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effectually forbids him a home in these. They become, therefore, vast 

wastes of dry and barren sands in which no root can find nourishment, 

and of dreary rocks to which not even a lichen can cling. 


The most extensive and remarkable rainless region on the earth is a vast 

tract extending through the interior and northern part of Africa, and 

the southwestern part of Asia. The Red Sea penetrates into this tract 

from the south, and thus breaks the outline and continuity of its form, 

without, however, altering, or essentially modifying its character. It 

divides it, however, and to the different portions which this division 

forms, different names have been given. The Asiatic portion is called 

Arabia Deserta; the African tract has received the name of Sahara; while 

between these two, in the neighborhood of Egypt, the barren region is 

called simply _the desert_. The whole tract is marked, however, 

throughout, with one all-pervading character: the absence of vegetable, 

and, consequently, of animal life, on account of the absence of rain. 

The rising of a range of lofty mountains in the center of it, to produce 

a precipitation of moisture from the air, would probably transform the 

whole of the vast waste into as verdant, and fertile, and populous a 

region as any on the globe. 



As it is, there are no such mountains. The whole tract is nearly level, 

and so little elevated above the sea, that, at the distance of many 

hundred miles in the interior, the land rises only to the height of a 

few hundred feet above the surface of the Mediterranean; whereas in New 

Grenada, at less than one hundred miles from the sea, the chain of the 

Andes rises to elevations of from ten to fifteen thousand feet. Such an 

ascent as that of a few hundred feet in hundreds of miles would be 

wholly imperceptible to any ordinary mode of observation; and the great 

rainless region, accordingly, of Africa and Asia is, as it appears to 

the traveler, one vast plain, a thousand miles wide and five thousand 

miles long, with only one considerable interruption to the dead monotony 

which reigns, with that exception, every where over the immense expanse 

of silence and solitude. The single interval of fruitfulness and life is 

the valley of the Nile. 


There are, however, in fact, three interruptions to the continuity of 

this plain, though only one of them constitutes any considerable 

interruption to its barrenness. They are all of them valleys, extending 

from north to south, and lying side by side. The most easterly of these 

valleys is so deep that the waters of the ocean flow into it from the 

south, forming a long and narrow inlet called the Red Sea. As this inlet 

communicates freely with the ocean, it is always nearly of the same 

level, and as the evaporation from it is not sufficient to produce rain, 

it does not even fertilize its own shores. Its presence varies the 

dreary scenery of the landscape, it is true, by giving us surging waters 

to look upon instead of driving sands; but this is all. With the 

exception of the spectacle of an English steamer passing, at weary 

intervals, over its dreary expanse, and some moldering remains of 

ancient cities on its eastern shore, it affords scarcely any indications 

of life. It does very little, therefore, to relieve the monotonous 

aspect of solitude and desolation which reigns over the region into 

which it has intruded. 


The most westerly of the three valleys to which we have alluded is only 

a slight depression of the surface of the land marked by a line of 

_oases_. The depression is not sufficient to admit the waters of the 

Mediterranean, nor are there any rains over any portion of the valley 

which it forms sufficient to make it the bed of a stream. Springs issue, 

however, here and there, in several places, from the ground, and, 

percolating through the sands along the valley, give fertility to little 

dells, long and narrow, which, by the contrast that they form with the 

surrounding desolation, seem to the traveler to possess the verdure and 

beauty of Paradise. There is a line of these oases extending along this 

westerly depression, and some of them are of considerable extent. The 

oasis of Siweh, on which stood the far-famed temple of Jupiter Ammon, 

was many miles in extent, and was said to have contained in ancient 

times a population of eight thousand souls. Thus, while the most 

easterly of the three valleys which we have named was sunk so low as to 

admit the ocean to flow freely into it, the most westerly was so 

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