Page:The Rambler in Mexico.djvu/179

This page has been validated.
173
THE DESIERTO.

timber by the conquerors has entailed the loss of the soil, which they nourished and protected from the dry air of the climate and the effects of the abundant rains of the wet season.

Shortly after passing the village of Santa Fe, we quitted the beaten track to Toluca, and descended into a deep barranca to the left; continuing to follow it for some miles, till the broad ravine dwindled to a green upland glen. We now reached the wooded region of the mountain; and, in fine, struck into the ancient paved road leading to the Desierto. In former times this route afforded a comparatively easy access to the inhabitants of the capital, with whom, at certain seasons, a visit to this monastery was an object of great importance. The calzada, though in perfect preservation, and confined between low walls, is solitary enough now. It winds upward through woods, which, in their character and productions, reminded me more of England than those of any part of New Spain I had seen. Thickets of roses and wild brier occupied the ground under the lofty deciduous trees; while the occurrence of little patches of greensward, covered with a species of daisy, and many other flowers which are characteristic of our own climate, added no little to the resemblance.

On attaining the elevation of the little shelf, upon which the monastery is situated, towards the head of a steep gully in the breast of the sierra, the pine begins to predominate, and probably in former times it was the principal forest tree of the whole chain. We found the Desierto situated amid a wilderness of flowering shrubs, which, since the hand of time has unroofed a great portion of the structure, have shed their seeds into the courts, till they were positively choked with bushes. Nor was the elder here wanting—that never-failing parasite of the gray ruined abbeys and castles of England.

The architecture of the building, which was erected soon after the conquest, is by no means distinguished for