Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/613

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CHIHUAHUA, THE GREAT FRONTIER STATE.

the mesquit (from the Aztec word mezquitl), the tornilla, the fouquiera, the agaves and yuccas, all armed with spikes. But these thorny and angular forms are not confined to animal and vegetable life; they seem to be extended to nature, even in the grandest aspects in which she here appears, as the mountain ridges present the most singular summits, terminating in pyramidal points, or resembling towers and minarets. Thus is everything in these desert regions peculiar." While the parched and desert plains are nearly destitute of birds and quadrupeds, they abound, says a very observant writer, in the greatest variety of reptiles and insects, such as lizards, "horned frogs," tarantulas, alacranes (or scorpions), and rattlesnakes. There are also moles, rats, mice, rabbits, and prairie-dogs, while the most conspicuous birds are the paysano, or chaparral cock,—which not only attacks the rattlesnake, but eats it voraciously,—and the omnipresent crow.

The distance from El Paso to Chihuahua, the capital of the State, is 225 miles, mainly through such arid plains as have just been described. The worst portion of the desert appears first, in the sand-hills, or medanos, which extend in a line some twenty miles in length, and through which the railroad ploughs its way directly southward. The sand is very light and fine, and is constantly shifting about, like ocean billows, exposing here and there the whitened bones of mules or cattle, which fell and perished here in the terrible caravan journeys of former years.

Through the sand-hills the old wagon trail formerly led, and many a train has been ambushed and many a driver murdered by the dreaded Apaches, who infested them until the advent of the railroad. Through the dreariest of desert regions our train steamed steadily southward, with no notable object in view until we reached San Jose, where, as we were sighing for the flesh-pots of El Paso, a stop was made, at an old car turned out on a sidetrack, and dinner was announced. It was an admirable meal, abundant in meats and vegetables, excellently cooked and well served, and with a good half-hour to enjoy it in. It was pervaded by the genius of the great caterer of the Atchison Road, Fred Harvey, whose eating-houses are the best on any line west