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   Chapter 1 A ROMANTIC LAND

Arizona Sketches By J. A. Munk Characters: 12766

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

A stranger on first entering Arizona is impressed with the newness and wildness that surrounds him. Indeed, the change is so great that it seems like going to sleep and waking up in a new world. Everything that he sees is different from the familiar objects of his home, and he is filled with wonder and amazement at the many curious things that are brought to his notice. Judging the country by what is common back east, the average man is disappointed and prejudiced against what he sees; but, estimated on its merits, it is found to be a land of many attractions and great possibilities.

A hasty trip through the country by rail gives no adequate idea of its intrinsic value, as such a limited view only affords a superficial glimpse of what should be leisurely and carefully examined to be properly understood or appreciated. At the first glance it presents the appearance of a desert, but to one who is acquainted with its peculiarities it is by no means desolate. It furnishes a strong contrast to the rolling woodlands of the far east, and to the boundless prairies of the middle west; and, though it may never develop on the plan of the older states, like California, it has an individuality and charm of its own; and its endowment of natural wealth and beauty requires no borrowing from neighbors to give it character or success.

It has grand scenery, a salubrious climate, productive soil, rich mineral deposits and rare archaeological remains. It also has a diversified fauna and flora. The peccary, Gila monster, tarantula, centipede, scorpion and horned toad are specimens of its strange animal life; and, the numerous species of cacti, yucca, maguey, palo verde and mistletoe are samples of its curious vegetation. It is, indeed, the scientist's Paradise where much valuable material can be found to enrich almost every branch of natural science.

Hitherto its growth has been greatly retarded by its remote position in Uncle Sam's domain; but, with the comparatively recent advent of the railroad, the influx of capital and population, and the suppression of the once dreaded and troublesome Apache, a new life has been awakened that is destined to redeem the country from its ancient lethargy and make it a land of promise to many home seekers and settlers.

When the Spaniards under Coronado first entered the land more than three hundred and fifty years ago in search of the seven cities of Cibola, they found upon the desert sufficient evidence of an extinct race to prove that the land was once densely populated by an agricultural and prosperous people. When or how the inhabitants disappeared is unknown and may never be known. It is even in doubt who they were, but, presumably, they were of the Aztec or Toltec race; or, perhaps, of some civilization even more remote.

The Pueblo Indians are supposed to be their descendants, but, if so, they were, when first found, as ignorant of their ancestors as they were of their discoverers. When questioned as to the past they could give no intelligent answer as to their antecedents, but claimed that what the white man saw was the work of Montezuma. All that is known of this ancient people is what the ruins show, as they left no written record or even tradition of their life, unless it be some inscriptions consisting of various hieroglyphics and pictographs that are found painted upon the rocks, which undoubtedly have a meaning, but for lack of interpretation remain a sealed book. The deep mystery in which they are shrouded makes their history all the more interesting and gives unlimited scope for speculation.

Arizona is a land that is full of history as well as mystery and invites investigation. It has a fascination that every one feels who crosses its border. Paradoxical as it may seem it is both the oldest and newest portion of our country--the oldest in ancient occupation and civilization and the newest in modern progress. In natural wonders it boasts of the Grand Canon of Arizona, the painted desert, petrified forest, meteorite mountain, natural bridge, Montezuma's well and many other marvels of nature. There are also ruins galore, the cave and cliff dwellings, crumbled pueblos, extensive acequias, painted rocks, the casa grande and old Spanish missions. Anyone who is in search of the old and curious, need not go to foreign lands, but can find right here at home in Arizona and the southwest, a greater number and variety of curiosities than can be found in the same space anywhere else upon the globe.

Arizona is a land of strong contrasts and constant surprises, where unusual conditions prevail and the unexpected frequently happens.

From the high Colorado plateau of northern Arizona the land slopes toward the southwest to the Gulf of California. Across this long slope of several hundred miles in width, numerous mountain ranges stretch from the northwest to the southeast. Through the middle of the Territory from east to west, flows the Gila river to its confluence with the Colorado. This stream marks the dividing line between the mountains which descend from the north and those that extend south, which increase in altitude and extent until they culminate in the grand Sierra Madres of Mexico.

The traveler in passing through the country never gets entirely out of the sight of mountains. They rise up all about him and bound the horizon near and far in every direction. In riding along he always seems to be approaching some distant mountain barrier that ever recedes before him as he advances. He is never clear of the encircling mountains for, as often as he passes out of one enclosure through a gap in the mountains, he finds himself hemmed in again by a new one. The peculiarity of always being in the midst of mountains and yet never completely surrounded, is due to an arrangement of dovetailing or overlapping in their formation. His winding way leads him across barren wastes, through fertile valleys, among rolling hills and into sheltered parks, which combine an endless variety of attractive scenery.

An Arizona landscape, though mostly of a desert type, is yet full of interest to the lover of nature. It presents a strangely fascinating view, that once seen, will never be forgotten. It stirs a rapture in the soul that only nature can inspire.

Looking out from some commanding eminence, a wide spreading and diversified landsca

pe is presented to view. Though hard and rugged, the picture, as seen at a distance, looks soft and smooth and its details of form and color make an absorbing study.

The eye is quick to note the different hues that appear in the field of vision and readily selects five predominating colors, namely, gray, green, brown, purple and blue, which mingle harmoniously in various combinations with almost every other color that is known. The most brilliant lights, sombre shadows, exquisite tints and delicate tones are seen which, if put on canvas and judged by the ordinary, would be pronounced exaggerated and impossible by those unfamiliar with the original.

The prevailing color is gray, made by the dry grass and sandy soil, and extends in every direction to the limit of vision. The gramma grass of the and region grows quickly and turns gray instead of brown, as grasses usually do when they mature. It gives to the landscape a subdued and quiet color, which is pleasing to the eye and makes the ideal background in a picture.

Into this warp of gray is woven a woof of green, spreading in irregular patches in all directions. It is made by the chaparral, which is composed of a variety of desert plants that are native to the soil and can live on very little water. It consists of live oak, pinion, mesquite, desert willow, greasewood, sage brush, palmilla, maguey, yucca and cacti and is mostly evergreen.

The admixture of gray and green prevails throughout the year except during the summer rainy season, when, if the rains are abundant, the gray disappears almost entirely, and the young grass springs up as by magic, covering the whole country with a carpet of living green. In the midst of the billowy grass myriads of wild flowers bloom, and stand single or shoulder to shoulder in masses of solid color by the acre.

Upon the far mountains is seen the sombre brown in the bare rocks. The whole region was at one time violently disturbed by seismic force and the glow of its quenched fires has even yet scarcely faded away. Large masses of igneous rocks and broad streams of vitrified lava bear mute testimony of the change, when, by some mighty subterranean force, the tumultuous sea was rolled back from its pristine bed and, in its stead, lofty mountains lifted their bald beads above the surrounding desolation, and stand to-day as they have stood in massive grandeur ever since the ancient days of their upheaval. Rugged and bleak they tower high, or take the form of pillar, spire and dome, in some seemingly well-constructed edifice erected by the hand of man. But the mountains are not all barren. Vast areas of fertile soil flank the bare rocks where vegetation has taken root, and large fields of forage and extensive forests of oak and pine add value and beauty to the land.

The atmosphere is a striking feature of the country that is as pleasing to the eye as it is invigorating to the body. Over all the landscape hangs a veil of soft, purple haze that is bewitching. It gives to the scene a mysterious, subtle something that is exquisite and holds the senses in a magic spell of enchantment.

Distance also is deceptive and cannot be estimated as under other skies. The far-off mountains are brought near and made to glow in a halo of mellow light. Manifold ocular illusions appear in the mirage and deceive the uninitiated. An indefinable dreamy something steals over the senses and enthralls the soul.

Arching heaven's high dome is a sky of intense blue that looks so wonderfully clear and deep that even far-famed Italy cannot surpass it. The nights are invariably clear and the moon and stars appear unusually bright. The air is so pure that the stars seem to be advanced in magnitude and can be seen quite low down upon the horizon.

The changing lights that flash in the sky transform both the sunrise and sunset into marvels of beauty. In the mellow afterglow of the sunset, on the western sky, stream long banners of light, and fleecy clouds of gold melt away and fade in the twilight.

At midday in the hazy distance, moving slowly down the valley, can be seen spiral columns of dust that resemble pillars of smoke. They ascend perpendicularly, incline like Pisa's leaning tower, or are beat at various angles, but always retaining the columnar form. They rise to great heights and vanish in space. These spectral forms are caused by small local whirlwinds when the air is otherwise calm, and are, apparently, without purpose, unless they are intended merely to amuse the casual observer.

A cloudy day is rare and does not necessarily signify rain. Usually the clouds are of the cumulus variety and roll leisurely by in billowy masses. Being in a droughty land the clouds always attract attention viewed either from an artistic or utilitarian standpoint. When out on parade they float lazily across the sky, casting their moving shadows below. The figures resemble a mammoth pattern of crazy patchwork in a state of evolution spread out for inspection.

The impression that is made while looking out upon such a scene is that of deep silence. Everything is hushed and still; but, by listening attentively, the number of faint sounds that reach the ear in an undertone is surprising. The soft soughing of the wind in the trees; the gentle rustle of the grass as it is swayed by the passing breeze; the musical ripple of water as it gurgles from the spring; the piping of the quail as it calls to its mate; the twitter of little birds flitting from bush to bough; the chirp of the cricket and drone of the beetle are among the sounds that are heard and fall soothingly upon the ear.

The trees growing upon the hillside bear a striking resemblance to an old orchard and are a reminder of home where in childhood the hand delighted to pluck luscious fruit from drooping boughs. A walk among the trees makes it easy to imagine that you are in some such familiar but neglected haunt, and instinctively you look about expecting to see the old house that was once called home and hear the welcome voice and footfall of cherished memory. It is no little disappointment to be roused from such a reverie to find the resemblance only a delusion and the spot deserted. Forsaken as it has been for many years by the native savage Indians and prowling wild beasts, the land waits in silence and patience the coming of the husbandman.

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