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Fpr the first time on our journey, I found, crawling among the cactuses and sand-heaps of this plateau, that singular little animal, known vulgarly as the Texan Toad, or Horned Frog, though in reality he does not belong to the family of the Ranidae at all, but is a nearer relation to the lizards and salamanders. The range of this animal is singularly eccentric. On the baked, droughty prairies of Texas, it is found under a semi-tropical sun; travellers have met with it as high north as the Sweetwater, and indeed, for aught I know, it may exist on many of the sand-plains between the South Pass and the Dalles of the Columbia; and frequent specimens of it are met with on the way between Julesberg and Fort Laramie, along the North Platte trail. This plateau, however, was the only tract on which we found them during our present expedition. At a height at least equal to that of Laramie Plains, surrounded visibly on almost all sides by snowpeaks, and itself snowed under for several months of the year, this waste still supports an animal whose type resembles those of the torrid rather than the temperate zone. The only condition on which he seems inclined to stickle is aridity; put him where there is apparently nothing for him to live on, and temperature is a secondary matter.
These "toads" have an earthy brown back, which is broader and flatter than that of the true garden reptile; a white belly; a small, twinkling black eye, not all ugly or malicious in its expression, and set in an almond-shaped slit, which in some of the older animals is inclosed by two dark lines of the same shape. This has an effect to enlarge the eye as if it had been penciled, and give it a soft look like that of a miniature sheep or antelope. The two retrocurved horns which arise out of the bony plate above the eyes, add still more to this odd resemblance. The skin of the back, and the long stiff tail, instead of being warty like the true toad's upper surface, are thickly set with thorny excrescences, sharp as those of a rose, and nearly as hard. That of the belly is not a soft mucous surface, like those of the frog and toad, but a dry, tough tissue, almost horny in its character, imbricated with exquisite delicacy in minute rectangular patterns, that give the little creature sufficient freedom of motion, and at the same time provide him with the most accurately linked and fitted of breastplates. What all this panoply is for, I have never learned. The rattlesnake may be his enemy; but, if so, toady leaves the offensive to him. The little animal is so far from pugnacious, that he submits to being taken into the hand; in fact, if placed on it right after capture, will often stand there without an attempt to get away; and it is the easiest possible thing to catch him in the first place, his gait, over the loose sand of his haunts, not exceeding in speed that of a common box-tortoise. This, by the way, is an animal which I only twice saw between the Missouri and California: once on the road, between Cottonwood (at the confluence of the North and South Platte) and Fremont's Spring in Nebraska; again far up toward the snow-range, among the mines back of Denver. Neither of these differed remarkably from our commonest Eastern variety.
Just as I had about finished my naturalizing, having a handkerchief full of lizards, insects, and plants, and a pail brimming with horned toads, the area about us became suddenly still more sterile, and within 3. few hundred yards the sand plateau gave way to one of almost absolutely bare rock, terraced or escaladed in right lines, but with such a gradual descent to the westward that our road in most places went down the steps easily without detour, de"bris having filled in the sharpest angles.
Nowhere do I recollect seeing a more colossal landscape of desolation. Both my artist-friend and I rode through it for a long way silent, because we were overawed.
It is difficult by an enumeration of details so to describe this tract as to give any adequate notion of it to a reader who has never visited the scenery characteristic of rainless plateaus in a lofty mountain region.
Our road followed the lowest indentations of the rocky uplifts, being in many places a mere wheelscratch on their surface; and thus we might fancy ourselves upon a street, along which these trap structures had been erected. It was difficult not so'to fancy when we noticed the remarkable symmetry with which the rocks were arranged. They mostly seemed of the same coarse trap variety as those of the Palisades, with an occasional streak of greenstone or of phonolite. They had come up through the most curious network of dikes, in which the strikes crossed each other nearly at right angles, producing a foursquare arrangement of masses which reminded one forcibly of architecture and city blocks. But neither a city nor an architecture that was human. Many single blocks of trachyte, standing isolated to mark the corner of a square, were fifty feet cube, and as regular as if they had been chiseled. In other situations I saw numerous series of tabular masses, arranged like a flight of stone steps each ten feet or more in height, and in all running to a height of at least a hundred feet. In still other places the uplifts have split perpendicularly, leaving fragments of a flat rectangular form, standing like the rugged tomb-stones of a giant's burial-ground, to the height of from twenty to a hundred feet.
As we penetrated further into this tract, the architectural appearances became so consistent, that one's fancy was compelled to construct a theory for itself, and did it very rationally to the effect that we were travelling through a deserted city of the conquered Titans. Those colossal square inclosures were the wine cellars and treasure-vaults of palaces thousands of feet high. In those acres of basement what vast wassail may have been held on the return of the masters from hunting megatheria, fishing for icthyosauri, or playing quoits with cross-slices off a volcano! That mighty cube of black fire-rock, which weighs a thousand tons, was but one of a sfngle course of stones in the same rectangle, upon whose foundation the now down-tumbled house was built — high as the eaves of a tall city house itself, but only at the bottom of a structure whose roof menaced the gods.
The ruined staircases to which I have referred, often stood alone in such relative position to the basement rectangles that it required no stretch of the imagination to conceive of them as the former access to the grand front entrance of the house — an appearance with which their dimensions were equally consistent. In several instances I noticed, that the interior of the rectangles was paved in square blocks, with a regularity, which would lead any one ignorant of the scientific means to suppose that the area had been flagged by human labor, and presented the appearance of some fortress court-yard. Nothing could be at once more characteristically sepulchral and Titanic than the spaces occupied by the tablets. Some of these were erect as I have described, but many lay on corner blocks, like the horizontal grave-stones of old-fashioned country church-yards. Here, stretched many a rood under the torrid sand, with prickly cactuses springing out of their brains,, and wormwood out of their hearts, may lie the great warriors who fell on this same blasted heath in battle with Olympus. But they are no more silent than are the old lords of the palace who fell under the powdered ruins, the basement stones of which alone remain for witness, being lightened upon by Zeus Keraunios, and shot into the abyss, in the very ripeness of blasphemy, wassail, and defiance.
However forced this fancy may appear to the cool reader, it irresistibly suggested itself on the spot. The shapes and sizes of all the rocks within view contributed such consistent aid to this idea, that I travelled with a sense of delightful awe, as if I were exploring the gigantic remains of some dead civilization,—a Layard of the Titans. It would hardly have surprised me to find a hierographical inscription cut upon some corner-stone in letters a cubit deep.
About one p. M. we caught sight of a silvery streak in a valley about fifteen hundred feet below our present terrace. This we soon found to be the North Platte River, whose mature stream we had left at Latham, and whose upper waters we were now about to cross at no great distance from their source. By consulting a United States Survey map, it will be seen that this stream doubles on itself remarkably, rising just outside the southern wall of the mountain