Monday, January 19, 2015

Nibley: Another Look at His Jaredite Route – Part II

Continuing here with the two routes to be considered for the Jaredites from the last post, and specifically that of Hugh Nibley’s eastward journey from the previous two posts.
     Again, Nibley claims the Jaredites traveled eastward from the Valley of Nimrod on their way to the “great sea.” This would require them to travel eastward from the Caspian Sea, as covered in the last post, and across the Steppes of Asia, through the modern day areas of  Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan (the area that would later be controlled by the Helphthalites or White Huns), and into China. Or, they might have traveled further north, bypassing the mountainous region of Kyrgystan and the later southern route of the Silk Road to travel through southern Kazakhstan, south of Lake Balqash and Lake Alakol to the fertile Turpan oasis, located along the northern route of the Silk Road through the pass between the Bogda Shan to the east and the Tian Shan to the west and into the Turpan Depression to the south—however, this would take them through the drastically cold and hot desert climate of the Turpan Desert Basin, a twenty-thousand-square-mile below-sea-level depression of salt lakes and sand dunes with a climate ranging from -20º F (winter) to 119º F. (summer), and a rainfall of about one-half inch per year.
The Tian Shan or Tien Shan (“Celestial Mountains”), a large system of mountain ranges (called “God’s Mountains,” “Heavenly Mountains,” or “Spirit Mountains,” to suggest their great heights, which connect with the Atlai Mountains to the east
    Another problem with this route is crossing the sixty-mile-long, nine-mile wide, 2700-feet high Flaming Mountains, a harsh climate with summer temperature the hottest in all of China, frequently reaching 122º F., or higher—the ground temperature can reach 175º F. It is along this mountain ridge, which is furrowed by parallel gullies, that the Silk Road crossed through the center of the Turpan Basin, the lowest surface point in China—during the summer the waves of desert heat and mirages dance on the red ridge, looking like a wall of flames, adding to the sensation of extreme heat to the area.
    While hardy camel caravans would later cross this area bringing silks, jade, furs, ceramics and bronze objects to the West in exchange for gold, ivory, precious stones, and glass not manufactured in China, the Jaredites with women, children, babies and all types of flocks, swarms of bees and barrels of fish could not have made this trip through here. Nor did families ever travel the Silk Road at any time in antiquity because of the harsh climate, the extreme dangers and deprivation involved.
Top: Camels moving along the ancient Silk Road through the Turpan Basin and the Flaming Mountains; Bottom: Yellow Arrow shows a modern highway through this area, making travel today a simple but still very difficult matter
    This ancient Silk Road has become a tourist path today, with motorcycle clubs braving the harsh climate, as well as individuals and small groups walking, riding horseback or taking camels across the route to show their toughness. All have talked about the difficulties of such adventure, including the extreme heat, unrelenting hardship and privation they encountered. If the Jaredites would have taken this journey eastward, they would have had to follow either the northern or southern routes of the areas that would, two thousand years later become the Silk Road, for these move from distant water hole to water hole and follow the only natural passes across the mountains at either end of the Steppes.
    In crossing this area, the Gansu Province, an area larger than California, and two-thirds the size of Texas, within the Loess Plateau, an area almost as large as Alaska, the passage traversed as long, protruding corridor, commonly known as the Hexi (Gansu) Corridor. Though this area overall extends outward into a relatively flat land with glacier-fed streams, including the Hei River, they disappear in the barriers of relief and climate of the desert, for all practical means of entering the Hexi Corridor from the West are either blocked by a solid wall of rock or steep, vertical cuts in the ground by the Taolai River. At one end of this monotonously flat and barren yellow plateau are the impassable 13,000-feet high Qilian Mountains, and south of the corridor is the Plateau of Tibet, which was too high and too cold for even the Chinese to gain a foothold, and to the north is the Gobi Desert.
The Hexi (Gansu) Corridor, showing the distant Qilian Mountains and the cuts through the plateau that once hindered eastward movement along the solid wall of rock
    In ancient times, as this area was developed during the Han Dynasty, all traffic between China proper and the far west was funneled through the Hexi Corridor. The importance of this corridor was apparent in the 19th and 20th centuries when Britain and Russia both fought for the control over the northwest China, nearly destroying this region.
    To stray to the south of this area would enter Western Turkestan’s Tarim Basin, where lies the forbidding, nearly waterless Taklamakan Desert, not accurately mapped until the 1890s by geographer Sven Hedin. Over 750 miles wide (west to east), the desert is flanked on the north by the Tien Shan mountains, and on the south by the imposing 1900-mile long, 23,500-feet high Kunlun (“Goddess”) Mountain range, one of the longest in Asia, and runs across the center of China, blocking access to the south and Tibet.
    To the north runs the 14,750-feet high Mongolian-Altai (“Gold”) Mountains, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, and runs to the east to merge with the Sayan Mountains, which gradually merge into the high plateau of the Gobi Desert.
The Atlai Mountains. Passes across the range are few and difficult, with the two natural ones, Ulan-daban at 9445 feet, and Chapchan-daban at 10,554 feet
    The real difficulty, however, would not have been in traversing the Steppes, as difficult a journey as that would have been, but in crossing the mountains at either end. Those in the west, north of Mesopotamia (Zargos, Alborz, and Caucasus) have already been described. However, once across the nearly two thousand miles of Steppes, the Jaredites would have been faced with a view of the Atlai Mountains.
The Jaredite party, made up of 48 adults and probably about one hundred children or more, some of which would have been babies and many others under the age of ten, along with flocks of animals, bees and fish would be faced with crossing this extensive and complex mountain system to reach China
    Fighting their way across one of two mountain passes at either 9,500-feet or 10,500-feet high, with daily temperature swings of over 100 degrees, and snow lines on the north at 6,500-feet and on the south at 8,000-feet. The temperatures of the area have retained a remarkably stable climate, changing little since the last ice age, and the area is one of the few places on earth still filled with ice age fauna, and is where Mammoths once roamed. The slopes are extremely steep and difficult to access, with numerous spurs, striking out in all directions filling up the space between the mountain range and at least ten glaciers beyond.
    Had the Jaredites made it across these mountains, which is next to impossible judging from the reports of the few experienced mountain climbers who have braved this area over the years, they would have dropped down to enter the thousand mile wide Gobi Desert, with its frequent thousand-square-mile dust storms. Unlike many deserts, the Gobi is a high-altitude wasteland, sitting at about 5000 feet elevation. As a result, it is an extremely cold desert, where frost and even snow can be seen capping its dunes. With temperatures dropping to -40º F. and heat reaching 122º F., it has a bare rock floor, partly because of the high winds that whip across the plateau.
    After crossing the thousand mile wide Gobi Desert, with its frequent dust storms, they would reach the area of Tianjin along the northwestern coast of the Bay of Chihli, which would have taken them past the area of present-day Beijing on their 4000 mile journey to the Sea. Here they would still have to figure out how to build wooden barges that could withstand being submerged in the turbulent waves of the Great Deep.
Two of the five major oceanic gyres flow in the Pacific Ocean—the North Pacific Gyre north of the equator and the South Pacific Gyre south of the equator
    The problem here is that the winds and currents of both the gravitational North Pacific Gyre and the South Pacific Gyre flow from the east to the west across the Pacific Ocean in the opposite direction of the Jaredite course--the north along a circular clockwise flow, and the south along a counter-clockwsie flow—an ocean gyre being a large system of circular ocean currents formed by global wind patterns and forces created by Earth's rotation. The movement of the world's major ocean gyres helps drive the “ocean conveyor belt” (thermohaline circulation), which circulates ocean water around the entire planet, and is essential for regulating temperature, salinity and nutrient flow throughout the oceans.
    Three forces cause the constant circulation of a gyre: 1) global wind patterns, 2) Earth’s rotation, and 3) Earth’s landmasses. The wind drags on the ocean surface, causing water to move in the direction the wind is blowing, while the Earth’s rotation deflects, or changes the direction of these wind-driven currents. This deflection is a part of the Coriolis effect, which shifts surface currents by angles of about 45 degrees. In the Northern Hemisphere, ocean currents are deflected to the right, in a clockwise motion. In the Southern Hemisphere, ocean currents are pushed to the left, in a counterclockwise motion. This pattern is both constant and necessary for the health and well-being of the planet.
    Consequently, even if the Jaredites had managed somehow to cross 4,000 miles of Asia to the China coast, any drift-voyage of barges across the Pacific to the Western Hemisphere would have been impossible in the mid-Pacific from the coast of China.

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