The Southern Pacific Railroad from New Orleans to Los Angeles, a distance of about 2,000 miles, passes through a region exhibiting a great variety of geographic and industrial conditions. The climate, especially the amount of precipitation, is the most influential factor in causing this variety.
The low Coastal Plain of southern Louisiana and eastern Texas, with ample rainfall and thick rich soils, is a province distinct in configuration, human occupations, and products. There are extensive swamps, prairies, and wooded areas, but a large part of the land is under cultivation, with sugarcane, cotton, and rice as the principal crops. The streams are wide and slow, the winter climate is mild, and the summer heat is tempered by breezes from the Gulf of Mexico. Flourishing towns occur at short intervals, and some of them are growing rapidly. The entire region is underlain by a great thickness of sand and clay of alluvial origin.
In central-eastern Texas the Coastal Plain is higher, the soil conditions are materially different, the streams run more swiftly, swamps become rare, and although much land is under cultivation, many areas are either in pasture or not cleared. The vegetation changes with change of soil and increase of altitude, and the crops are more diversified than in the lower parts of the Coastal Plain. The region is underlain by sandstone, shale, and other formations, which rise toward the west, cropping out in regular succession as they are crossed from east to west. Some of these formations are hard enough to make ridges and knobs, and there is general terracing at various levels. Parts of the highest lands are remnants of an old plain of former wide extent.
Beyond San Antonio the traveler observes several changes in the general aspect of the country, for although the Coastal Plain extends west to Del Rio, there is both a gradual increase in elevation to about 1,000 feet and a marked diminution of rainfall to the west, which greatly affect landscape and industries. Cacti become larger and more abundant, and many special trees and plants are prevalent, notably the mesquite; forests diminish in density, and far to the west trees occur only in the bottom lands. Agriculture here depends largely on irrigation, and the raising of cattle, sheep, and goats is the dominant industry. The principal underlying rocks are shale, soft sandstone, and chalk, which do not make strong relief but produce hills and ridges of moderate height separated by wide valleys, which along the larger streams are bordered by bottom lands. Northwest of San Antonio the Coastal Plain gives place rather abruptly to the Edwards Plateau, owing to the rapid rise of hard limestones; from San Antonio to Del Rio this feature lies north of the railroad but is visible at many places.
For many miles west from Del Rio the railroad is on the plateau, which is floored by hard limestone and deeply trenched by the drainageways, notably by the canyons of the Devils River, the Rio Grande, and the Pecos River. In this district, where semiarid conditions prevail, vegetation is sparse and trees are mostly confined to valley bottoms except where the limestone supports a growth of juniper or live oak. The soil is thin, but it sustains grass and shrubs which afford good pasturage for many goats, sheep, and cattle. Owing to the gradual general rise of the strata to the west the land increases in elevation, and much of the plateau in south-central Texas is 2,000 feet above sea level in its eastern part and 3,000 feet in its western part. Near Sanderson this rise develops into the great dome of the Marathon uplift. The central part of this uplift is truncated, revealing a large area of closely folded Paleozoic rocks, making sharp ridges of the Appalachian type. The Edwards Plateau ends on the east side of this uplift. To the west is the Davis Mountain region, a wide province of volcanic rocks, characterized by rugged peaks and irregularly disposed ridges in great va
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USGS Numbered Series
Guidebook of the Western United States: Part F - The Southern Pacific lines, New Orleans to Los Angeles