Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/393

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POPOCATAPETL.

sand that laps the base of the cone proper. The horses sank fetlock deep, the grade was tremendous, and their labored breathing, as they stopped every rod or two to get wind, was extremely painful to witness. Owing to the rarefacation of the air, and the great labor of wading through the heavy sand, it really seemed as though the blood would gush through their red, distended nostrils. Compelled to adopt a course of short zigzags, my mozos ranged far ahead of me, and reached the rendezvous long in advance of the horses. After about two hours of this work, during which the agony of the horses seemed so great that I was only restrained from dismounting by the knowledge that I needed all my strength for the final climb, we reached a ridge of rocks. It was the first of a series that cropped up through the black, shifting sand, and ran down toward Puebla in many a fantastic shape, evidently formed by fire. On the upper rock is a cross, indicating the death of a man,—this time not on the spot, but in the crater. At this spot, La Cruz, we halted the horses, and I gladly dismounted.

The limit of vegetation[1] had been passed at a little distance above the barranca, the pines (the Pinus Montezumæ) ending there in a body, as if refusing to advance even a single straggling sentinel farther; and then came clumps of coarse grass, dwindling finally to little specks, and at last all that remained were the hardly visible blotches of moss or sphagnum; above, all was sand, to the skirts of the everlasting snow.

Here Don Felipe left me, and turned back with the horses. He had thus far come with me voluntarily and without recompense, as my compañero, but his obligation—like that of the bride who ascended Mont Blanc with her husband and wilted

  1. "At the height of 14,500 feet all the Phanerogamia have vanished, and the vegetation consists merely of mosses and lichens, which cover the separate rocks as high as 14,700 feet. Botanists acquainted with the Scandinavian Alps agree, that in the vicinity of the snow limit of the extreme North the Cryptogamia are more abundantly represented, both as to number and variety, than under similar circumstances in the tropical zone. . . . . From the threshold of rigid death, as from the North Cape or the glaciers of Iceland, our eyes pass from the Arctic zone and the pine groves of the North to the gardens of the Hesperides with their golden fruit, and thence to the glowing zone where the palms and the arborescent grasses are developed."—Sartorius.