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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/847

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827
SCIENTIFIC JOTTINGS IN EGYPT.

indeed that camels make no impress on it with their broad feet. At some places the surface pebbles are of many shades of brown, intermingled with black and white, and these are so closely laid and regularly distributed as to resemble a mosaic pavement, but of course a patternless one. The surface particles are generally coarser than those immediately beneath; they are chiefly limestone, sometimes of coralline limestone, intermingled with flint and other varieties of amorphous quartz. Many of the pebbles show on their surface beautifully regular pittings and furrows carved out by the wind-driven sand. The fine-grained sand has all been lifted high in air by the powerful winds, whirled away, and dropped into depressions or on the lee sides of hills. Hundreds of acres have no surface stones larger than an ostrich-egg; no water whatever is found in this region, much less any signs of vegetable or animal life, rarely even a passing bird.

On this desolate plain, when overtaken by night, one place is as good (or bad) as another for pitching the tents, unless perhaps a small hillock is reached, which may serve as a partial shelter from the gales that sometimes threaten to overturn the canvas.

In the region of extensive plains, the wadis, or dried-up watercourses, being depressed but little, closely resemble them. The floor of the wadi hardly differs from that of the plain, except when a torrent has swept before it large bowlders and deposited them irregularly in its bed. The sorting power of the water, however, is noticeable, as also the well-defined vertical walls, perhaps only a few inches deep, excavated at the point of lowest level. On the margins, too, of the wadis of the plain, and at points protected from the full force of the winter floods, several varieties of green shrubs grow in widely separated tufts. I often remarked mud-cracks, apparently of recent date; but these indications of water probably remain undisturbed in this desolate region for a considerable period, perhaps for several seasons.

In the limestone hills these wadis take the form of cañons, having nearly vertical walls, sometimes hundreds of feet high—as in Wadi Tayyibeh. The regular erosion on their sides produces, often, picturesque effects, as at Ras Abu Zanîmeh.

In the granitic district the wadis form V-shaped valleys, broken by narrower ones entering at right angles, and bounded by bold peaks many thousand feet above the beholder. In the beds of these wadis are scattered specimens of the rocks of the surrounding country; often bowlders of great size testify to the violence of the torrents during the winter months, especially in Wadi Feiran.

The absolute dependence of the population of Egypt upon the Nile is a familiar fact, discussed from the time of Herodotus to