The night sky in the Desert of Death

The Desert of Death is not somewhere that I would wish to go to in the current circumstances. It is more associated with the News from Helmand Province in Afghanistan than it's raw beauty. That news is frequently of death and destruction due to war and conflict, not the extreme and harsh conditions.

However, there was a more peaceful time before the recent wars, and I was lucky enough to drive through the Desert of Death in 1975 and 1977, both in eastbound direction. Also in 1978 westbound, but that was more a race across the country so as not to still be in the country at the beginning of communist military coup on 27 April 1978, known as the Saur Revolution. Yes, we knew about the coup before it happened. In Pakistan, when applying for visas into Afghanistan, which could take a number of days, it was evident that visa durations were getting one day shorter, for each day of waiting for ours to be processed. I think we were out the other side with only 4 days to spare. However, both eastbound trips had time to spare for a night camped out in the wilderness of the Desert of Death.

 As the name implies it is an inhospitable place and is sparsely populated. Somehow though, people do eke out a living. On one occasion we were parked up for the night, talking around the campfire, we heard the sound of a bell in the distance. We fell quite and listened. What was going on? We were in the middle of nowhere with not another soul see for hours during the day, but here, at night was a bell getting ever closer. It was a little worrying! Who or what was approaching us. Defenceless us, in the middle of a desert. One consolation, if their intentions were hostile, then why were they advertising their approach. Then, the sound changed direction. It was no longer coming directly towards us, but staying the same distance away. The bell slowly circumnavigated us. Then, once safely past, continued on its way into the night. Apparently as cautious about us as we were about him. In the clear light of morning we could see that we had parked in the dusk of the night before, on a faint footpath or trail. From apparently nowhere to nowhere, but evidently somewhere for the lone man and his donkey with a bell around its neck. Things make more sense in the daylight.

As the fire died down, we noticed that a few more stars had come out to play. We were the only source of light pollution for a hundred km. Dark was very dark. Move away from the fire, lay down on the sand, ignoring the possibility of any creepy crawlies, and look up at the sky. Let your eyes become accustomed to the dark, and watch the stars multiply. It is simply amazing. 

A search of the internet found a few images of other similar locations. Click to look.

4K Incredible Night Sky Stars Panorama Time-lapse Over Sand Dunes in the Death Valley Desert. Meteors, Galaxy, and Planets Pass overhead in this cosmos shot.

BBC 10 of the earth's starriest skies. The Desert of Death may deserve to be on a list such as this, but it is not exactly a tourist destination at the moment.

African desert night sky Not one of mine, nor even the same continent, but it gives the right idea. Thanks to Dmitri Markine for sharing the photo below.

wildlife and nature photography by dmitri markine




 Below, after a short delay a map will appear which will run an animation of the route. It is currently under developmemt and is a bit experimental.



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To see a map of the approximate route,  click here



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