification and passes into a mountain of porphyry. The gypsum [I] is covered by a bed [K], at least 1,000 feet in thickness, of a purplish-red, compact, heavy, fine-grained sandstone or mudstone, which fuses easily into a white enamel, and is seen under a lens to contain triturated crystals. This is succeeded by a bed [L], 1,000 feet thick (I believe I understate the thickness) of gypsum, exactly like the beds before described; and this again is capped by another great bed [M] of purplish-red sandstone. All these strata dip eastward; but the inclination becomes less and less, as we leave the first and almost vertical bed [I] of gypsum.
Leaving the basin-plain of Yeso, the road rapidly ascends, passing by mountains composed of the gypseous and associated beds, with their stratification greatly disturbed and therefore not easily intelligible: hence this part of the section has been left uncoloured. Shortly before reaching the great Peuquenes ridge, the lowest stratum visible [N] is a red sandstone or mudstone, capped by a vast thickness of black, compact, calcareous, shaly rock [O], which has been thrown into four lofty, though small ridges: looking northward, the strata in these ridges are seen gradually to rise in inclination, becoming in some distant pinnacles absolutely vertical.
The ridge of Peuquenes, which divides the waters flowing into the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, extends in a nearly NNW. and SSE. line; its strata dip eastward at an angle of between 30° and 45°, but in the higher peaks bending up and becoming almost vertical. Where the road crosses this range, the height is 13,210 feet above the sea-level, and I estimated the neighbouring pinnacles at from 14,000 to 15,000 feet. The lowest stratum visible in this ridge is a red stratified sandstone [P]; on it are superimposed two great masses [Q and S] of black, hard, compact, even having a conchoidal fracture, calcareous, more or less laminated shale, passing into limestone: this rock contains organic remains, presently to be enumerated. The compacter varieties fuse easily in a white glass; and this I may add is a very general character with all the sedimentary beds in the Cordillera: although this rock when broken is generally quite black, it everywhere weathers into an ash-gray tint. Between these two great masses [Q and S], a bed [R] of gypsum is interposed, about 300 feet in thickness, and having the same characters as heretofore described. I estimated the total thickness of these three beds [Q, R, S] at nearly 3,000 feet; and to this must be added, as will be immediately seen, a great overlying mass of red sandstone.
In descending the eastern slope of this great central range, the strata, which in the upper part dip eastward at about an angle of 40°, become more and more curved, till they are nearly vertical; and a little farther onwards there is seen on the farther side of a ravine, a thick mass of strata of bright red sandstone [T], with their upper extremities slightly curved, showing that they were once conformably prolonged over the beds [S]: on the southern and opposite side of the road, this red sandstone and the underlying black shaly rocks stand vertical, and in actual juxtaposition. Continuing to descend, we come to a synclinal valley filled with rubbish, beyond which we have the red sandstone [T2] corresponding with [T], and now dipping, as is seen both north and south of the road, at 45° to the west; and under it, the beds [S2, R2, Q2, and I believe P2] in corresponding order and of similar composition, with those on the western flank of the Peuquenes range, but dipping westward. Close to the synclinal valley the dip of these strata is 45°, but at the eastern or farther end of the series it increases to 60°. Here the great gypseous formation abruptly terminates, and is succeeded eastward by a pile of more modern strata. Considering how violently these central ranges have been dislocated, and how very numerous dikes are in the exterior and lower parts of the Cordillera, it is remarkable that I did not here notice a single dike. The prevailing rock in this neighbourhood is the black, calcareous, compact shale, whilst in the valley-basin of the Yeso the purplish red sandstone or mudstone predominates,—both being associated with gypseous strata of exactly the same nature. It would be very difficult to ascertain the relative superposition of these several masses, for we shall afterwards see in the Cumbre Pass that the gypseous and intercalated beds are lens-shaped, and that they thin out, even where very thick, and disappear in short horizontal distances: it is quite possible that the black shales and red sandstones may be contemporaneous, but it is more probable that the former compose the uppermost parts of the series.
The fossils above alluded to in the black calcareous shales are few in number, and are in an imperfect condition; they consist, as named for me by M. d'Orbigny, of—
Some of the fragments of Ammonites were as thick as a man's arm: the Gryphæa is much the most abundant shell. These fossils M. d'Orbigny considers as belonging to the Neocomian stage of the Cretaceous system. Dr. Meyen,* who ascended the valley of the Rio Volcan, a branch of the Yeso, found a nearly similar, but apparently more calcareous formation, with much gypsum, and no doubt the equivalent of that here described: the beds were vertical, and were prolonged up to the limits of perpetual snow: at the height of 9,000 feet above the sea, they abounded with fossils, consisting, according to Von Buch,† of—
|1. Exogyra (Gryphæa) Couloni, absolutely identical with specimens from the Jura and South of France.|
|2. Trigonia costata,||}identical with those found in the upper Jurassic beds at Hildesheim.|
|3. Pecten striatus,|
|4. Cucullæa, corresponding in form to C. longirostris, so frequent in the upper Jurassic beds of Westphalia.|
|5. Ammonites, resembling A. biplex.|
* ‘Reise um Erde,’ Th. 1. S. 355.
† ‘Descript. Phys. des Iles Canaries,’ p. 471.
Von Buch concludes that this formation is intermediate between the limestone of the Jura and the chalk, and that it is analogous with the uppermost Jurassic beds forming the plains of Switzerland. Hence M. d'Orbigny and Von Buch, under different terms, compare these fossils to those from the same late stage in the Secondary formations of Europe.
Some of the fossils which I collected were found a good way down the western slope of the main ridge, and hence must originally have been covered up by a great thickness of the black shaly rock, independently of the now denuded, thick, overlying masses of red sandstone. I neglected at the time to estimate how many hundred or rather thousand feet thick the superincumbent strata must have been: and I will not now attempt to do so. This, however, would have been a highly interesting point, as indicative of a great amount of subsidence, of which we shall hereafter find in other parts of the Cordillera analogous evidence during this same period. The altitude of the Peuquenes Range, considering its not great antiquity, is very remarkable; many of the fossils were embedded at the height of 13,210 feet, and the same beds are prolonged up to at least from 14,000 to 15,000 above the level of the sea.
The Portillo or Eastern Chain.—The valley of Tenuyan, separating the Peuquenes and Portillo lines, is, as estimated by Dr. Gillies and myself, about twenty miles in width; the lowest part, where the road crosses the river, being 7,500 feet above the sea-level. The pass on the Portillo line is 14,365 feet high (1,100 feet higher than that on the Peuquenes), and the neighbouring pinnacles must, I conceive, rise to nearly 16,000 feet above the sea. The river draining the intermediate valley of Tenuyan, passes through the Portillo line. To return to our section:—shortly after leaving the lower beds [P2] of the gypseous formation, we come to grand masses of a coarse, red conglomerate [V], totally unlike any strata hitherto seen in the Cordillera. This conglomerate is distinctly stratified, some of the beds being well defined by the greater size of the pebbles: the cement is calcareous and sometimes crystalline, though the mass shows no signs of having been metamorphosed. The included pebbles are either perfectly or only partially rounded: they consist of purplish sandstones, of various porphyries, of brownish limestone, of black calcareous, compact shale precisely like that in situ in the Peuquenes range, and containing some of the same fossil shells; also very many pebbles of quartz, some of micaceous schist, and numerous, broken, rounded crystals of a reddish orthitic or potash feldspar (as determined by Professor Miller), and these from their size must have been derived from a coarse-grained rock, probably granite. From this feldspar being orthitic, and even from its external appearance, I venture positively to affirm that it has not been derived from the rocks of the western ranges; but, on the other hand; it may well have come, together with the quartz and metamorphic schists, from the eastern or Portillo line, for this line mainly consists of coarse orthitic granite. The pebbles of the fossiliferous slate and of the purple sandstone, certainly have been derived from the Peuquenes or western ranges.
The road crosses the valley of Tenuyan in a nearly east and west line, and for several miles we have on both hands the conglomerate, everywhere dipping west and forming separate great mountains. The strata, where first met with, after leaving the gypseous formation, areinclined westward at an angle of only 20°, which farther on increases to about 45°. The gypseous strata, as we have seen, are also inclined westward: hence, when looking from the eastern side of the valley towards the Peuquenes range, a most deceptive appearance is presented, as if the newer beds of conglomerate dipped directly under the much older beds of the gypseous formation. In the middle of the valley, a bold mountain of unstratified lilac-coloured porphyry (with crystals of hornblende) projects; and farther on, a little south of the road, there is another mountain, with its strata inclined at a small angle eastwards, which in its general aspect and colour, resembles the porphyritic conglomerate formation, so rare on this side of the Peuquenes line and so grandly developed throughout the western ranges.
The conglomerate is of great thickness: I do not suppose that the strata forming the separate mountain-masses [V, V, V] have ever been prolonged over each other, but that one mass has been broken up by several, distinct, parallel, uniclinal lines of elevation. Judging therefore of the thickness of the conglomerate, as seen in the separate mountain-masses, I estimated it at least from 1,500 to 2,000 feet. The lower beds rest conformably on some singularly coloured, soft strata [W], which I could not reach to examine; and these again rest conformably on a thick mass of micaceous, thinly laminated, siliceous sandstone [X], associated with a little black clay-slate. These lower beds are traversed by several dikes of decomposing porphyry. The laminated sandstone is directly superimposed on the vast masses of granite [Y, Y] which mainly compose the Portillo range. The line of junction between this latter rock, which is of a bright red colour, and the whitish sandstone was beautifully distinct; the sandstone being penetrated by numerous, great, tortuous dikes branching from the granite, and having been converted into a granular quartz rock (singularly like that of the Falkland Islands), containing specks of an ochery powder, and black crystalline atoms, apparently of imperfect mica. The quartzose strata in one spot were folded into a regular dome.
The granite which composes the magnificent bare pinnacles and the steep western flank of the Portillo chain, is of a brick-red colour, coarsely crystallized, and composed of orthitic or potash feldspar, quartz, and imperfect mica in small quantity, sometimes passing into chlorite. These minerals occasionally assume a laminar or foliated arrangement. The fact of the feldspar being orthitic in this range, is very remarkable, considering how rare, or rather, as I believe, entirely absent, this mineral is throughout the western ranges, in which soda-feldspar, or at least a variety cleaving like albite, is so extremely abundant. In one spot on the western flank, and on the eastern flank near Los Manantiales and near the crest, I noticed some great masses of a whitish granite, parts of it fine-grained, and parts containing large crystals of feldspar; I neglected to collect specimens, so I do not know whether this feldspar is also orthitic, though I am inclined to think so from its general appearance. I saw also some syenite and one mass which resembled andesite, but of which I likewise neglected to collect specimens. From the manner in which the whitish granites formed separate mountain-masses in the midst of the brick-red variety, and from one such mass near the crest being traversed by numerous veins of flesh-coloured and greenish eurite (into which I occasionally observed the brick-red granite insensibly passing), I conclude that the white granites probably belong to an older formation, almost over-whelmed andpenetrated by the red granite.
On the crest I saw also, at a short distance, some coloured stratified beds, apparently like those [W] at the western base, but was prevented examining them by a snow-storm: Mr. Caldcleugh,* however, collected here specimens of ribboned jasper, magnesian limestone, and other minerals. A little way down the eastern slope a few fragments of quartz and mica-slate are met with; but the great formation of this latter rock [Z], which covers up much of the eastern flank and base of the Portillo range, cannot be conveniently examined until much lower down at a place called Mal Paso. The mica-schist here consists of thick layers of quartz, with intervening folia of finely-scaly mica, often passing into a substance like black glossy clay-slate in one spot, the layers of quartz having disappeared, the whole mass became converted into glossy clay-slate. Where the folia were best defined, they were inclined at a high angle westward, that is, towards the range. The line of junction between the dark mica-slate and the coarse red granite was most clearly distinguishable from a vast distance: the granite sent many small veins into the mica-slate, and included some angular fragments of it. As the sandstone on the western base has been converted by the red granite into a granular quartz-rock, so this great formation of micaschist may possibly have been metamorphosed at the same time and by the same means; but I think it more probable, considering its more perfect metamorphic character and its well-pronounced foliation, that it belongs to an anterior epoch, connected with the white granites: I am the more inclined to this view, from having found at the foot of the range the mica-schist surrounding a hummock [Y2], exclusively composed of white granite. Near Los Arenales, the mountains on all sides are composed of the mica-slate; and looking backwards from this point up to the bare gigantic peaks above, the view was eminently interesting. The colours of the red granite and the black mica-slate are so distinct, that with a bright light these rocks could be readily distinguished even from the Pampas, at a level of at least 9,000 feet below. The red granite, from being divided by parallel joints, has weathered into sharp pinnacles, on some of which, even on some of the loftiest, little caps of mica-schist could be clearly seen: here and there isolated patches of this rock adhered to the mountain-flanks, and these often corresponded in height and position on the opposite sides of the immense valleys. Lower down the schist prevailed more and more, with only a few quite small points of granite projecting through. Looking at the entire eastern face of the Portillo range, the red colour far exceeds in area the black; yet it was scarcely possible to doubt that the granite had once been almost wholly encased by the mica-schist.
* ‘Travels,’ &c, vol. [sic?] p. 308.
At Los Arenales, low down on the eastern flank, the mica-slate is traversed by several closely adjoining, broad dikes, parallel to each other and to the foliation of the schist. The dikes are formed of three different varieties of rock, of which a pale brown feldspathic porphyry with grains of quartz was much the most abundant. These dikes with their granules of quartz, as well as the mica-schist itself, strikingly resemble the rocks of the Chonos Archipelago. At a height of about 1,200 feet above the dikes, and perhaps connected with them, there is a range of cliffs formed of successive lava-streams [A A], between 300 and 400 feet in thickness, and in places finely columnar. The lava consists of dark-grayish, harsh rocks, intermediate in character between trachyte and basalt, containing glassy feldspar, olivine, and a little mica, and sometimes amygdaloidal with zeolite: the basis is either quite compact, or crenulated with air-vesicles arranged in laminæ. The streams are separated from each other by beds of fragmentary brown scoriæ, firmly cemented together, and including a few well-rounded pebbles of lava. From their general appearance, I suspect that these lava-streams flowed at an ancient period under the pressure of the sea, when the Atlantic covered the Pampas and washed the eastern foot of the Cordillera.* On the opposite and northern side of the valley there is another line of lava-cliffs at a corresponding height; the valley between being of considerable breadth, and as nearly as I could estimate 1,500 feet in depth. This field of lava is confined on both sides by the mountains of mica-schist, and slopes down rapidly but irregularly to the edge of the Pampas, where, having a thickness of about 200 feet, it terminates against a little range of clay-stone porphyry. The valley in this lower part expands into a bay-like, gentle slope, bordered by the cliffs of lava, which must certainly once have extended across this wide expanse. The inclination of the streams from Los Arenales to the mouth of the valley is so great, that at the time (though ignorant of M. Elie de Beaumont's researches on the extremely small slope over which lava can flow, and yet retain a compact structure and considerable thickness) I concluded that they must subsequently to their flowing have been upheaved and tilted from the mountains: of this conclusion I can now entertain not the smallest doubt.
* This conclusion might, perhaps, even have been anticipated, from the general rarity of volcanic action, except near the sea or large bodies of water. Conformably with this rule, at the present day, there are no active volcanos on this eastern side of the Cordillera; nor are severe earthquakes experienced here.
At the mouth of the valley, within the cliffs of the above lava-field, there are remnants, in the form of separate small hillocks and of lines of low cliffs, of a considerable deposit of compact white tuff (quarried for filtering-stones), composed of broken pumice, volcanic crystals, scales of mica, and fragments of lava. This mass has suffered much denudation, and the hard mica-schist has been deeply worn, since the period of its deposition; and this period must have been subsequent to the denudation of the basaltic lava-streams, as attested by their encircling cliffs standing at a higher level. At the present day, under the existing arid climate, ages might roll past without a square yard of rock of any kind being denuded, except perhaps in the rarely moistened drainage-channel of the valley. Must we then look back to that ancient period, when the waves of the sea beat against the eastern foot of the Cordillera, for a power sufficient to denude extensively, though superficially, this tufaceous deposit, soft although it be?
There remains only to mention some little water-worn hillocks [B B], a few hundred feet in height, and mere mole-hills compared with the gigantic mountains behind them, which rise out of the sloping, shingle-covered margin of the Pampas. The first little range is composed of a brecciated purple porphyritic clay-stone, with obscurely marked strata dipping at 70° to the SW.; the other ranges consist of—a pale-coloured feldspathic porphyry,—a purple clay-stone porphyry with grains of quartz,—and a rock almost exclusively composed of brick-red crystals of feldspar. These outermost small lines of elevation extend in a NW. by W. and SE. by S. direction.
Concluding Remarks on the Portillo Range.—When on the Pampas and looking southward, and whilst travelling northward, I could see for very many leagues the red granite and dark mica-schist forming the crest and eastern flank of the Portillo line. This great range, according to Dr. Gillies, can be traced with little interruption for 140 miles southward to the R. Diamante, where it unites with the western ranges: northward, according to this same author, it terminates where the R. Mendoza debouches from the mountains; but a little farther north in the eastern part of the Cumbre section, there are, as we shall hereafter see, some mountain-masses of a brick-red porphyry, the last injected amidst many other porphyries, and having so close an analogy with the coarse red granite of the Portillo line, that I am tempted to believe that they belong to the same axis of injection; if so, the Portillo line is at least 200 miles in length. Its height, even in the lowest gap on the road, is 14,365 feet, and some of the pinnacles apparently attain an elevation of about 16,000 feet above the sea. The geological history of this grand chain appears to me eminently interesting. We may safely conclude, that at a former period the valley of Tenuyan existed as an arm of the sea, about twenty miles in width, bordered on one hand by a ridge or chain of islets of the black calcareous shales and purple sandstones of the Gypseous formation; and on the other hand, by a ridge or chain of islets composed of mica-slate, white granite, and perhaps to a partial extent of red granite. These two chains, whilst thus bordering the old sea-channel, must have been exposed for a vast lapse of time to alluvial and littoral action, during which the rocks were shattered, the fragments rounded, and the strata of conglomerate accumulated to a thickness of at least 1,500 or 2,000 feet. The red orthitic granite now forms, as we have seen, the main part of the Portillo chain: it is injected in dikes not only into the mica-schist and white granites, but into the laminated sandstone, which it has metamorphosed, and which it has thrown off, together with the conformably overlying coloured beds and stratified conglomerate, at an angle of forty-five degrees. To have thrown off so vast a pile of strata at this angle, is a proof that the main part of the red granite, (whether or not portions, as perhaps is probable, previously existed) was injected in a liquified state after the accumulation both of the laminated sandstone and of the conglomerate; this conglomerate, we know, was accumulated, not only after the deposition of the fossiliferous strata of the Peuquenes line, but after their elevation and long-continued denudation: and these fossiliferous strata belong to the early part of the Cretaceous system. Late, therefore, in a geological sense, as must be the age of the main part of the red granite, I can conceive nothing more impressive than the eastern view of this great range, as forcing the mind to grapple with the idea of the thousands of thousands of years requisite for the denudation of the strata which originally encased it,—for that the fluidified granite was once encased, its mineralogical composition and structure, and the bold conical shape of the mountain-masses, yield sufficient evidence. Of the encasing strata we see the last vestiges in the coloured beds on the crest, in the little caps of mica-schist on some of the loftiest pinnacles, and in the isolated patches of this same rock at corresponding heights on the now bare and steep flanks.
The lava-streams at the eastern foot of the Portillo are interesting, not so much from the great denudation which they have suffered at a comparatively late period as from the evidence they afford by their inclination taken conjointly with their thickness and compactness, that after the great range had assumed its present general outline, it continued to rise as an axis of elevation. The plains extending from the base of the Cordillera to the Atlantic show that the continent has been upraised in mass to a height of 3,500 feet, and probably to a much greater height, for the smooth shingle-covered margin of the Pampas is prolonged in a gentle unbroken slope far up many of the great valleys. Nor let it be assumed that the Peuquenes and Portillo ranges have undergone only movements of elevation; for we shall hereafter see, that the bottom of the sea subsided several thousand feet during the deposition of strata, occupying the same relative place in the Cordillera, with those of the Peuquenes ridge; moreover, we shall see from the unequivocal evidence of buried upright trees, that at a somewhat later period, during the formation of the Uspallata chain, which corresponds geographically with that of the Portillo, there was another subsidence of many thousand feet: here, indeed, in the valley of Tenuyan, the accumulation of the coarse stratified conglomerate to a thickness of 1,500 or 2,000 feet, offers strong presumptive evidence of subsidence; for all existing analogies lead to the belief that large pebbles can be transported only in shallow water, liable to be affected by currents and movements of undulation—and if so, the shallow bed of the sea on which the pebbles were first deposited must necessarily have sunk to allow of the accumulation of the superincumbent strata. What a history of changes of level, and of wear and tear, all since the age of the latter Secondary formations of Europe, does the structure of this one great mountain-chain reveal!
This Pass crosses the Andes about sixty miles north of that just described: the section given in Plate I. fig. 2, is on the same scale as before, namely, at one-third of an inch to a mile in distance, and one inch to a mile (or 6,000 feet) in height. Like the last section, it is a mere sketch, and cannot pretend to accuracy, though made under favourable circumstances. We will commence as before, with the western half, of which the main range bears the name of the Cumbre (that is the Ridge), and corresponds to the Peuquenes line in the former section; as does the Uspallata range, though on a much smaller scale, to that of the Portillo. Near the point where the river Aconcagua debouches on the basin plain of the same name, at a height of about 2,300 feet above the sea, we meet with the usual purple and greenish porphyritic clay-stone conglomerate. Beds of this nature, alternating with numerous compact and amygdaloidal porphyries, which have flowed as submarine lavas, and associated with great mountain-masses of various, injected, non-stratified porphyries, are prolonged the whole distance up to the Cumbre or central ridge. One of the commonest stratified porphyries is of a green colour, highly amygdaloidal with the various minerals described in the preliminary discussion, and including fine tabular crystals of albite. The mountain-range north (often with a little westing) and south. The stratification, wherever I could clearly distinguish it, was inclined westward or towards the Pacific, and, except near the Cumbre, seldom at angles above 25°. Only at one spot on this western side, on a lofty pinnacle not far from the Cumbre, I saw strata apparently belonging to the Gypseous formation, and conformably capping a pile of stratified porphyries. Hence, both in composition and in stratification, the structure of the mountains on this western side of the divortium aquarum, is far more simple than in the corresponding part of the Peuquenes section. In the porphyritic clay-stone conglomerate, the mechanical structure and the planes of stratification have generally been much obscured and even quite obliterated towards the base of the series, whilst in the upper parts, near the summits of the mountains, both are distinctly displayed. In these upper portions the porphyries are generally lighter coloured. In three places [X, Y, Z] masses of andesite are exposed: at [Y], this rock contained some quartz, but the greater part consisted of andesitic porphyry, with only a few well-developed crystals of albite, and forming a great white mass, having the external aspect of granite, capped by much dark unstratified porphyry. In many parts of the mountains, there are dikes of a green colour, and other white ones, which latter probably spring from underlying masses of andesite.
The Cumbre, where the road crosses it, is, according to Mr. Pentland, 12,454 feet above the sea; and the neighbouring peaks, composed of dark purple and whitish porphyries, some obscurely stratified with a westerly dip, and others without a trace of stratification, must exceed 13,000 feet in height. Descending the eastern slope of the Cumbre, the structure becomes very complicated, and generally differs on the two sides of the east and west line of road and section. First we come to a great mass [A] of nearly vertical, singularly contorted strata, composed of highly compact red sandstones, and of often calcareous conglomerates, and penetrated by green, yellow, and reddish dikes; but I shall presently have an opportunity of describing in some detail an analogous pile of strata. These vertical beds are abruptly succeeded by others [B], of apparently nearly the same nature by more metamorphosed, alternating with porphyries and limestones; these dip for a short space westward, but there has been here an extraordinary dislocation, which, on the north side of the road, appears to have determined the excavation of the north and south valley of the R. de las Cuevas. On this northern side of the road, the strata [B] are prolonged till they come in close contact with a jagged lofty mountain [D] of dark-coloured, unstratified, intrusive porphyry, where the beds have been more highly inclined and still more metamorphosed. This mountain of porphyry seems to form a short axis of elevation for south of the road in its line, there is a hill [C] of porphyritic conglomerate with absolutely vertical strata.
We now come to the Gypseous formation: I will first describe the structure of the several mountains, and then give in one section a detailed account of the nature of the rocks. On the north side of the road, which here runs in an east and west valley, the mountain of porphyry [D] is succeeded by a hill [E] formed of the upper gypseous strata tilted, at an angle of between 70° and 80° to the west, by an uniclinal axis of elevation which does not run parallel to the other neighbouring ranges, and which is of short length; for on the south side of the valley its prolongation is marked only by a small flexure in a pile of strata inclined by a quite separate axis. A little farther on the north and south valley of Horcones enters at right angles our line of section; its western side is bounded by a hill of gypseous strata [F], dipping westward at about 45°, and its eastern side by a mountain of similar strata [G] inclined westward at 70°, and superimposed by an oblique fault on another mass of the same strata [H], also inclined westward, but at an angle of only about 30°: the complicated relation of these three masses [F, G, H] is explained by the structure of a great mountain-range lying some way to the north, in which a regular anticlinal axis (represented in the section by dotted lines) is seen, with the strata on its eastern side again bending up and forming a distinct uniclinal axis, of which the beds marked [H] form the lower part. This great uniclinal line is intersected, near the Puente del Inca, by the valley along which the road runs, and the strata composing it will be immediately described. On the south side of the road, in the space corresponding with the mountains [E, F and G], the strata everywhere dip westward generally at an angle of 30°, occasionally mounting up to 45°, but not in an unbroken line, for there are several vertical faults, forming separate uniclinal masses, all dipping in the same direction,—a form of elevation common in the Cordillera. We thus see that within a narrow space, the gypseous strata have been unheaved and crushed together by a great uniclinal, anticlinal, and one lesser uniclinal line [E] of elevation; and that between these three lines and the Cumbre, in the sandstones, conglomerates and porphyritic formation, there have been at least two or three other great elevatory axes.
The uniclinal axis [I] intersected near the Puente del Inca* (of which the strata at [H] form a part) ranges N. by W. and S. by E., forming a chain of mountains, apparently little inferior in height to the Cumbre: the strata, as we have seen, dip at an average angle of 30° to the west. The flanks of the mountains are here quite bare and steep, affording an excellent section; so that I was able to inspect the strata to a thickness of about 4,000 feet, and could clearly distinguish their general nature for 1,000 feet higher, making a total thickness of 5,000 feet, to which must be added about 1,000 feet of the inferior strata seen a little lower down the valley. I will describe this one section in detail, beginning at the bottom.
* At this place, there are some hot and cold springs, the warmest having a temperature, according to Lieut. Brand (‘Travels,’ p. 240), of 91°; they emit much gas. According to Mr. Brande, of the Royal Institution, ten cubical inches contain forty-five grains of solid matter, consisting chiefly of salt, gypsum, carbonate of lime, and oxide of iron. The water is charged with carbonic acid and sulphuretted hydrogen. These springs deposit much tufa in the form of spherical balls. They burst forth, as do those of Cauquenes, and probably those of Villa Vicencio, on a line of elevation.
1st. The lowest mass is the altered clay-slate described in the preliminary discussion, and which in this line of section was here first met with. Lower down the valley, at the R. de las Vacas, I had a better opportunity of examining it; it is there in some parts well characterised, having a distinct, nearly vertical, tortuous cleavage, ranging NW. and SE., and intersected by quartz veins: in most parts, however, it is crystalline and feldspathic, and passes into a true greenstone often including grains of quartz. The clay-slate, in its upper half, is frequently brecciated, the embedded angular fragments being of nearly the same nature with the paste.
2nd. Several strata of purplish porphyritic conglomerate, of no very great thickness, rest conformably upon the feldspathic slate. A thick bed of fine, purple, clay-stone porphyry, obscurely brecciated (but not of metamorphosed sedimentary origin), and capped by porphyritic conglomerate, was the lowest bed actually examined in this section at the Puente del Inca.
3rd. A stratum, eighty feet thick, of hard and very compact impure whitish limestone, weathering bright red, with included layers brecciated and re-cemented. Obscure marks of shell are distinguishable in it.
4th. A red, quartzose, fine-grained conglomerate, with grains of quartz, and with patches of white earthy feldspar, apparently due to some process of concretionary crystalline action: this bed is more compact and metamorphosed than any of the overlying conglomerates.
5th. A whitish cherty limestone, with nodules of blueish argillaceous limestone.
6th. A white conglomerate, with many particles of quartz, almost blending into the paste.
7th. Highly siliceous, fine-grained white sandstone. 8th and 9th. Red and white beds not examined.
10th. Yellow, fine-grained, thinly stratified, magnesian (judging from its slow dissolution in acids) limestone: it includes some white quartz pebbles, and little cavities, lined with calcareous spar, some retaining the form of shells.
11th. A bed between twenty and thirty feet thick, quite conformable with the underlying ones, composed of a hard basis, tinged lilac-gray porphyritic with numerous crystals of whitish feldspar, with black mica and little spots of soft ferruginous matter: evidently a submarine lava.
12th. Yellow magnesian limestone, as before, partstained purple.
13th. A most singular rock; basis purplish gray, obscurely crystalline, easily fusible into a dark green glass, not hard, thickly speckled with crystals more or less perfect of white carbonate of lime, of red hydrous oxide of iron, of a white and transparent mineral like analcime, and of a green opaque mineral like soap-stone; the basis is moreover amygdaloidal with many spherical balls of white crystallised carbonate of lime, of which some are coated with the red oxide of iron. I have no doubt, from the examination of a superincumbent stratum (19), that this is a submarine lava; though in Northern Chile, some of the metamorphosed sedimentary beds are almost as crystalline, and of as varied composition.
14th. Red sandstone, passing in the upper part into a coarse, hard, red conglomerate, 300 feet thick, having a calcareous cement, and including grains of quartz and broken crystals of feldspar; basis infusible; the pebbles consist of dull purplish porphyries, with some of quartz, from the size of a nut to a man's head. This is the coarsest conglomerate in this part of the Cordillera: in the middle there was a white layer not examined.
15th. Grand thick bed, of a very hard, yellowish-white rock, with a crystalline feldspathic base, including large crystals of white feldspar, many little cavities mostly full of soft ferruginous matter, and numerous hexagonal plates of black mica. The upper part of this great bed is slightly cellular; the lower part compact: the thickness varied a little in different parts. Manifestly a submarine lava; and is allied to bed 11.
16th and 17th. Dull purplish, calcareous, fine-grained, compact sandstones, which pass into coarse white conglomerates with numerous particles of quartz.
18th. Several alternations of red conglomerate, purplish sandstone, and submarine lava, like that singular rock forming bed 13.
19th. A very heavy, compact, greenish-black stone, with a fine-grained obviously crystalline basis, containing a few specks of white calcareous spar, many specks of the crystallised hydrous red oxide of iron, and some specks of a green mineral; there are veins and nests filled with epidote: certainly a submarine lava.
20th. Many thin strata of compact, fine-grained, pale purple sandstone.
21st. Gypsum in a nearly pure state, about 300 feet in thickness: this bed, in its concretions of anhydrite and layers of small blackish crystals of carbonate of lime, exactly resembles the great gypseous beds in the Peuquenes range.
22nd. Pale purple and reddish sandstone, as in bed 20: about 300 feet in thickness.
23rd. A thick mass composed of layers, often as thin as paper and convoluted, of pure gypsum with others very impure, of a purplish colour.
24th. Pure gypsum, thick mass.
25th. Red sandstones, of great thickness.
26th. Pure gypsum, of great thickness.
27th. Alternating layers of pure and impure gypsum, of great thickness.
I was not able to ascend to these few last great strata, which compose the neighbouring loftiest pinnacles. The thickness, from the lowest to the uppermost bed of gypsum, cannot be less than 2,000 feet: the beds beneath I estimated at 3,000 feet, and this does not include either the lower parts of the porphyritic conglomerate, or the altered clay-slate; I concèive the total thickness must be about 6,000 feet. I distinctly observed that not only the gypsum, but the alternating sandstones and conglomerates were lens-shaped, and repeatedly thinned out and replaced each other: thus in the distance of about a mile, a bed 300 feet thick of sandstone between two beds of gypsum, thinned out to nothing and disappeared. The lower part of this section differs remarkably,—in the much greater diversity of its mineralogical composition,—in the abundance of calcareous matter,—in the greater coarseness of some of the conglomerates,—and in the numerous particles and well rounded pebbles, sometimes of large size, of quartz,—from any other section hitherto described in Chile. From these peculiarities, and from the lens-form of the strata, it is probable that this great pile of strata was accumulated on a shallow and very uneven bottom, near some pre-existing land formed of various porphyries and quartz-rock. The formation of porphyritic clay-stone conglomerate does not in this section attain nearly its ordinary thickness; this may be partly attributed to the metamorphic action having been here much less energetic than usual, though the lower beds have been affected to a certain degree. If it had been as energetic as in most other parts of Chile, many of the beds of sandstone and conglomerate, containing rounded masses of porphyry, would doubtless have been converted into porphyritic conglomerate; and these would have alternated with, and even blended into, crystalline and porphyritic strata without a trace of mechanical structure,—namely, into those which, in the present state of the section, we see are unquestionably submarine lavas.
The beds of gypsum, together with the red alternating sandstones and conglomerates, present so perfect and curious a resemblance with those seen in our former section in the basin-valley of Yeso, that I cannot doubt the identity of the two formations: I may add, that a little westward of the P. del Inca, a mass of gypsum passed into a fine-grained, hard, brown sandstone, which contained some layers of black, calcareous, compact, shaly rock, precisely like that seen in such vast masses on the Peuquenes range.
Near the Puente del Inca, numerous fragments of limestone, containing some fossil remains, were scattered on the ground: these fragments so perfectly resemble the limestone of bed No. 3, in which I saw impressions of shells, that I have no doubt they have fallen from it. The yellow magnesian limestone of bed No. 10, which also includes traces of shells, has a different appearance. These fossils (as named by M. d'Orbigny) consist of—
Gryphæa, near to G. Couloni (Neocomian formation).
Area, perhaps A. Gabrielis, d'Orbig. ‘Pal. Franc.’ (Neocomian formation).
Mr. Pentland made a collection of shells from this same spot, and Von Buch* considers them as consisting of—
Trigonia, resembling in form T. costata.
Pholadomya, like one found by M. Dufresnoy near Alençon.
Isocardia excentrica, Voltz., identical with that from the Jura.
* ‘Descript. Phys. des Iles Can.’ p.472.
Two of these shells, namely, the Gryphæa and Trigonia, appear to be identical with species collected by Meyen and myself on the Peuquenes range; and in the opinion of Von Buch and M. d'Orbigny, the two formations belong to the same age. I must here add, that Professor E. Forbes, who has examined my specimens from this place and from the Peuquenes range, has likewise a strong impression that they indicate the Cretaceous period, and probably an early epoch in it: so that all the palæontologists who have seen these fossils nearly coincide in opinion regarding their age. The limestone, however, with these fossils here lies at the very base of the formation, just above the porphyritic conglomerate, and certainly several thousand feet lower in the series, than the equivalent, fossiliferous, black, shaly rocks high up on the Peuquenes range.
It is well worthy of remark that these shells, or at least those of which I saw impressions in the limestone (bed No. 3), must have been covered up, on the least computation, by 4,000 feet of strata: now we know from Professor E. Forbes's researches, that the sea at greater depths than 600 feet becomes exceedingly barren of organic beings,—a result quite in accordance with what little I have seen of deep-sea soundings. Hence, after this limestone with its shells was deposited, the bottom of the sea where the main line of the Cordillera now stands, must have subsided some thousand feet to allow of the deposition of the superincumbent submarine strata. Without supposing a movement of this kind, it would, moreover, be impossible to understand the accumulation of the several lower strata of coarse, well-rounded conglomerates, which it is scarcely possible to believe were spread out in profoundly deep water, and which, especially those containing pebbles of quartz, could hardly have been rounded in submarine craters and afterwards ejected from them, as I believe to have been the case with much of the porphyritic conglomerate formation. I may add that, in Professor Forbes's opinion, the above-enumerated species of Mollusca probably did not live at a much greater depth than twenty fathoms, that is only 120 feet.
To return to our section down the valley: standing on the great N. by W. and S. by E. uniclinal axis of the Puente del Inca, of which a section has just been given, and looking north-east, great tabular masses of the gypseous formation [K K] could be seen in the distance, very slightly inclined towards the east. Lower down the valley, the mountains are almost exclusively composed of porphyries, many of them of intrusive origin and non-stratified, others stratified, but with the stratification seldom distinguishable except in the upper parts. Disregarding local disturbances, the beds are either horizontal or inclined at a small angle eastwards: hence, when standing on the plain of Uspallata and looking to the west or backwards, the Cordillera appear composed of huge, square, nearly horizontal, tabular masses: so wide a space, with such lofty mountains so equably elevated, is rarely met with within the Cordillera. In this line of section, the interval between the Puente del Inca and the neighbourhood of the Cumbre, includes all the chief axes of dislocation.
The altered clay-slate formation, already described, is seen in several parts of the valley as far down as Las Vacas, underlying the porphyritic conglomerate. At the Casa de Pujios [L], there is a hummock of (andesitic?) granite; and the stratification of the surrounding mountains here changes from W. by S. to SW. Again, near the R. Vacas there is a larger formation of (andesitic?) granite [M], which sends a mesh-work of veins into the superincumbent clay-slate, and which locally throws off the strata, on one side to NW. and on the other to SE. but not at a high angle: at the junction, the clay-slate is altered into fine-grained greenstone. This granitic axis is intersected by a green dike, which I mention, because I do not remember having elsewhere seen dikes in this lowest and latest intrusive rock. From the R. Vacas to the plain of Uspallata, the valley runs NE., so that I have had to contract my section; it runs exclusively through porphyritic rocks. As far as the Pass of Jaula, the clay-stone conglomerate formation, in most parts highly porphyritic, and crossed by numerous dikes of greenstone-porphyry, attains a great thickness: there is also much intrusive porphyry. From the Jaula to the plain, the stratification has been in most places obliterated, except near the tops of some of the mountains; and the metamorphic action has been extremely great. In this space, the number and bulk of the intrusive masses of differently coloured porphyries, injected one into another and intersected by dikes, is truly extraordinary. I saw one mountain of whitish porphyry, from which two huge dikes, thinning out, branched downwards into an adjoining blackish porphyry. Another hill of white porphyry, which had burst through dark-coloured strata, was itself injected by a purple, brecciated, and recemented porphyry, both being crossed by a green dike, and both having been upheaved and injected by a granitic dome. One brick-red porphyry, which above the Jaula forms an isolated mass in the midst of the porphyritic conglomerate formation, and lower down the valley a magnificent group of peaked mountains, differs remarkably from all the other porphyries. It consists of a red feldspathic base, including some rather large crystals of red feldspar, numerous large angular grains of quartz, and little bits of a soft green mineral answering in most of its characters to soap-stone. The crystals of red feldspar resemble in external appearance those of orthite, though, from being partially decomposed, I was unable to measure them; and they certainly are quite unlike the variety, so abundantly met with in almost all the other rocks of this line of section, and which, wherever I tried it, cleaved like albite. This brick-red porphyry appears to have burst through all the other porphyries, and numerous red dikes traversing the neighbouring mountains have proceeded from it: in some few places, however, it was intersected by white dikes. From this posteriority of intrusive origin,—from the close general resemblance between this red porphyry and the red granite of the Portillo line, the only difference being that the feldspar here is less perfectly granular, and that soap-stone replaces the mica, which is there imperfect and passes into chlorite,—and from the Portillo line a little southward of this point appearing to blend (according to Dr. Gillies) into the western ranges,—I am strongly urged to believe (as formerly remarked) that the grand mountain-masses composed of this brick-red porphyry belong to the same axis of injection with the granite of the Portillo line: if so, the injection of this porphyry probably took place, as long subsequently to the several axes of elevation in the gypseous formation near the Cumbre, as the injection of the Portillo granite has been shown to have been subsequent to the elevation of the gypseous strata composing the Peuquenes range; and this interval, we have seen, must have been a very long one.
The Plain of Uspallata has been briefly described in Chap. X.; it resembles the basin-plains of Chile; it is ten or fifteen miles wide, and is said to extend for 180 miles northward; its surface is nearly 6,000 feet above the sea; it is composed, to a thickness of some hundred feet of loosely aggregated, stratified shingle, which is prolonged with a gently sloping surface up the valleys in the mountains on both sides. One section in this plain [Z] is interesting, from the unusual* circumstance of alternating layers of almost loose red and white sand with lines of pebbles (from the size of a nut to that of an apple), and beds of gravel, being inclined at an angle of 45°, and in some spots even at a higher angle. These beds are dislocated by small faults: and are capped by a thick mass of horizontally stratified gravel, evidently of subaqueous origin. Having been accustomed to observe the irregularities of beds accumulated under currents, I feel sure that the inclination here has not been thus produced. The pebbles consist chiefly of the brick-red porphyry just described and of white granite, both probably derived from the ranges to the west, and of altered clay-slate and of certain porphyries, apparently belonging to the rocks of the Uspallata chain. This plain corresponds geographically with the valley of Tenuyan between the Portillo and Peuquenes ranges; but in that valley the shingle, which likewise has been derived both from the eastern and western ranges, has been cemented into a hard conglomerate, and has been throughout tilted at a considerable inclination; the gravel there apparently attains a much greater thickness, and is probably of higher antiquity.
* I find that Mr. Smith, of Jordanhill, has described (‘Edinburgh New Phil. Journ.’ vol. xxv. p. 392) beds of sand and gravel, near Edinburgh, tilted at an angle of 60°, and dislocated by miniature faults.
The Uspallata Range.—The road by the Villa Vicencio Pass does not strikedirectly across the range, but runs for some leagues northward along its western base: and I must briefly describe the rocks here seen, before continuing with the coloured east and west section. At the mouth of the valley of Cañota, and at several points northwards, there is an extensive formation of a glossy and harsh, and of a feldspathic clay-slate, including strata of grauwacke, and having a tortuous, nearly vertical cleavage, traversed by numerous metalliferous veins and others of quartz. The clay-slate is in many parts capped by a thick mass of fragments of the same rock, firmly recemented; and both together have been injected and broken up by very numerous hillocks, ranging north and south, of lilac, white, dark and salmon-coloured porphyries: one steep, now denuded, hillock of porphyry had its face as distinctly impressed with the angles of a fragmentary mass of the slate, with some of the points still remaining embedded, as sealing-wax could be by a seal. At the mouth of this same valley of Cañota, in a fine escarpment having the strata dipping from 50° to 60° to the NE.,* the clay-slate formation is seen to be covered by (1st), a purple clay-stone porphyry resting unconformably in some parts on the solid slate, and in others on a thick fragmentary mass: (2nd), a conformable stratum of compact blackish rock, having a spheroidal structure, full of minute acicular crystals of glassy feldspar, with red spots of oxide of iron: (3rd), a great stratum of purplish-red clay-stone porphyry, abounding with crystals of opaque feldspar, and laminated with thin, parallel, often short, layers, and likewise with great irregular patches of white, earthy, semi-crystalline feldspar; this rock (which I noticed in other neighbouring places) perfectly resembles a curious variety described at Port Desire, and occasionally occurs in the great porphyritic conglomerate formation of Chile: (4th), a thin stratum of greenish-white, indurated tuff, fusible and containing broken crystals and particles of porphyries: (5th), a grand mass, imperfectly columnar and divided into three parallel and closely joined strata, of cream-coloured claystone porphyry: (6th), a thick stratum of lilac-coloured porphyry, which I could see was capped by another bed of the cream-coloured variety: I was unable to examine the still higher parts of the escarpment. These conformably stratified porphyries, though none are either vesicular or amygdaloidal, have evidently flowed as submarine lavas: some of them are separated from each other by seams of indurated tuff, which, however, are quite insignificant in thickness compared with the porphyries. This whole pile resembles, but not very closely, some of the less brecciated parts of the great porphyritic conglomerate formation of Chile; but it does not probably belong to the same age, as the porphyries here rest unconformably on the altered feldspathic clay-slate, whereas the porphyritic conglomerate formation alternates with and rests conformably on it. These porphyries, moreover, with the exception of the one blackish stratum, and of the one indurated, white tufaceous bed, differ from the beds composing the Uspallata range in the line of the Villa Vicencio Pass.
* Nearly opposite to this escarpment, there is another corresponding one, with the strata dipping not to the exactly opposite point, or SW., but to SSW.: consequently the two escarpments trend towards each other, and some miles southward they become actually united: this is a form of elevation which I have not elsewhere seen.
I will now give, first, a sketch of the structure of the range, as represented in the coloured section, and will then describe its composition and interesting history. At its western foot, a hillock [N] is seen to rise out of the plain, with its strata dipping at 70° to the west, fronted by strata [O] inclined at 45° to the east, thus forming a little north and south anticlinal axis. Some other little hillocks of similar composition, with their strata highly inclined, range NE. and SW., obliquely to the main Uspallata line. The cause of these dislocations, which, though on a small scale, have been violent and complicated, is seen to lie in hummocks of lilac, purple and red porphyries, which have been injected in a liquefied state through and into the underlying clay-slate formation. Several dikes were exposed here, but in no other part, that I saw of this range. As the strata consist of black, white, greenish, and brown coloured rocks, and as the intrusive porphyries are so brightly tinted, a most extraordinary view was presented, like a coloured geological drawing. On the gently inclined main western slope [P P], above the little anticlinal ridges just mentioned, the strata dip at an average angle of 25° to the west; the inclination in some places being only 10°, in some few others as much as 45°. The masses having these different inclinations, are separated from each other by parallel vertical faults [as represented at Pa], often giving rise to separate, parallel, uniclinal ridges. The summit of the main range is broad and undulatory, with the stratification undulatory and irregular: in a few places granitic and porphyritic masses [Q] protrude, which, from the small effect they have locally produced in deranging the strata, probably form the upper points of a regular, great underlying dome. These denuded granitic points, I estimated at about 9,000 feet in height above the sea. On the eastern slope, the strata in the upper part are regularly inclined at about 25° to the east, so that the summit of this chain, neglecting small irregularities, forms a broad anticlinal axis. Lower down, however, near Los Hornillos [R], there is a well-marked synclinal axis, beyond which the strata are inclined at nearly the same angle, namely from 20° to 30°, inwards or westward. Owing to the amount of denudation which this chain has suffered, the outline of the gently inclined eastern flank scarcely offers the slightest indication of this synclinal axis. The stratified beds, which we have hitherto followed across the range, a little farther down are seen to lie, I believe unconformably, on a broad mountainous band of clay-slate and grauwacke. The strata and laminæ of this latter formation, on the extreme eastern flank, are generally nearly vertical; further inwards they become inclined from 45° to 80° to the west: near Villa Vicencio [S] there is apparently an anticlinal axis, but the structure of this outer part of the clay-slate formation is so obscure, that I have not marked the planes of stratification in the coloured section. On the margin of the Pampas, some low, much dislocated spurs of this same formation, project in a north-easterly line, in the same oblique manner as do the ridges on the western foot, and as is so frequently the case with those at the base of the main Cordillera.
I will now describe the nature of the beds, beginning at the base on the eastern side. First, for the clay-slate formation: the slate is generally hard and bluish, with the laminæ coated by minute micaceous scales; it alternates many times with a coarse-grained, greenish grauwacke, containing rounded fragments of quartz and bits of slate in a slightly calcareous basis. The slate in the upper part generally becomes purplish, and the cleavage so irregular that the whole consists of mere splinters. Transverse veins of quartz are numerous. At the Calera, some leagues distant, there is a dark crystalline limestone, apparently included in this formation. With the exception of the grauwacke being here more abundant, and the clay-slate less altered, this formation closely resembles that unconformably underlying the porphyries at the western foot of this same range; and likewise that alternating with the porphyritic conglomerate in the main Cordillera. This formation is a considerable one, and extends several leagues southward to near Mendoza: the mountains composed of it rise to a height of about 2,000 feet above the edge of the Pampas, or about 7,000 feet above the sea.*
* I infer this from the height of V. Cicencio, which was ascertained by Mr. Miers to be 5,328 feet above the sea.
Secondly: the most usual bed on the clay-slate is a coarse, white, slightly calcareous conglomerate, of no great thickness, including broken crystals of feldspar, grains of quartz, and numerous pebbles of brecciated clay-stone porphyry, but without any pebbles of the underlying clay-slate. I nowhere saw the actual junction between this bed and the clay-slate, though I spent a whole day in endeavouring to discover their relations. In some places I distinctly saw the white conglomerate and overlying beds inclined at from 25° to 30° to the west, and at the bottom of the same mountain, the clay-slate and grauwacke inclined to the same point, but at an angle from 70° to 80°: in one instance, the clay-slate dipped not only at a different angle, but to a different point from the overlying formation. In these cases the two formations certainly appeared quite unconformable: moreover, I found in the clay-slate one great, vertical, dike-like fissure, filled up with an indurated whitish tuff, quite similar to some of the upper beds presently to be described; and this shows that the clay-slate must have been consolidated and dislocated before their deposition. On the other hand, the stratification of the slate and grauwacke,* in some cases gradually and entirely disappeared in approaching the overlying white conglomerate; in other cases the stratification of the two formations became strictly conformable; and again in other cases, there was some tolerably well characterised clay-slate lying above the conglomerate. The most probable conclusion appears to be, that after the clay-slate formation had been dislocated and tilted, but whilst under the sea, a fresh and more recent deposition of clay-slate took place, on which the white conglomerate was conformably deposited, with here and there a thin intercalated bed of clay-slate. On this view the white conglomerates and the presently to be described tuffs and lavas are really unconformable to the main part of the clay-slate; and this, as we have seen, certainly is the case with the clay-stone lavas in the valley of Cañota, at the western and opposite base of the range.
* The coarse, mechanical structure of many grauwackes has always appeared to me a difficulty; for the texture of the associated clay-slate and the nature of the embedded organic remains where present, indicate that the whole has been a deep-water deposit. Whence have the sometimes included angular fragments of clay-slate, and the rounded masses of quartz and other rocks, been derived? Many deep-water limestones, it is well known, have been brecciated, and then firmly recemented.
Thirdly: on the white conglomerate, strata several hundred feet in thickness are superimposed, varying much in nature in short distances: the commonest variety is a white, much indurated tuff, sometimes slightly calcareous, with ferruginous spots and waterlines, often passing into whitish or purplish compact, fine-grained grit or sandstones; other varieties become semi-porcellanic, and tinted faint green or blue; others pass into an indurated shale: most of these varieties are easily fusible.
Fourthly: a bed, about 100 feet thick, of a compact, partially columnar, pale-gray, feldspathic lava, stained with iron, including very numerous crystals of opaque feldspar, and with some crystallised and disseminated calcareous matter. The tufaceous stratum on which this feldspathic lava rests is much hardened, stained purple, and has a spherico-concretionary structure; it here contains a good many pebbles of clay-stone porphyry.
Fifthly: thin beds, 400 feet in thickness, varying much in nature, consisting of white and ferruginous tuffs, in some parts having a concretionary structure, in others containing rounded grains and a few pebbles of quartz; also passing into hard gritstones and into greenish mudstones: there is, also, much of a bluishgray and green semi-porcellanic stone.
Sixthly: a volcanic stratum, 250 feet in thickness, of so varying a nature that I do not believe a score of specimens would show all the varieties; much is highly amygdaloidal, much compact; there are greenish, blackish, purplish, and gray varieties, rarely including crystals of green augite and minute acicular ones of feldspar, but often crystals and amygdaloidal masses of white, red, and black carbonate of lime. Some of the blackish varieties of this rock have a conchoidal fracture and resemble basalt: others have an irregular fracture. Some of the gray and purplish varieties are thickly speckled with green earth and with white crystalline carbonate of lime; others are largely amygdaloidal with green earth and calcareous spar. Again, other earthy varieties, of greenish, purplish and gray tints, contain much iron, and are almost half composed of amygdaloidal balls of dark brown bole, of a whitish indurated feldspathic matter, of bright green earth, of agate, and of black and white crystallised carbonate of lime. All these varieties are easily fusible. Viewed from a distance, the line of junction with the underlying semi-porcellanic strata was distinct; but when examined closely, it was impossible to point out within a foot where the lava ended and where the sedimentary mass began: the rock at the time of junction was in most places hard, of a bright green colour, and abounded with irregular amygdaloidal masses of ferruginous and pure calcareous spar, and of agate.
Seventhly: strata, eighty feet in thickness, of various indurated tuffs, as before; many of the varieties have a fine basis including rather coarse extraneous particles; some of them are compact and semi-porcellanic, and include vegetable impressions.
Eighthly: a bed, about fifty feet thick, of greenishgray, compact, feldspathic lava, with numerous small crystals of opaque feldspar, black augite, and oxide of iron. The junction with the bed on which it rested, was ill defined; balls and masses of the feldspathic rock being enclosed in much altered tuff.
Ninthly: indurated tuffs, as before.
Tenthly: a conformable layer, less than two feet in thickness, of pitchstone, generally brecciated, and traversed by veins of agate and of carbonate of lime: parts are composed of apparently concretionary fragments of a more perfect variety, arranged in horizontal lines in a less perfectly characterised variety. I have much difficulty in believing that this thin layer of pitchstone flowed as lava.
Eleventhly: sedimentary and tufaceous beds as before, passing into sandstone, including some conglomerate: the pebbles in the latter are of clay-stone porphyry, well rounded, and some as large as cricket-balls.
Twelfthly: a bed of compact, sonorous, feldspathic lava, like that of bed No. 8, divided by numerous joints into large angular blocks.
Thirteenthly: sedimentary beds as before, Fourteenthly: a thick bed of greenish or grayish black, compact basalt, (fusing into a black enamel) with small crystals, occasionally distinguishable, of feldspar and augite: the junction with the underlying sedimentary bed, differently from that in most of the foregoing streams, here was quite distinct:—the lava and tufaceous matter preserving their perfect characters within two inches of each other. This rock closely resembles certain parts of that varied and singular lava-stream No. 6; it likewise resembles, as we shall immediately see, many of the great upper beds on the western flank and on the summit of this range.
The pile of strata here described attains a great thickness; and above the last-mentioned volcanic stratum, there were several other great tufaceous beds alternating with submarine lavas, which I had not time to examine; but a corresponding series, several thousand feet in thickness, is well exhibited on the crest and western flank of the range. Most of the lava-streams on the western side are of a jet-black colour and basaltic nature; they are either compact and fine-grained, including minute crystals of augite and feldspar, or they are coarse-grained and abound with rather large coppery-brown crystals of an augitic mineral.* Another variety was of a dull-red colour, having a clay-stone brecciated basis, including specks of oxide of iron and of calcareous spar, and amygdaloidal with green earth: there were apparently several other varieties. These submarine lavas often exhibit a spheroidal, and sometimes an imperfect columnar structure: their upper junctions are much more clearly defined than their lower junctions; but the latter are not so much blended into the underlying sedimentary beds as is the case in the eastern flank. On the crest and western flank of the range, the streams, viewed as a whole, are mostly basaltic; whilst those on the eastern side, which stand lower in the series, are, as we have seen, mostly feldspathic.
* Very easily fusible into a jet black bead, attracted by the magnet: the crystals are too much tarnished to be measured by the goniometer.
The sedimentary strata alternating with the lavas on the crest and western side, are of an almost infinitely varying nature; but a large proportion of them closely resemble those already described on the eastern flank: there are white and brown, indurated, easily fusible tuffs,—some passing into pale blue and green semiporcellanic rocks,—others into brownish and purplish sandstones and gritstones, often including grains of quartz,—others into mudstone containing broken crystals and particles of rock, and occasionally single large pebbles. There was one stratum of a bright red, coarse, volcanic gritstone; another of conglomerate; another of a black, indurated, carbonaceous shale marked with imperfect vegetable impressions; this latter bed, which was thin, rested on a submarine lava, and followed all the considerable inequalities of its upper surface. Mr. Miers states that coal has been found in this range. Lastly, there was a bed (like No. 10 on the eastern flank) evidently of sedimentary origin, and remarkable from closely approaching in character to an imperfect pitchstone, and from including extremely thin layers of perfect pitchstone, as well as nodules and irregular fragments (but not resembling extraneous fragments) of this same rock arranged in horizontal lines: I conceive that this bed, which is only a few feet in thickness, must have assumed its present state through metamorphic and concretionary action. Most of these sedimentary strata are much indurated, and no doubt have been partially metamorphosed: many of them are extraordinarily heavy and compact; others have agate and crystalline carbonate of lime disseminated throughout them. Some of the beds exhibit a singular concretionary arrangement, with the curves determined by the lines of fissure. There are many veins of agate and calcareous spar, and innumerable ones of iron and other metals, which have blackened and curiously affected the strata to considerable distances on both sides.
Many of these tufaceous beds resemble, with the exception of being more indurated, the upper beds of the great Patagonian Tertiary formation, especially those variously coloured layers high up the river Santa Cruz, and in a remarkable degree the tufaceous formation at the northern end of Chiloe. I was so much struck with this resemblance, that I particularly looked out for silicified wood, and found it under the following extraordinary circumstances. High up on this western flank,* at a height estimated at 7,000 feet above the sea, in a broken escarpment of thin strata, composed of compact green gritstone passing into a fine mudstone, and alternating with layers of coarser, brownish, very heavy mudstone including broken crystals and particles of rock almost blended together, I counted the stumps of fifty-two trees. They projected between two and five feet above the ground, and stood at exactly right angles to the strata, which were here inclined at an angle of about 25° to the west. Eleven of these trees were silicified and well preserved: Mr. R. Brown has been so kind as to examine the wood when sliced and polished; he says it is coniferous, partaking of the characters of the Araucarian tribe, with some curious points of affinity with the Yew. The bark round the trunks must have been circularly furrowed with irregular lines, for the mudstone round them is thus plainly marked. One cast consisted of dark argillaceous limestone; and forty of them of coarsely crystallised carbonate of lime, with cavities lined by quartz crystals: these latter white calcareous columns do not retain any internal structure, but their external form plainly shows their origin. All the stumps have nearly the same diameter, varying from one foot to eighteen inches; some of them stand within a yard of each other; they are grouped in a clump within a space of about sixty yards across, with a few scattered round at the distance of 150 yards. They all stand at about the same level. The longest stump stood seven feet out of the ground: the roots, if they are still preserved, are buried and concealed. No one layer of the mudstone appeared much darker than the others, as if it had formerly existed as soil, nor could this be expected, for the same agents which replaced with silex and lime the wood of the trees, would naturally have removed all vegetable matter from the soil. Besides the fifty-two upright trees, there were a few fragments, like broken branches, horizontally embedded. The surrounding strata are crossed by veins of carbonate of lime, agate, and oxide of iron; and a poor gold vein has been worked not far from the trees.
* For the information of any future traveller, I will describe the spot in detail. Proceeding eastward from the Agua del Zorro, and afterwards leaving on the north side of the road a rancho attached to some old gold-mines, you pass through a gully with low but steep rocks on each hand: the road then bends, and the ascent becomes steeper. A few hundred yards farther on, a stone's throw on the south side of the road, the white calcareous stumps may be seen. The spot is about half a mile east of the Agua del Zorro.
The green and brown mudstone beds including the trees, are conformably covered by much indurated, compact, white or ferruginous tuffs, which pass upwards into a fine-grained, purplish sedimentary rock: these strata, which, together, are from 400 to 500 feet in thickness, rest on a thick bed of submarine-lava, and are conformably covered by another great mass of finegrained basalt,* which I estimated at 1,000 feet in thickness, and which probably has been formed by more than one stream. Above this mass I could clearly distinguish five conformable alternations, each several hundred feet in thickness, of stratified sedimentary rocks and lavas, such as have been previously described. Certainly the upright trees have been buried under several thousand feet in thickness of matter, accumulated under the sea. As the trees obviously must once have grown on dry land, what an enormous amount of subsidence is thus indicated! Nevertheless, had it not been for the trees there was no appearance which would have led any one even to have conjectured that these strata had subsided. As the land, moreover, on which the trees grew, is formed of subaqueous deposits, of nearly if not quite equal thickness with the superincumbent strata, and as these deposits are regularly stratified and fine-grained, not like the matter thrown up on a sea-beach, a previous upward movement, aided no doubt by the great accumulation of lavas and sediment, is also indicated.†
* This rock is quite black, and fuses into a black bead, attracted strongly by the magnet; it breaks with a conchoidal fracture; the included crystals of augite are distinguishable by the naked eye, but are not perfect enough to be measured: there are many minute acicular crystals of glassy feldspar.
† At first I imagined, that the strata with the trees might have been accumulated in a lake: but this seems highly improbable; for, first, a very deep lake was necessary to receive the matter below the trees, then it must have been drained for their growth, and afterwards re-formed and made profoundly deep, so as to receive a subsequent accumulation of matter several thousand feet in thickness. And all this must have taken place necessarily before the formation of the Uspallata range, and therefore on the margin of the wide level expanse of the Pampas! Hence I conclude, that it is infinitely more probable that the strata were accumulated under the sea: the vast amount of denudation, moreover, which this range has suffered, as shown by the wide valleys, by the exposure of the very trees and by other appearances, could have been effected, I conceive, only by the long-continued action of the sea; and this shows that the range was either upheaved from under the sea, or subsequently let down into it. From the natural manner in which the stumps (fifty-two in number) are grouped in a clump, and from their all standing vertically to the strata, it is superfluous to speculate on the chance of the trees having been drifted from adjoining land, and deposited upright: I may, however, mention that the late Dr. Malcolmson assured me, that he once met in the Indian Ocean, fifty miles from land, several cocoa-nut trees floating upright, owing to their roots being loaded with earth.
In nearly the middle of the range, there are some hills [Q], before alluded to, formed of a kind of granite externally resembling andesite, and consisting of a white, imperfectly granular, feldspathic basis, including some perfect crystals apparently of albite (but I was unable to measure them), much black mica, epidote in veins, and very little or no quartz. Numerous small veins branch from this rock into the surrounding strata; and it is a singular fact that these veins, though composed of the same kind of feldspar and small scales of mica as in the solid rock, abound with innumerable minute rounded grains of quartz: in the veins or dikes also, branching from the great granitic axis in the peninsula of Tres Montes, I observed that quartz was more abundant in them than in the main rock: I have heard of other analogous cases: can we account for this fact, by the long-continued vicinity of quartz* when cooling, and by its having been thus more easily sucked into fissures than the other constituent minerals of granite. The strata encasing the flanks of these granitic or andesitic masses, and forming a thick cap on one of their summits, appear originally to have been of the same tufaceous nature with the beds already described, but they are now changed into porcellanic, jaspery, and crystalline rocks, and into others of a white colour with a harsh texture, and having a siliceous aspect, though really of a feldspathic nature and fusible. Both the granitic intrusive masses and the encasing strata are penetrated by innumerable metallic veins, mostly ferruginous and auriferous, but some containing copperpyrites and a few silver: near the veins, the rocks are blackened as if blasted by gunpowder. The strata are only slightly dislocated close round these hills, and hence, perhaps, it may be inferred that the granitic masses form only the projecting points of a broad continuous axis-dome, which has given to the upper parts of this range its anticlinal structure.
* See a paper by M. Elie de Beaumont, ‘Soc. Philomath.’ May, 1839 (‘L'Institut.’ 1839, p. 161).
Concluding Remarks on the Uspallata Range.—I will not attempt to estimate the total thickness of the pile of strata forming this range, but it must amount to many thousand feet. The sedimentary and tufaceous beds have throughout a general similarity, though with infinite variations. The submarine lavas in the lower part of the series are mostly feldspathic, whilst in the upper part, on the summit and western flank, they are mostly basaltic. We are thus reminded of the relative position in most recent volcanic districts of the trachytic and basaltic lavas,—the latter from their greater weight having sunk to a lower level in the earth's crust, and having consequently been erupted at a later period over the lighter and upper lavas of the trachytic series.* Both the basaltic and feldspathic submarine streams are very compact; none being vesicular, and only a few amygdaloidal: the effects which some of them, especially those low in the series, have produced on the tufaceous beds over which they have flowed is highly curious. Independently of this local metamorphic action, all the strata undoubtedly display an indurated and altered character; and all the rocks of this range—the lavas, the alternating sediments, the intrusive granite and porphyries, and the underlying clay-slate—are intersected by metalliferous veins. The lava-strata can often be seen extending for great distances, conformably with the under and over-lying beds; and it was obvious that they thickened towards the west. Hence the points of eruption must have been situated westward of the present range, in the direction of the main Cordillera: as, however, the flanks of the Cordillera are entirely composed of various porphyries, chiefly claystone and greenstone, some intrusive, and others belonging to the porphyritic conglomerate formation, but all quite unlike these submarine lava-streams, we must in all probability look to the plain of Uspallata for the now deeply buried points of eruption.
* See on this subject, Chapter VI [not included here].
Comparing our section of the Uspallata range with that of the Cumbre, we see, with the exception of the underlying clay-slate, and perhaps of the intrusive rocks of the axes, a striking dissimilarity in the strata composing them. The great porphyritic conglomerate formation has not extended as far as this range; nor have we here any of the gypseous strata, the magnesian and other limestones, the red sandstones, the siliceous beds with pebbles of quartz, and comparatively little of the conglomerates, all of which form such vast masses over the basal series in the main Cordillera. On the other hand, in the Cordillera, we do not find those endless varieties of indurated tuffs, with their numerous veins and concretionary arrangement, and those grit and mud stones, and singular semi-porcellanic rocks, so abundant in the Uspallata range. The submarine lavas, also, differ considerably; the feldspathic streams of the Cordillera contain much mica, which is absent in those of the Uspallata range: in this latter range we have seen on how grand a scale, basaltic lava has been poured forth, of which there is not a trace in the Cordillera. This dissimilarity is the more striking, considering that these two parallel chains are separated by a plain only between ten and fifteen miles in width; and that the Uspallata lavas, as well as no doubt the alternating tufaceous beds, have proceeded from the west, from points apparently between the two ranges. To imagine that these two piles of strata were contemporaneously deposited in two closely adjoining, very deep, submarine areas, separated from each other by a lofty ridge, where a plain now extends, would be a gratuitous hypothesis. And had they been contemporaneously deposited, without any such dividing ridge, surely some of the gypseous and other sedimentary matter forming such immensely thick masses in the Cordillera, would have extended this short distance eastwards; and surely some of the Uspallata tuffs and basalts also accumulated to so great a thickness, would have extended a little westward. Hence I conclude, that it is far more probable that these two series are not contemporaneous; but that the strata of one of the chains were deposited, and even the chain itself uplifted, before the formation of the other:—which chain, then, is the oldest? Considering that in the Uspallata range the lowest strata on the western flank lie unconformably on the clay-slate, as probably is the case with those on the eastern flank, whereas in the Cordillera all the overlying strata lie conformably on this formation:—considering that in the Uspallata range some of the beds, both low down and high up in the series, are marked with vegetable impressions, showing the continued existence of neighbouring land;—considering the close general resemblance between the deposits of this range and those of tertiary origin in several parts of the continent;—and lastly, even considering the lesser height and outlying position of the Uspallata range,—I conclude that the strata composing it are in all probability of subsequent origin, and that they were accumulated at a period when a deep sea studded with submarine volcanos washed the eastern base of the already partially elevated Cordillera.
This conclusion is of much importance, for we have seen that in the Cordillera, during the deposition of the Neocomian strata, the bed of the sea must have subsided many thousand feet: we now learn that at a later period an adjoining area first received a great accumulation of strata, and was upheaved into land on which coniferous trees grew, and that this area then subsided several thousand feet to receive the superincumbent submarine strata, afterwards being broken up, denuded, and elevated in mass to its present height. I am strengthened in this conclusion of there having been two distinct, great periods of subsidence, by reflecting on the thick mass of coarse stratified conglomerate in the valley of Tenuyan, between the Peuquenes and Portillo lines; for the accumulation of this mass seems to me, as previously remarked, almost necessarily to have required a prolonged subsidence; and this subsidence, from the pebbles in the conglomerate having been to a great extent derived from the gypseous or Neocomian strata of the Peuquenes line, we know must have been quite distinct from, and subsequent to, that sinking movement which probably accompanied the deposition of the Peuquenes strata, and which certainly accompanied the deposition of the equivalent beds near the Puente del Inca, in this line of section.
The Uspallata chain corresponds in geographical position, though on a small scale, with the Portillo line; and its clay-slate formation is probably the equivalent of the mica-schist of the Portillo, there metamorphosed by the old white granites and syenites. The coloured beds under the conglomerate in the valley of Tenuyan, of which traces are seen on the crest of the Portillo, and even the conglomerate itself, may perhaps be synchronous with the tufaceous beds and submarine lavas of the Uspallata range; an open sea and volcanic action in the latter case, and a confined channel between two bordering chains of islets in the former case, having been sufficient to account for the mineralogical dissimilarity of the two series. From this correspondence between the Uspallata and Portillo ranges, perhaps in age and certainly in geographical position, one is tempted to consider the one range as the prolongation of the other; but their axes are formed of totally different intrusive rocks; and we have traced the apparent continuation of the red granite of the Portillo in the red porphyries diverging into the main Cordillera. Whether the axis of the Uspallata range was injected before, or, as perhaps is more probable, after that of the Portillo line, I will not pretend to decide; but it is well to remember that the highly inclined lava-streams on the eastern flank of the Portillo line, prove that its angular upheavement was not a single and sudden event; and therefore that the anticlinal elevation of the Uspallata range may have been contemporaneous with some of the later angular movements by which the gigantic Portillo range gained its present height above the adjoining plain.