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On the Frontier:

Soda Lake

Soda Lake is ten hundred and seventy-five feet above the level of the Pacific, so that, if it was ever a portion of the old Vermilion Sea, it has had a pretty good hoist since then ; however, nearly half way between it and the head of the gulf, at a place called Dos Falmas, to which the descent is so gradual as not to be noticeable, the level of the valley is twenty-three feet below that of the ocean; so a gradual rise thence of one in five hundred, or an average one of an inch in every thousand for the entire distance, would suffice to give the elevation.

Soda Lake is a monstrous natural frauds a grim practical joke of old Dame Nature's.

As we stand in the mouth of the pass of The Caves, wee see the lake spread out before us at a distance of some twenty-two miles. It looks like a lovely oval sheet of clear glistening water, miles across and miles in length, with strips and patches of verdure dotted around it. We stand parched with thirst ; for the more of that liquid abomination, the water of The Caves, we have drunk, the thirstier we have become. We are scorched and blistered by the heat, we are half blind and choked, and wholly begrimed by the all-prevailing alkaline dust and fine sand. There arise in our minds -.- I mean in your mind, I have been there before -.- pleasant anticipations of copious draughts of pure water -.- a wash, perhaps a delightful swim 1 We almost feel that to be drowned would be a pleasure, so parched with thirst, so scorched with heat are we.

And it is all -.- a sell! A lizard could not be drowned in Soda Lake in the dry season -.- that is to say nearly all the time. If we march across it without canteens of water we shall suffer thirst. If we do so with thin boots on, the soles of our feet will be scorched ; and in the wet season, when there is one, Soda Lake is a mass of bottomless mud ; a spread blanket or a mosquito would mire down out of sight in it.

It is late at night and quite dark when we arrive at the lake. We made but a short morning drive ; but we have since come twenty-three miles, which, though downgrade all the way, has been through very heavy sand, and we are as tired as the animals. Not only from humanity's sake, but from a motive of prudence, we have walked most of the way, well knowing that our horses have yet many days of hard travelling and short commons before them. Fatigue and darkness render us disinclined to make elaborate ablution or much improvement to our toilet, and we are glad to eat our supper, roll ourselves in a thin blanket, and go to sleep. And we make a long night of it, too, for to-morrow we shall " lay over." Men and animals are in need of rest, waggons have to be greased, harness must be mended, whip-lashes braided, and a general wash of clothes and persons has been decreed.

We spend the day in making ourselves as comfortable as circumstances permit -.- looking round, and, generally speak- ing, recruiting and repairing.

The deceptive appearance presented by Soda Lake, when viewed from a distance, we find to be caused by the fact that the level expanse of baked mud forming the Lake is thickly covered with efflorescent salts, in many places indeed it could be shovelled up with a spade. The "charming verdure" is, in reality, stretches of sand grass and compact beds of tules -.- a marsh-grass looking like a cross between a reed and a bulrush. Where these tules grow round the lake there is water, but it is not visible; were it not in the shadow of the tules it would be dried up by the blazing sun. This water, though clear, is bitter, salt, and abominable, impossible to drink, and acrid to the skin. It has been known to take the hair off the pasterns of mules who have stood long in it to crop the tops of the tules.

The "camp water" is furnished by an extraordinary spring rising only a few yards distant from where the wagons have stopped, and about twenty from the edge of the lake. A small stream of water wells up among a group of rocks projecting through the sand It has apparently made for itself a circular basin fifteen feet across, and seemingly a foot deep, but really over five, so clear, bright, and transparent is the water. Running over the edge of this basin, at the side nearest the lake, it flows a short way and sinks into the sand.

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