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Eurasian Steppes and Deserts 631

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EURASIAN STEPPES AND DESERTS 631. A dry, flat land.— Europe's dry district is near the Caspian Sea (Sec. 462). It is called the Steppes, and extends far into Asia. Steppe is the European word for a flat plain with scanty grass. How long is the region of the Eura sian Steppes? (Fig. 474.) In this land of dry flat ness, a little rain falls in summer. Fortunately it comes at a time when it can do the most good by making grass grow, giving a pasture-land that is like parts of our Great Plains. Other sections are like parts of our Great Basin. Some parts are salty plains; some are sandy desert. The three bodies of water in the Steppe region are all salty, like the Great Salt Lake and the lakes of Nevada. (Sec. 137.) 632. Three nomad races.—In such a land of scanty grass and little water, the people must be nomads (Sec. 576). They are rich in horses, sheep, donkeys, and camels. The camel in this dry land (the Bactrian camel) has two humps, and the desert sheep have humps of fat on their backs or on their tails (Fig.480). The people live in thick felt tents, wear coats and caps of sheepskin, and have piles of wool blankets to keep themselves warm in the bitter cold winter. There is little snow, so the animals can pick their living in winter as they- do on parts of the Great Plains of the United States.

A nomad people called Kirghiz live with their flocks and herds in the central, northern, and eastern parts of this region. They claim to be descended from Japheth, the third son of Noah.

In the corner of the region between the Caspian Sea and Persia are the Turkomans, who live much as the Kirghiz do. It was their brothers, the Turks, who swarmed across the plateau of Iran nearly seven hundred years ago, bringing great sadness to the lands they conquered.

The country north of the Caspian Sea is the homeland of the Cossacks, who are such wonderful horsemen. Their great sports are horseback tricks, such as riding three horses at once, jumping or even somersaulting off of a horse as it goes at a full run, and jumping back on it again while it still runs at full speed. These people can do the riding tricks of the circus performer. For generations

they have been cavalrymen in the Russian armies and are greatly feared.

633. The Caspian Sea fisheries.—The great River Volga flows through the arid land of the Cossack country to the Caspian Sea.

Not long ago, as geologists count time, the Caspian was an arm of the Arctic Ocean.

At that time it was supplied with seals and h great sea fish called the sturgeon. The seals and sturgeon still live there, and the sturgeon fisheries of the Caspian and the Volga have long been the greatest in the world.

634. Irrigation and cities.—Name some rivers that flow into this plain from the Asian mountains. They bring enough water from the mountains to irrigate rich valleys. Here oasis cities have arisen in the midst of gardens such as those in the irrigated lands of Arizona and Nevada. (Sec. 139.) There are Tashkend, Khiva, Samarkand, and other cities. They are all ages old, older by far than London, Paris, or Rome. Perhaps they belong to the time of Babylon and the pyramids.

635. Conquest and emigration.—Such fertile spots in a nomads' land have always been great temptations to hungry rovers. Nomad conquerors have often ruled these cities. The people from the central plain of western Asia and eastern Europe, seeking homes or booty in better lands, have for ages been a terror to all farmlands within their reach. These migrating bands fought fiercely for the' land they wanted. Many times have they forced their way into Europe, Persia, and India. To keep out these home seekers, the Chinese finally built a great stone wall, longer than the railroad from Boston to Chi cago. We can still see it (Fig. 474) reaching over hills, mountains, valleys, and plains. It is wide enough on top for a wagon road. Night and day, year in and year out, for Rice, silk, fruit, corn, and the splendid gardens of the oases are using all the water that is now to be had. Fortunately, reser voirs may be built in the mountains of Cen tral Asia, as in the Rocky Mountains of the United States. These will enable flood waters, now wasted, to feed millions of men.

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