Landscapes don’t come any more extreme than deserts, dry regions of the earth that receive next to no rainfall, hosting very little, if any, life, and proving largely inhospitable to mankind. Yet despite, or maybe because of these extreme conditions, deserts have long proved fascinating. Nowhere else do we feel as vulnerable and isolated as when we are travelling through the harshest of landscapes. Here is a look at the four most interesting deserts on the planet.
Stretching over four different nations the desolate, godforsaken desert known the as the Empty Quarter, or the Rub’ al Khali, is a truly otherworldly place. Spanning 620 miles in length, from the deepest recesses of Saudi Arabia to the rocky plateaus of Oman, the Empty Quarter is defined by its unique mix of isolated star dunes and flat gravel or gypsum plains, a remnant of the ancient lakes and rivers that once flowed through this hyper-arid region. From the air the area shimmers in the sun like a sea, while the high dunes appear like waves frozen in time. Yet despite the fluid appearance, this area receives a mere one inch of precipitation a year, making the land far too dry for most flora and fauna. The Empty Quarter is, however, not as empty as it was a few years ago; vast reserves of oil sit deep below the surface of this desert, and lucrative oilfields have been established here in the past three decades. Perhaps with increasing human activity in the Rub’ al Khali the mystique of this forlorn, windswept desert, which has attracted novelists such as Gerald Seymour and Jack Higgins to set works here, will slowly diminish. Alternatively, perhaps global warming will make this 250,000 square mile desert of soft, shifting sand dunes even more inhospitable and lifeless than it already is.
Occupying some 25,000 square miles across California, Nevada and Arizona, the Mojave Desert was once the scene of wild west gun fights such as the shootout at the O.K. Corral in nearby Tombstone. Nowadays anyone wanting to try their hand at playing cowboys and Indians has to head to Buffalo Bill’s Casino, the largest gambling den in the area, to indulge in fancy dress and questionable historical re-enactments. Yet it is for the natural splendour of this sun-kissed land that most people visit the Mojave, visiting sights of extreme beauty like the crystalline, idyllic Havasu Falls, or locations of extreme geography, such as Death Valley, the hottest place on the planet. Perhaps the most magnificent natural wonder to be found within Mojave, however, is the Joshua Tree National Park, a sylvan paradise of prickly yucca trees. Cover up in strong sunscreen and visit during the month of April to see the Joshua Trees blossom with flowers of brilliant white.
Certainly one of the bleakest areas on the face of the earth, the Namib Desert in coastal Namibia nevertheless hides a wealth of attractions. Journey through a harsh landscape not unlike that of the moon and you will find astonishing wildlife roaming the sands and salt plains, including desert elephants, the world’s largest living terrestrial animals. The idea that elephants have incredible memories is based on the elephants of the Namib Desert, who wander the landscape from watering hole to watering hole, never forgetting where to go in order to quench their thirst. Elsewhere you will discover antelopes, ostriches and gazelles leaping across sand dunes in order to feed on the sparse grasses that grow in this area. The most surprising natural sight to be seen in this lorn and lonesome land is the Spitzkoppe, a range of granite formations rising from nowhere to pierce the horizon with their jagged peaks. The area is known to savvy rock-climbers as presenting one of the most challenging, but most fulfilling, climbs in the world, with startling geological forms and difficult escarpments at every turn. Come at sundown to see the hills bathed in a red light that catches on the ochre rocks, casting shadows across the surrounding lands.
Comprised of parched plateaus and high rifts of pure sand, the Libyan Desert is said to be so dry that even the native Bedouins refuse the enter this barren region. The desert is home to sand dunes that reach up to 1,679 feet in height as well as some of the finest Neolithic rock art in the world, including The Cave of the Swimmers, a complex petroglyph featured in the Oscar winning film The English Patient. The area was also one of the most important theatres during World War Two, and hosted fierce battles between the Allied forces, led by Field Marshall Montgomery, and the Axis powers led by the infamous commander Erwin Rommel, known in Germany at the time as the Desert Fox. Watch your feet when walking over the pristine, white-hot sands of Libyan Desert; however, it’s not all silky smooth and pillow soft. In fact shards of vaporised quartz, known as Libyan Desert Glass, can be found strewn across the area. The weathered, amber-coloured glass has puzzled geologists for years, who have linked the jewel-like fragments to ancient meteorite impacts or even older, antediluvian explosions akin to modern day nuclear blasts. Pieces of Libyan Desert glass were even used in Tutankhamen’s finest jewellery, a testament to their mysterious beauty.
Date posted: 3rd April, 2012Home > Articles > Most Interesting Deserts on the Planet