Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/848

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
828
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the present day. The proposed reopening of Lake Mœris in the Fayoum district, for irrigating the Delta, has been fully explained to the Academy by one of our members, Mr. F. Cope Whitehouse, its enthusiastic advocate.

The conditions of occurrence of water in the desert are perhaps less familiar. Not only is water scarce, but when obtained a large proportion of it is practically unpotable, being saturated with saline matter to such an extent that the soil in the vicinity is white with efflorescent salts of soda, magnesia, and lime. The "bitter waters" of Marah are not exceptional. The longest journey that I made without meeting good drinking-water was on the return from Tor to Suez, a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles, occupying six and a half days. On this route we passed a well in Wadi Gharundel where camels and Bedouins slaked their thirst, and our water-barrel was replenished with water for washing; but had we not been supplied with sweet water from the Nile, brought down to Tor on a boat from Suez, we should have fared badly in this respect. At the time of my visit all wells were admittedly very low, and in some places entirely dried up; so I saw the region in its most arid aspect.

Good water, flowing from springs and running short distances—say a quarter of a mile before sinking into the thirsty soil—is found in Wadi Feirân and in Wadi Tarfa. In the former place, many date-palms and even barley-fields make a charming oasis; at the latter, palms, canes, and tamarisks line the babbling brook, as it may truly be named, but the oasis is not extensive. North of Tor, on the gulf, are flowing springs of warm and saline water, not very palatable, but admirably adapted to the culture of date-palms, of which there are many thousands. The best drinking-water in the region that I have visited is on the flanks of Sinai. There are four wells within the monastery walls, one without, and others in the Leja Valley and vicinity.

In Wadi Es-Sleh, the romantic gorge southwest from Sinai, I discovered a cold and sweet sulphur spring, agreeable to the palate. It issues in the center of the wadi, at a point two hours' journey east of its mouth, and flows a short distance, depositing characteristic bluish sulphur on its borders. It was this latter that first attracted my attention. This spring is not mentioned in Baedeker's guide-book, generally so accurate.

The total absence of ponds and lakes is a marked feature in the physical geography of the peninsula of Sinai. Rain does at times fall in abundance, but it rushes precipitately down the wadis into the seas which bound it on two sides. Yet there is evidence of the existence of lakes at some earlier period. In Wadi Feirân, banks of earth sixty to one hundred feet high rest on the mountain-sides, especially in the angles of the valley, showing clearly