Sunday, June 12, 2016

Nephi’s Journey Northward – From First Inheritance to City of Nephi – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding Nephi’s journey northward after separating from his brothers, to the area where he built his city of Nephi and temple like that of Solomon. In the previous post, Nephi.
    As pointed out in the previous post, travel in most lands, but especially in Andean Peru anciently, in the time of the Nephites, one would have gone in the direction as the terrain allowed.
The Andes are full of tall mountain ranges which only allow movement through narrow passes at various elevations. One’s direction of travel anciently was always dictated by the location of these passes 
    As Nephi and his party reached the Altiplano, the sky would have been filled with birds, and they would have seen chinchillas and delicately hoofed vicuñas, alpacas, and llamas, as they progressed further northward, with inquisitive foxes and, probably, by large groups of flamingos, which find the exposed, barren expanses of the region's salt lakes a delightful place to breed. In this “Andean dry steppe climate,” where grasses predominate, equivalent to sub-alpine humid paramo or alpine tundra in what is now the Copiapó Province of Chile, they would have had no problem with finding food along their journey (today, there are believed to be 41,000 llama and 31,000 alpaca on the Altiplano and 84 different bird species).
At this point, the Liahona would have turned slightly to the west and led Nephi northwest along the world’s second highest and largest plateau, heading toward what is now a vast lake called Titicaca. Defying the standard logic of geology, this plateau was uplifted in the absence of continental collision or terrane accretion, though it is obvious that the area markedly rose from South to North anciently.
Here, Nephi and his people would have passed down a long descent onto the wind-swept Altiplano, which rises today between 11,200 and 12,800 feet across a vast plateau and plains where potatoes and corn grow despite the elevation and the ground is highly cultivated, extending from southern Peru to central Bolivia and also known as the Bolivian Plateau. 
    For the first time since leaving the Elqui Valley and beginning this journey, Nephi’s party found themselves out of the steep mountain passes and onto a more reasonable gradient where travel with women and children and animals would have been much easier as they passed by the yellow hills all around them.  
    This Altiplano is a long and narrow high-altitude plateau that runs mostly north-south on the western edge of today’s Bolivia and lies wedged between two major ranges of the Bolivian Andes. It is approximately 525 miles long and 85 miles wide, where the temperature is reduced 11.7º for every 3,280 feet increase in elevation, and the always-present wind being drier in the winter and wetter in the summer coming down off the Andes on its east to west flow that can reach 60 miles per hour. With ground-water freezing overnight and heavier rains in the afternoon, the movement along the Altiplano would have been a difficult journey.
Entering from the south, the Altiplano is characterized by plains grassland with steppe-type plants and patches of meadow-like vegetation, surrounded by mountains. It is more arid and less productive with limited rainfall and deficient moisture, than the northern part of the plateau in what is now Peru, which receives rainfall adequate for the cultivation of crops without irrigation. The south, which is much less hospitable to settlement than the north with its desolate expanses of desert, yield important mineral resources including copper, silver, tungsten, and tin.
    Continuing northward, the party would have reached, or passed by, Lake Poopó the salt lake formed from runoff of Lake Titicaca further to the north, via the Desaguadero River (which also drains into Lake Uru Uru), from its earlier salt content when it rose from the lower levels and was part of the Atlantic Ocean. Poopó has no major outlet and only a mean depth of about 9 feet. Today, the entire lake is 99.9% dried out, with only .0001% of its surface water remaining, having been officially declared dried up in December 2015 (Carlos Valdez, “Disappearance of Bolivia’s No 2 Lake a Harbinger, January 21, 2016).
They would also have passed by Salar de Uyuni (Tunupa), the world’s largest salt flat at over 4,000 square miles (100 times larger than Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah), and Salar de Coipasa, on the western part of the Altiplano.
    First, Nephi would have passed the second largest salt flat in Bolivia, the Salar de Coipasa, which has a permanent lake and spectacular landscape—with volcanoes to the west, salt flats to the east and wide open sky everywhere they looked. Both formed from the overflow of Lake Titicaca via Lake Poopó (this region has been written about in earlier posts showing that all this area was once underwater as part of the Sea East and when the Andes shot upward, Lake Titicaca was formed as well as several small lakes that have since dried up or been dramatically reduced in size, leaving behind the ocean salts in the form of Uyuni and Coipasa today). The basins are separated by spurs reaching eastward from the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes Mountains
    Skirting it on the east, the party would have by-passed the future remote village of Santa Ana de Chipaya, which would one day be the home of the Chipaya people, considered the oldest Indian native group in the Americas. Nephi then was led by the small future outpost at the foot of 17,826-foot Mount Thunujpa, and continued northward via Salinas de Garci Mendoza and then to Jirira Jirira, a dormant strato-volcano on the northern edge of the Salar de Uyuni, also known as the Salar de Thunupa by the local Aymara people. It lies in the middle of the Altiplano, spreading almost from edge to edge, covering an area 7,522 square miles. With the mountains in the distance, they entered the salt flat and headed directly north to the center to Isla Incahuasi (often confused with Isla Pescado, further to the west). This is one of many islands that are found around this ancient sea bed. Not long before Nephi reached here, this island was part of an underwater reef, but now covered in cactus, with some over 20′ tall and close to 1,000 years old! It’s impressive sight from which they would have headed east to where Colchani would be today.
Today’s famous salt piles that are made by the miners to dry the salt, all done by hand using hand-made steel scrapers and shovels. Thousands of tons of salt are extracted from the salt flats on a yearly basis–all done by hand!
All this area of salt flats would not have existed in Nephi’s time, but would have been created when the Andes rose sharply, trapping salt water ocean enclaves within tall mountain peaks that eventually drained and formed the salt flats as the water evaporated, leaving the ocean salts on the land. On the eastern side of the Altiplano, there is a continuous passageway of gentle gradient extending southward across Bolivia and eventually extending down just south of where the City of Moroni would eventually be built; however, along this mountain plateau, that juts up out of the Sea East in a thousand-foot cliff and mountain range where Nephi and his party passed, called the Cordillera Oriental today, that would be shoved to its present height at the time of the crucifixion, marking the eastern boundary of the Altiplano then and now.
(See the next post, “Nephi’s Journey Northward – Part III,” to follow the Nephi party along Lake Titicaca, on through the La Raya Pass, and into Cuzco)

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