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Object ID 1991.08.08
Title May 1930 National Geographic Magazine Volume LVII Number Five
Object Name Magazine
Author Gilbert Grosvenor, Editor
Published Date May 1930
Description May 1930 National Geographic Magazine Volume LVII Number Five
Gilbert Grosvenor, Editor

Contents: Twenty-four pages of illustrations in full color, Some impressions of 150,000 Miles of Travel by William Howard Taft, Scenes in the Fortunate Isles, Where Streets are Carpeted with Flowers by Wilhelm Tobien, An Elysium for the Beauty-Seeking Traveler, Hunting for Plants in the Canary Islands by David Fairchild

Published by the National Geographic Society, Hubbard Memorial Hall, Washington, D.C.

David Fairchild was on the Board of Managers for the National Geographic Society, Special Agricultural Explorer, US Department of Agriculture

Many years ago, coming up from South Africa, I had stopped at Grand Canary and had spent some delightful days with a congenial plant-loving soul, M. Delmard, an ex-balloonist, who kept the hotel at Monte and had gathered about him many kinds of plants from all over the world. He had died years ago, and I went up to see what had become of the plants he had set out around his hotel.

The garden was neglected, but I wandered about in it, gathering seeds from some rare trees and vines. I had the pleasure months later, in south Florida, of seeing these souvenirs of Delmard's garden being gotten ready to distribute to the plant lovers of that region. Sometimes a plant introducer sees his results quickly, but oftener he does not.

But the island of Lanzarote was waiting. We had heard strange tales of its camels, its desert climate and dry-land agriculture, and were anxious to see it.

The port of Lanzarote is Arrecife, and as we dropped anchor in it on a summer morning and Wheeler and I looked at its scorched hillsides, we wagered with each other that nothing of agricultural or entomological interest could possibly be found on its barren slopes. But, as is often the case, we were mistaken, for behind the brown hills and across the sand-drifted plains were sights which" belong to the moon rather than to our friendly verdure-covered earth.

There, on the south side of the island, in the shadow of the volcanic Montana de Fuego, from Uga to Yaiza, lies a stretch of inhabited territory which sent a thrill through us all. We might have been gazing upon a lunar landscape had not the white houses scattered about among great blocks of black lava reminded us that human beings inhabited it.

Nothing short of a dooryard in some city slums could be more discouraging-looking than the lava-strewn yards of the peasants of Uga. And yet, when we realized how unconquerable had been the spirit of the people here, the scene became one of the most intense interest.

Was it possible that men and women had made homes in this inhospitable volcanic region centuries before Columbus visited these islands on his way to the New World? How seldom it is that man abandons his home, once he has really built it!

A century or more ago the Montana de Fuego covered the south end of the island with several feet of cinders, and as far as the eye can see, to the horizon from Yaiza, these dark-gray cinders cover the surrounding country.

Scattered at equal distances apart in these cinders and reaching to the clay soil below, deep, wide pits have been dug by the vine growers. In each pit they have planted a grapevine, and sometimes around the pit's mouth on the windward side they have built a low windbreak of blocks of lava (see page 651).

These pits, which are a fathom deep and 12 feet across, extend on both sides of the highway up the slopes of the volcano. When we saw them in the evening light, with every pit darkened to almost black by its own shadow, we both agreed that we could imagine no drearier occupation than that of tending these vines in what we involuntarily termed "the cinder pits of hell."
It is a satisfaction to know that the grapes grown with such care in these cinder pits have the reputation of being the finest in the archipelago. They really ought to be.

The "lapilli," as the coarse cinders are called, form immense deposits in the southern part of Lanzarote, and far up the sides of the volcanic cones can be seen quarries or mines, so to speak, from which, over zigzag trails, camels laden with curious boxes come and go. These camels are transporting cinders to the fields lying outside the area that was covered during the eruption, and their journeys to and fro explain the puzzling dark patchwork of the landscape (see page 650).

With great care the grain and legume growers of Lanzarote spread stable manure over their fields, and then cover it six inches deep with lapilli, planting their maize, beans, or barley below this mulch of cinders. From the moisture which has already collected in the soil from previous rains, or is precipitated from the clouds which nightly drift across the island, the plants get water enough to produce their crop.

Two years had elapsed since the last rain, when we visited the island, and yet we saw growing in the cinder mulch tomatoes, corn, cabbages, and even brilliant-flowered pelargoniums, and in one garden the temple flower, or frangipani, of the East Indies.

But the corn was not the 18-foot corn of the Kansas River Valley, such as I got lost in as a boy. It was a true dwarf variety, so short that the single ear borne by each plant touched the cinders at its lower end. No Kansas farmer would think much of such a field of corn. And yet, if he knew that it had never seen a drop of rain from the time the seed had been planted, he might feel, as I did, a real respect for it, even though it had taken as long to grow as his i8-foot stalks.

The island of Lanzarote, the nearest one of the group to the coast of Africa, feels the drying winds of the Sahara, and is swept in summer with strong winds, which move the sands over the slopes in heavy drifts.

Mr. Armour and I had the luck to experience one of these sand storms, and although our automobile had little diffi-culty in plowing through the sand on our way down to the cinder pits, it was quite another matter when we returned, and we found ourselves compelled to get out and push the automobile through the deep drifts, with the fine dust turning to mud on our moist faces.
Our host, Don Rafael Hernandez, went with us to the yacht, which in the open harbor was dragging her anchor, and as the low clouds began to cover the hills and twilight settled on its slopes, we steamed away, leaving behind us this cloud-drenched, rainless island and its cinder-pit vineyards.

This picture of Lanzarote, the most curious but least beautiful island of that fascinating archipelago, was our last glimpse of the Canary Islands, which, summer or winter, offer a temperate climate and superb scenery to the tourists of the world who are looking for new and quiet places to visit."