13th July 1835

In the morning I started for the Saltpetre works, a distance of 14 leagues. — Our ascent by a zig-zag sandy track up the steep coast line of mountain (1900 ft. Barom:) was very tedious. — We soon came in view of the Minerales of Guantajaya & S. Rosa: These two small villages are placed at the very mouths of the mines; if Iquique had a desolate appearance, these perched upon a hill had a still more unnatural air. — We did not reach the Saltpetre works till after sunset; the road crossed an undulating country; a complete & utter desert. The road was strewed over with the bones and skins of dead Mules & Jackasses: what travellers have rather strongly written about the numbers in the Cordillera passes, is here actually verifyed. — Excepting the Vultur aura, which feeds on the Carcases, I saw neither bird, quadruped, reptile, or insect. On the coast mountains at about 2000 ft elevation, the bare sand was in places strewed over with an unattached greenish Lichen, in form like those which grow on old stumps: this in a few spots was sufficiently abundant to tinge the sand when seen from a little distance, of a yellowish color. I also saw another minute species of Lichen on the old bones. And where the first kind was lying, there were in the clefts of the rocks a few Cacti. These are supported by the dense clouds which generally rest on the land at this height. Excepting these, I saw no one plant. — This is the first true desart I have ever seen; the effect on me was not impressive, I believe owing to having been weaned1 to such a country whilst travelling from Coquimbo to Copiapò. — In common language, the Traversia between Guasco & the latter place is a frightful desart; however in truth few spots 200 yds square could be found without any vestige of vegetation. — This country is very remarkable by being in the greater part covered by a thick crust of Salt & saliferous Sandstone. The Salt is white, very hard, & compact, it occurs in water worn nodules, which project out of the soft sandstone. — The appearance of the mountains & valleys is that of the last remains of snow before all is thawed away: Many of the Strata contain Salt, this I suppose to have been washed out, & subsequently infiltering amongst the superficial sand is rehardened. The quantity is immense & it offers an incontestible proof of the dryness of the climate. At night I slept at the house of an owner of one of the Saltpetre works.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
We sailed from Talcahuano with a fair wind, which carried us quickly and pleasantly along-shore; but crowded, and anxious as we were, the ship could not go fast enough for us. The sick people, excepting Mr. Lane, were improving when we reached Valparaiso on the 13th.

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