Page:The Rambler in Mexico.djvu/220

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THE ALPS AND THE CORDILLERA.

Italy, and carry far down into the clime of the vine and chestnut, the debris of the inhospitable regions of bare rock and snow.

But as to those details, which you would take as chiefly characteristic of either chain, no similarity whatever can be established.

In the limestone, slate, and granitic ranges of the Alps, beauty of outline is far from being confined to any single ridge. It is an attribute of the secondary, as well as the most elevated; of the parallel chains, as well as of the diverging mountains, which, like ribs, start out from the great back bone of the continent, and sink gradually to the level of the plains on either hand. Piled, range behind range, with deep vales between—with numerous lakes, and clothed up to the very limit of eternal snow, with green or forested slopes—they are eminently picturesque; and the gentle luxuriance of the lower valleys contrasts felicitously with the precipitous rocks and masses of snow which occupy the higher regions. The scale and the structure of the Alps permit the eye to command, in almost every situation, the whole of their varied detail. The enormous extent of the glaciers on the upper plains and acclivities, and the peculiar manner in which they descend towards the valleys, are mainly characteristic of these mountains.

Now as to general outline, both from what I have seen and have heard with regard to other parts of the Andes, that of the great porphyritic chains of the Cordillera can hardly be said to be generally picturesque. It is scarcely broken enough; its details are too vast. One enormous wall of mountains rises behind another, each buttressing a broad step of table land, but in general the interval between them is far too great for the eye to command more than one at a time. Here and there, from the general level of the undulating mountain ridge, rises a tremendous cone, with a breadth of base, and an even smoothness of outline, which, at the same time that they proclaim its origin, and add to its sublimity, take from its picturesque beauty. The summit bears its mantle of snow; but compared with the mass, it is but a cap—not