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    21. Desert Sands

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    Chapter 22
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    If deserts _have_ a fault (which their present biographer is far from
    admitting), that fault may doubtless be found in the fact that their
    scenery as a rule tends to be just a trifle monotonous. Though fine in
    themselves, they lack variety. To be sure, very few of the deserts of
    real life possess that absolute flatness, sandiness and sameness, which
    characterises the familiar desert of the poet and of the annual
    exhibitions--a desert all level yellow expanse, most bilious in its
    colouring, and relieved by but four allowable academy properties, a
    palm-tree, a camel, a sphinx, and a pyramid. For foreground, throw in a
    sheikh in appropriate drapery; for background, a sky-line and a
    bleaching skeleton; stir and mix, and your picture is finished. Most
    practical deserts one comes across in travelling, however, are a great
    deal less simple and theatrical than that; rock preponderates over sand
    in their composition, and inequalities of surface are often the rule
    rather than the exception. There is reason to believe, indeed, that the
    artistic conception of the common or Burlington House desert has been
    unduly influenced for evil by the accessibility and the poetic adjuncts
    of the Egyptian sand-waste, which, being situated in a great alluvial
    river valley is really flat, and, being the most familiar, has therefore
    distorted to its own shape the mental picture of all its kind elsewhere.
    But most deserts of actual nature are not all flat, nor all sandy; they
    present a considerable diversity and variety of surface, and their rocks
    are often unpleasantly obtrusive to the tender feet of the pedestrian
    traveller.

    A desert, in fact, is only a place where the weather is always and
    uniformly fine. The sand is there merely as what the logicians call, in
    their cheerful way, 'a separable accident'; the essential of a desert,
    as such, is the absence of vegetation, due to drought. The barometer in
    those happy, too happy, regions, always stands at Set Fair. At least, it
    would, if barometers commonly grew in the desert, where, however, in the
    present condition of science, they are rarely found. It is this dryness
    of the air, and this alone, that makes a desert; all the rest, like the
    camels, the sphinx, the skeleton, and the pyramid, is only thrown in to
    complete the picture.

    Now the first question that occurs to the inquiring mind--which is but a
    graceful periphrasis for the present writer--when it comes to examine in
    detail the peculiarities of deserts is just this: Why are there places
    on the earth's surface on which rain never falls? What makes it so
    uncommonly dry in Sahara when it's so unpleasantly wet and so
    unnecessarily foggy in this realm of England? And the obvious answer is,
    of course, that deserts exist only in those parts of the world where the
    run of mountain ranges, prevalent winds, and ocean currents conspire to
    render the average rainfall as small as possible. But, strangely enough,
    there is a large irregular belt of the great eastern continent where
    these peculiar conditions occur in an almost unbroken line for thousands
    of miles together, from the west coast of Africa to the borders of
    China: and it is in this belt that all the best known deserts of the
    world are actually situated. In one place it is the Atlas and the Kong
    mountains (now don't pretend, as David Copperfield's aunt would have
    said, you don't know the Kong mountains); at another place it is the
    Arabian coast range, Lebanon, and the Beluchi hills; at a third, it is
    the Himalayas and the Chinese heights that intercept and precipitate all
    the moisture from the clouds. But, from whatever variety of local causes
    it may arise, the fact still remains the same, that all the great
    deserts run in this long, almost unbroken series, beginning with the
    greater and the smaller Sahara, continuing in the Libyan and Egyptian
    desert, spreading on through the larger part of Arabia, reappearing to
    the north as the Syrian desert, and to the east as the desert of
    Rajputana (the Great Indian Desert of the Anglo-Indian mind), while
    further east again the long line terminates in the desert of Gobi on the
    Chinese frontier.

    In other parts of the world, deserts are less frequent. The peculiar
    combination of circumstances which goes to produce them does not
    elsewhere occur over any vast area, on so large a scale. Still, there is
    one region in western America where the necessary conditions are found
    to perfection. The high snow-clad peaks of the Rocky Mountains on the
    one side check and condense all the moisture that comes from the
    Atlantic; the Sierra Nevada and the Wahsatch range on the other, running
    parallel with them to the west, check and condense all the moisture that
    comes from the Pacific coast. In between these two great lines lies the
    dry and almost rainless district known to the ambitious western mind as
    the Great American Desert, enclosing in its midst that slowly
    evaporating inland sea, the Great Salt Lake, a last relic of some
    extinct chain of mighty waters once comparable to Superior, Erie, and
    Ontario. In Mexico, again, where the twin ranges draw closer together,
    desert conditions once more supervene. But it is in central Australia
    that the causes which lead to the desert state are, perhaps on the
    whole, best exemplified. There, ranges of high mountains extend almost
    all round the coasts, and so completely intercept the rainfall which
    ought to fertilise the great central plain that the rivers are almost
    all short and local, and one thirsty waste spreads for miles and miles
    together over the whole unexplored interior of the continent.

    But why are deserts rocky and sandy? Why aren't they covered, like the
    rest of the world, with earth, soil, mould, or dust? One can see plainly
    enough why there should be little or no vegetation where no rain falls,
    but one can't see quite so easily why there should be only sand and rock
    instead of arid clay-field.

    Well, the answer is that without vegetation there is no such thing as
    soil on earth anywhere. The top layer of the land in all ordinary and
    well-behaved countries is composed entirely of vegetable mould, the
    decaying remains of innumerable generations of weeds and grasses. Earth
    to earth is the rule of nature. Soil, in fact, consists entirely of dead
    leaves. And where there are no leaves to die and decay, there can be no
    mould or soil to speak of. Darwin showed, indeed, in his last great
    book, that we owe the whole earthy covering of our hills and plains
    almost entirely to the perennial exertions of that friend of the
    farmers, the harmless, necessary earthworm. Year after year the silent
    worker is busy every night pulling down leaves through his tunnelled
    burrow into his underground nest, and there converting them by means of
    his castings into the black mould which produces, in the end, for lordly
    man, all his cultivable fields and pasture-lands and meadows. Where
    there are no leaves and no earth-worms, therefore, there can be no soil;
    and under those circumstances we get what we familiarly know as a
    desert.

    The normal course of events where new land rises above the sea is
    something like this, as oceanic isles have sufficiently demonstrated.
    The rock when it first emerges from the water rises bare and rugged like
    a sea-cliff; no living thing, animal or vegetable, is harboured anywhere
    on its naked surface. In time, however, as rain falls upon its jutting
    peaks and barren pinnacles, disintegration sets in, or, to speak plainer
    English, the rock crumbles; and soon streams wash down tiny deposits of
    sand and mud thus produced into the valleys and hollows of the upheaved
    area. At the same time lichens begin to spring in yellow patches upon
    the bare face of the rock, and feathery ferns, whose spores have been
    wafted by the wind, or carried by the waves, or borne on the feet of
    unconscious birds, sprout here and there from the clefts and crannies.
    These, as they die and decay, in turn form a thin layer of vegetable
    mould, the first beginning of a local soil, in which the trusty
    earthworm (imported in the egg on driftwood or floating weeds)
    straightway sets to work to burrow, and which he rapidly increases by
    his constant labour. On the soil thus deposited, flowering plants and
    trees can soon root themselves, as fast as seeds, nuts or fruits are
    wafted to the island by various accidents from surrounding countries.
    The new land thrown up by the great eruption of Krakatoa has in this way
    already clothed itself from head to foot with a luxuriant sheet of
    ferns, mosses, and other vegetation.

    First soil, then plant and animal life, are thus in the last resort
    wholly dependent for their existence on the amount of rainfall. But in
    deserts, where rain seldom or never falls (except by accident) the first
    term in this series is altogether wanting. There can be no rivers,
    brooks or streams to wash down beds of alluvial deposit from the
    mountains to the valleys. Denudation (the term, though rather awful, is
    not an improper one) must therefore take a different turn. Practically
    speaking, there is no water action; the work is all done by sun and
    wind. Under these circumstances, the rocks crumble away very slowly by
    mere exposure into small fragments, which the wind knocks off and blows
    about the surface, forming sand or dust of them in all convenient
    hollows. The frequent currents, produced by the heated air that lies
    upon the basking layer of sand, continually keep the surface agitated,
    and so blow about the sand and grind one piece against the other till it
    becomes ever finer and finer. Thus for the most part the hollows or
    valleys of deserts are filled by plains of bare sand, while their higher
    portions consist rather of barren, rocky mountains or table-land.

    The effect upon whatever animal or vegetable life can manage here and
    there to survive under such circumstances is very peculiar. Deserts are
    the most exacting of all known environments, and they compel their
    inhabitants with profound imperiousness to knuckle under to their
    prejudices and preconceptions in ten thousand particulars.

    To begin with, all the smaller denizens of the desert--whether
    butterflies, beetles, birds, or lizards--must be quite uniformly
    isabelline or sand-coloured. This universal determination of the
    desert-haunting creatures to fall in with the fashion and to harmonise
    with their surroundings adds considerably to the painfully monotonous
    effect of desert scenery. A green plant, a blue butterfly, a red and
    yellow bird, a black or bronze-coloured beetle or lizard would improve
    the artistic aspect of the desert not a little. But no; the animals will
    hear nothing of such gaudy hues; with Quaker uniformity they will clothe
    themselves in dove-colour; they will all wear a sandy pepper-and-salt
    with as great unanimity as the ladies of the Court (on receipt of
    orders) wear Court mourning for the late lamented King of the Tongataboo
    Islands.

    In reality, this universal sombre tint of desert animals is a beautiful
    example of the imperious working of our modern _Deus ex machinâ_,
    natural selection. The more uniform in hue is the environment of any
    particular region, the more uniform in hue must be all its inhabitants.
    In the arctic snows, for example, we find this principle pushed to its
    furthest logical conclusion. There, everything is and must be
    white--hares, foxes, and ptarmigans alike; and the reason is
    obvious--there can be no exception. Any brown or black or reddish animal
    who ventured north would at once render himself unpleasantly conspicuous
    in the midst of the uniform arctic whiteness. If he were a brown hare,
    for example, the foxes and bears and birds of prey of the district would
    spot him at once on the white fields, and pounce down upon him forthwith
    on his first appearance. That hare would leave no similar descendants to
    continue the race of brown hares in arctic regions after him. Or,
    suppose, on the other hand, it were a brown fox who invaded the domain
    of eternal snow. All the hares and ptarmigans of his new district would
    behold him coming from afar and keep well out of his way, while he, poor
    creature, would never be able to spot them at all among the white
    snow-fields. He would starve for want of prey, at the very time when the
    white fox, his neighbour, was stealing unperceived with stealthy tread
    upon the hares and ptarmigans. In this way, from generation to
    generation of arctic animals, the blacker or browner have been
    constantly weeded out, and the greyer and whiter have been constantly
    encouraged, till now all arctic animals alike are as spotlessly snowy as
    the snow around them.

    In the desert much the same causes operate, in a slightly different way,
    in favour of a general greyness or brownness as against pronounced
    shades of black, white, red, green, or yellow. Desert animals, like
    intense South Kensington, go in only for neutral tints. In proportion as
    each individual approaches in hue to the sand about it will it succeed
    in life in avoiding its enemies or in creeping upon its prey, according
    to circumstances. In proportion as it presents a strikingly vivid or
    distinct appearance among the surrounding sand will it make itself a
    sure mark for its watchful foes, if it happen to be an unprotected
    skulker, or will it be seen beforehand and avoided by its prey, if it
    happen to be a predatory hunting or insect-eating beast. Hence on the
    sandy desert all species alike are uniformly sand-coloured. Spotty
    lizards bask on spotty sands, keeping a sharp look-out for spotty
    butterflies and spotty beetles, only to be themselves spotted and
    devoured in turn by equally spotty birds, or snakes, or tortoises. All
    nature seems to have gone into half-mourning together, or, converted by
    a passing Puritan missionary, to have clad itself incontinently in grey
    and fawn-colour.

    Even the larger beasts that haunt the desert take their tone not a
    little from their sandy surroundings. You have only to compare the
    desert-haunting lion with the other great cats to see at once the reason
    for his peculiar uniform. The tigers and other tropical jungle-cats have
    their coats arranged in vertical stripes of black and yellow, which,
    though you would hardly believe it unless you saw them in their native
    nullahs (good word 'nullah,' gives a convincing Indian tone to a
    narrative of adventure), harmonise marvellously with the lights and
    shades of the bamboos and cane-brakes through whose depths the tiger
    moves so noiselessly.

    Looking into the gloom of a tangled jungle, it is almost impossible to
    pick out the beast from the yellow stems and dark shadows in which it
    hides, save by the baleful gleam of those wicked eyes, catching the
    light for one second as they turn wistfully and bloodthirstily towards
    the approaching stranger. The jaguar, oncelot, leopard, and other
    tree-cats, on the other hand, are dappled or spotted--a type of
    coloration which exactly harmonises with the light and shade of the
    round sun-spots seen through the foliage of a tropical forest. They,
    too, are almost indistinguishable from the trees overhead as they creep
    along cautiously on the trunks and branches. But spots or stripes would
    at once betray the crouching lion among the bare rocks or desert sands;
    and therefore the lion is approximately sand-coloured. Seen in a cage at
    the Zoo, the British lion is a very conspicuous animal indeed; but
    spread at full length on a sandy patch or among bare yellow rocks under
    the Saharan sun, you may walk into his mouth before you are even aware
    of his august existence.

    The three other great desert beasts of Asia or Africa--the ostrich, the
    giraffe, and the camel--are less protectively coloured, for various
    reasons. Giraffes and ostriches go in herds; they trust for safety
    mainly to their swiftness of foot, and, when driven to bay, like most
    gregarious animals, they make common cause against the ill-advised
    intruder. In such cases it is often well, for the sake of stragglers,
    that the herd should be readily distinguished at a distance; and it is
    to insure this advantage, I believe, that giraffes have acquired their
    strongly marked spots, as zebras have acquired their distinctive
    stripes, and hyænas their similarly banded or dappled coats. One must
    always remember that disguise may be carried a trifle too far, and that
    recognisability in the parents often gives the young and giddy a point
    in their favour. For example, it seems certain that the general
    grey-brown tint of European rabbits serves to render them
    indistinguishable in a field of bracken, stubble, or dry grass. How hard
    it is, either for man or hawk, to pick out rabbits so long as they sit
    still, in an English meadow! But as soon as they begin to run towards
    their burrows the white patch by their tails inevitably betrays them;
    and this betrayal seems at first sight like a failure of adaptation.
    Certainly many a rabbit must be spotted and shot, or killed by birds of
    prey, solely on account of that tell-tale white patch as he makes for
    his shelter. Nevertheless, when we come to look closer, we can see, as
    Mr. Wallace acutely suggests, that the tell-tale patch has its function
    also. On the first alarm the parent rabbits take to their heels at once,
    and run at any untoward sight or sound toward the safety of the burrow.
    The white patch and the hoisted tail act as a danger-signal to the
    little bunnies, and direct them which way to escape the threatened
    misfortune. The young ones take the hint at once and follow their
    leader. Thus what may be sometimes a disadvantage to the individual
    animal becomes in the long run of incalculable benefit to the entire
    community.

    It is interesting to note, too, how much alike in build and gait are
    these three thoroughbred desert roamers, the giraffe, the ostrich, and
    the camel or dromedary. In their long legs, their stalking march, their
    tall necks, and their ungainly appearance they all betoken their common
    adaptation to the needs and demands of a special environment. Since food
    is scarce and shelter rare, they have to run about much over large
    spaces in search of a livelihood or to escape their enemies. Then the
    burning nature of the sand as well as the need for speed compels them to
    have long legs which in turn necessitate equally long necks, if they are
    to reach the ground or the trees overhead for food and drink. Their feet
    have to be soft and padded to enable them to run over the sand with
    ease; and hard horny patches must protect their knees and all other
    portions of the body liable to touch the sweltering surface when they
    lie down to rest themselves. Finally, they can all endure thirst for
    long periods together; and the camel, the most inveterate
    desert-haunter of the trio, is even provided with a special stomach to
    take in water for several days at a stretch, besides having a peculiarly
    tough skin in which perspiration is reduced to a minimum. He carries his
    own water-supply internally, and wastes as little of it by the way as
    possible.

    What the camel is among animals that is the cactus among plants--the
    most confirmed and specialised of desert-haunting organisms. It has been
    wholly developed in, by, and for the desert. I don't mean merely to say
    that cactuses resemble camels because they are clumsy, ungainly,
    awkward, and paradoxical; that would be a point of view almost as far
    beneath the dignity of science (which in spite of occasional lapses into
    the sin of levity I endeavour as a rule piously to uphold) as the old
    and fallacious reason 'because there's a B in both.' But cactuses, like
    camels, take in their water supply whenever they can get it, and never
    waste any of it on the way by needless evaporation. As they form the
    perfect central type of desert vegetation, and are also familiar plants
    to everyone, they may be taken as a good illustrative example of the
    effect that desert conditions inevitably produce upon vegetable
    evolution.

    Quaint, shapeless, succulent, jointed, the cactuses look at first sight
    as if they were all leaves, and had no stem or trunk worth mentioning.
    Of course, therefore, the exact opposite is really the case; for, as a
    late lamented poet has assured us in mournful numbers, things (generally
    speaking) are not what they seem. The true truth about the cactuses runs
    just the other way; they are all stem and no leaves; what look like
    leaves being really joints of the trunk or branches, and the foliage
    being all dwarfed and stunted into the prickly hairs that dot and
    encumber the surface. All plants of very arid soils--for example, our
    common English stonecrops--tend to be thick, jointed, and succulent;
    the distinction between stem and leaves tends to disappear; and the
    whole weed, accustomed at times to long drought, acquires the habit of
    drinking in water greedily at its rootlets after every rain, and storing
    it away for future use in its thick, sponge-like, and water-tight
    tissues. To prevent undue evaporation, the surface also is covered with
    a thick, shiny skin--a sort of vegetable macintosh, which effectually
    checks all unnecessary transpiration. Of this desert type, then, the
    cactus is the furthest possible term. It has no flat leaves with
    expanded blades, to wither and die in the scorching desert air; but in
    their stead the thick and jointed stems do the same work--absorb carbon
    from the carbonic acid of the air, and store up water in the driest of
    seasons. Then, to repel the attacks of herbivores, who would gladly get
    at the juicy morsel if they could, the foliage has been turned into
    sharp defensive spines and prickles. The cactus is tenacious of life to
    a wonderful degree; and for reproduction it trusts not merely to its
    brilliant flowers, fertilised for the most part by desert moths or
    butterflies, and to its juicy fruit, of which the common prickly pear is
    a familiar instance, but it has the special property of springing afresh
    from any stray bit or fragment of the stem that happens to fall upon the
    dry ground anywhere.

    True cactuses (in the native state) are confined to America; but the
    unhappy naturalist who ventures to say so in mixed society is sure to
    get sat upon (without due cause) by numberless people who have seen 'the
    cactus' wild all the world over. For one thing, the prickly pear and a
    few other common American species, have been naturalised and run wild
    throughout North Africa, the Mediterranean shores, and a great part of
    India, Arabia, and Persia. But what is more interesting and more
    confusing still, other desert plants which are _not_ cactuses, living
    in South Africa, Sind, Rajputana, and elsewhere unspecified, have been
    driven by the nature of their circumstances and the dryness of the soil
    to adopt precisely the same tactics, and therefore unconsciously to
    mimic or imitate the cactus tribe in the minutest details of their
    personal appearance. Most of these fallacious pseudo-cactuses are really
    spurges or euphorbias by family. They resemble the true Mexican type in
    externals only; that is to say, their stems are thick, jointed, and
    leaf-like, and they grow with clumsy and awkward angularity; but in the
    flower, fruit, seed, and in short in all structural peculiarities
    whatsoever, they differ utterly from the genuine cactus, and closely
    resemble all their spurge relations. Adaptive likenesses of this sort,
    due to mere stress of local conditions, have no more weight as
    indications of real relationship than the wings of the bat or the
    nippers of the seal, which don't make the one into a skylark, or the
    other into a mackerel.

    In Sahara, on the other hand, the prevailing type of vegetation
    (wherever there is any) belongs to the kind playfully described by Sir
    Lambert Playfair as 'salsolaceous,' that is to say, in plainer English,
    it consists of plants like the glass-wort and the kali-weed, which are
    commonly burnt to make soda. These fleshy weeds resemble the cactuses in
    being succulent and thick-skinned but they differ from them in their
    curious ability to live upon very salt and soda-laden water. All through
    the great African desert region, in fact, most of the water is more or
    less brackish; 'bitter lakes' are common, and gypsum often covers the
    ground over immense areas. These districts occupy the beds of vast
    ancient lakes, now almost dry, of which the existing _chotts_, or very
    salt pools, are the last shrunken and evanescent relics.

    And this point about the water brings me at last to a cardinal fact in
    the constitution of deserts which is almost always utterly misconceived
    in Europe. Most people at home picture the desert to themselves as
    wholly dead, flat, and sandy. To talk about the fauna and flora of
    Sahara sounds in their ears like self-contradictory nonsense. But, as a
    matter of fact, that uniform and lifeless desert of the popular fancy
    exists only in those sister arts that George II.--good, practical
    man--so heartily despised, 'boetry and bainting.' The desert of real
    life, though less impressive, is far more varied. It has its ups and
    downs, its hills and valleys. It has its sandy plains and its rocky
    ridges. It has its lakes and ponds, and even its rivers. It has its
    plants and animals, its oases and palm-groves. In short, like everything
    else on earth, it's a good deal more complex than people imagine.

    One may take Sahara as a very good example of the actual desert of
    physical geography, in contradistinction to the level and lifeless
    desert that stretches like the sea over illimitable spaces in verse or
    canvas. And here, I fear, I am going to dispel another common and
    cherished illusion. It is my fate to be an iconoclast, and perhaps long
    practice has made me rather like the trade than otherwise. A popular
    belief exists all over Europe that the late M. Roudaire--that De Lesseps
    who never quite 'came off'--proposed to cut a canal from the
    Mediterranean into the heart of Africa, which was intended, in the
    stereotyped phrase of journalism, to 'flood Sahara,' and convert the
    desert into an inland sea. He might almost as well have talked of
    cutting a canal from Brighton to the Devil's Dyke and 'submerging
    England,' as the devil wished to do in the old legend. As a matter of
    fact, good, practical M. Roudaire, sound engineer that he was, never
    even dreamt of anything so chimerical. What he did really propose was
    something far milder and simpler in its way, but, as his scheme has
    given rise to the absurd notion that Sahara as a whole lies below
    sea-level, it may be worth while briefly to explain what it was he
    really thought of doing.

    Some sixty miles south of Biskra, the most fashionable resort in the
    Algerian Sahara, there is a deep depression two hundred and fifty miles
    long, partly occupied by three salt lakes of the kind so common over the
    whole dried-up Saharan area. These three lakes, shrunken remnants of
    much larger sheets, lie below the level of the Mediterranean, but they
    are separated from it, and from one another, by upland ranges which rise
    considerably above the sea line. What M. Roudaire proposed to do was to
    cut canals through these three barriers, and flood the basins of the
    salt lakes. The result would have been, not as is commonly said to
    submerge Sahara, nor even to form anything worth seriously describing as
    'an inland sea,' but to substitute three larger salt lakes for the
    existing three smaller ones. The area so flooded, however, would bear to
    the whole area of Sahara something like the same proportion that Windsor
    Park bears to the entire surface of England. This is the true truth
    about that stupendous undertaking, which is to create a new
    Mediterranean in the midst of the Dark Continent, and to modify the
    climate of Northern Europe to something like the condition of the
    Glacial Epoch. A new Dead Sea would be much nearer the mark, and the
    only way Northern Europe would feel the change, if it felt it at all,
    would be in a slight fall in the price of dates in the wholesale market.

    No, Sahara as a whole is _not_ below sea-level; it is _not_ the dry bed
    of a recent ocean; and it is _not_ as flat as the proverbial pancake all
    over. Part of it, indeed, is very mountainous, and all of it is more or
    less varied in level. The Upper Sahara consists of a rocky plateau,
    rising at times into considerable peaks; the Lower, to which it
    descends by a steep slope, is 'a vast depression of clay and sand,' but
    still for the most part standing high above sea-level. No portion of the
    Upper Sahara is less than 1,300 feet high--a good deal higher than
    Dartmoor or Derbyshire. Most of the Lower reaches from two to three
    hundred feet--quite as elevated as Essex or Leicester. The few spots
    below sea-level consist of the beds of ancient lakes, now much shrunk by
    evaporation, owing to the present rainless condition of the country; the
    soil around these is deep in gypsum, and the water itself is
    considerably salter than the sea. That, however, is always the case with
    fresh-water lakes in their last dotage, as American geologists have amply
    proved in the case of the Great Salt Lake of Utah. Moving sand
    undoubtedly covers a large space in both divisions of the desert, but
    according to Sir Lambert Playfair, our best modern authority on the
    subject, it occupies not more than one-third part of the entire Algerian
    Sahara. Elsewhere rock, clay, and muddy lake are the prevailing
    features, interspersed with not infrequent date-groves and villages, the
    product of artesian wells, or excavated spaces, or river oases. Even
    Sahara, in short, to give it its due, is not by any means so black as
    it's painted.
    Chapter 22
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