Whispering Smith (Chapter 5, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 5

Where the mountain chains of North America have been flung up into a continental divide, the country in many of its aspects is still terrible. In extent alone this mountain empire is grandiose. The swiftest transcontinental trains approaching its boundaries at night find night falling again before they have fairly penetrated it. Geologically severe, this region in geological store is the richest of the continent; physically forbidding beyond all other stretches of North America, the Barren Land alone excepted, in this region lie its gentlest valleys. Here the desert is most grotesque, and here are pastoral retreats the most secluded. It is the home of the Archean granite, and its basins are of a fathomless dust. Under its sagebrush wastes the skeletons of earth's hugest mammals lie beside behemoth and the monsters of the deep. The eternal snow, the granite peak, the sandstone butte, the lava-bed, the gray desert, the far horizon are familiar here. With the sunniest and bluest of skies, this is the range of the deadliest storms, and its delightful summers contrast with the dreadest cold.

Here the desert of death simulates a field of cooling snow, green hills lie black in the dazzling light of day, limpid waters run green over arsenic stone, and sunset betricks the fantastic rock with column and capital and dome. Clouds burst here above arid wastes, and where dew is precious the skies are most prodigal in their downpour. If the torrent bed is dry, distrust it.

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