In a day's journey into the interior from the port of Iquique in Peru, not a sign of vegetation is met with except lichens strewed loosely upon the sand with nothing to attach them to the surface; nor is the solitude of the desert interrupted by any living thing, bird, beast, or insect, save the occasional train of cargo mules between the coast and the nitrate of soda mines, and the vultures that hover over them, or settle down to feed upon their prey broken down and left behind. The salts of soda (common salt, and the nitrate with some sulphate; are intermixed with the sand, forming hard incrustations, which, though highly attractive of moisture, find in this dry climate not enough of it to cause them to deliquesce. Where worked, at a distance of about 40 m. from the coast, they are in a hard stratum, between 2 and 3 feet thick, found just beneath the surface, and extending along the margin of a great basin or plain for 150 miles. - The Bolivian plateau terminates in the knot of Vilcanota, where the Cordilleras unite, but again diverge as they traverse Peru, and at the same time change from a meridional to a northwesterly course. They stand over 100 miles apart, and bound the diversified plain of Cuzco, a populous and fertile region.
Though under the burning sun of the tropics, this region, the territory of the ancient incas of Peru, enjoys the climate and fruits of the temperate zone. Through the range of the mountain valleys, extending from Potosi in Bolivia in a northwesterly direction, taking in the lakes of Au-Ilagas and Titieaca, and the river Desaguadero, which connects them, and reaching beyond Cuzco, are still to be found the ruined works of the ancient inhabitants, the evidences of their high degree of civilization. These are the wonderful roads which Humboldt in his Vues des Cordilleres speaks of as among the most useful and stupendous works ever executed by man. They passed over the snowy summits of the sierras, through the mountains by tunnels cut in the solid rock, over the precipices by steps, and the awful quebradas (or chasms) and rivers by solid masonry, or by bridges swung by osier ropes. With the same bold engineering, their aqueducts for irrigating the dry soil of the valleys brought water for hundreds of miles from distant sources in the mountains.
In these valleys, the grains of the temperate latitudes, as wheat and barley, are still cultivated; and as the table land descends toward the north, sugar cane and other tropical plants appear, but the main ridge of the Andes still towers to great heights between these interior valleys and the Pacific coast. The highest known pass is from Lima in lat. 12° to Tarma and Pasco; it crosses the ridge at an elevation of 15,700 feet. The rain clouds swept on from the N. E are intercepted on the eastern slopes, and the drainage is all back toward the Atlantic, whence the abundant waters have been brought by the trade winds. The strip of land 20 to 50 m. wide along the coast is singularly dry; no rains reach it from over the mountains, and the vapors raised along the Pacific are driven by the prevailing winds from its shores. The high table lands of Pasco, about lat. 11° S., are famous as the highest points of the Andes occupied by man. Here are worked some of the richest silver mines of Peru, at an elevation of 14,000 feet, and only 1,500 feet below the line of perpetual snow. From this point for 400 m. northward, to the Andes of Quito, the mountains decline in height, and no peak for more than 7° S. of the equator reaches the line of perpetual snow.
The Andes crowd more closely on the coast, so that the rains that swell the sources of the Amazon full within sight of the Pacific; yet they spread in parallel N. and S. ridges over a vast width of country, and between the different ranges the great branches of the Amazon, as the Maraflon, the Huallaga, and the Ucayali, find their way in a northerly direction to enter at right angles the main river bound on its eastern course. The valleys of these rivers afford convenient situations for roads, and they are connected with the coast by various passes over the western summits; one of the principal of these is the road from Truxillo, in lat. 8° S. on the coast, to Caxamarca in the valley of the Maraflon, over a summit of 11,600 feet elevation. Thence the road continues northward to Chachapoyas, and from this place over the central ridge of the Andes to Moyobamba and Tarapoto on the Huallaga. All this fine region of the Andes, with its numerous towns and rich mines, is occupied principally by Indians. Farming and mining are almost their only employments.
Except silver, products of the mountains hardly pay for transportation; the most important are the bark of the cinchona tree, which abounds in the forests on the eastern ranges, and the sarsaparilla, which is very common in the densely wooded plains of the rivers east of the mountains. North of the silver mines of Pasco, the Peruvian Andes may be said to consist of three cordilleras, known as the western, central, and eastern, of which the first is the highest, and is separated from the Pacific by an arid desert 50 m. in breadth. The summit of the Andes of Peru is the Nevado de Sasacuanca, 17,900 feet. While the snow line in Bolivia, according to Pent-land, is at 17,000 feet, in Peru it descends to 15,500. - Following these ranges, we find them decreasing in altitude till they terminate in the knot of Loja, one of the lowest parts of the chain, here begins the most magnificent series of volcanoes in the world - the Andes of Quito. Two cordilleras, running nearly due N., enclose the beautiful table land of Quito, 200 m. long by 30 wide. This table land is divided by the transverse ridges of Assuay and Tiopullo into the three basins of Cuenca, Am-bato, and Quito, having the mean altitude and temperature of 7,500, 8,000, and 9,500 feet, and 62°, 61°, and 59°, respectively.
The Alto de Tiupullo, or Chisinche, forms the watershed between the Pacific and Atlantic, the waters of the Quito valley flowing W. by the Esme-raldas, and those of Ambato reaching the Amazon by the Pastaza. The eastern or Royal Cordillera contains the ever-active volcano of Sangai, 17,120 feet; ruined Altar, 17,400; the perfect cone of Tunguragua, 16,579, silent since 1780; the Llanganate mountains, rich in gold; Cotopaxi, 18,862 feet - "the most beautiful and most terrible of volcanoes;" the extinct Antisana, 19,279; square-topped Ca-yambi, standing exactly on the equator, 19,358; and Imbabura, which in 1691 poured forth a vast quantity of mud and thousands of fishes (pimelodes cyclopum). In the coast range are Chimborazo, with its untrodden dome, 21,420 feet above the sea; Caraguirazo, about 18,000; Iliniza, 17,870; and Pichincha, 15,827 - the only active volcano in this cordillera, and having the deepest crater on the globe. The snow limit at the equator is 15,800 feet. One degree north of the equator is the volcanic knot of Los Pastos, where the cordilleras unite, again to diverge as they enter Colombia. There the Andes spread out "like the graceful branches of the palm tree.1' The coast range, la Cordillera de la Costa, divides the valley of the Cauca from the Pacific, and finally merges in the low mountains of Darien. About 120 m.