InTrans / Dec 20, 2013

Voyaging through the sand dunes

Go! Magazine

Landscape view of a sand dune

posted on December 20, 2013

Are you planning to brave the heat on a wild desert themed vacation soon? If so, you’re going to need to know the basics. When I say basics I mean, how to do you travel around in all of that sand and dust?

Climb aboard, your camel awaits!

The first thought that comes to mind is of course the camel. Who wouldn’t want to ride around all day on an incredible animal able to drink 30-50 gallons of water at one time and go a whole week without another drink? Camel caravans are one of the oldest forms of transportation known to these parts of the world. Camels are not only able to carry passengers and cargo; they are easy to take care of, as they require little food and water throughout your journey.

Camel caravan.
Camel caravan. Photo courtesy of Shawn Allen, Flickr/CC BY 2.0

No roads, just a general sense of direction served those who first took advantage of this alternative form of transportation. Camel travel wasn’t without its dangers however. Often, camel caravans were filled with trade items that were sold at numerous markets set up along the trails. Camels are not very quick and these caravans were attacked by raiders. These trails were also filled with slave markets. Many who were separated from their caravan were captured and sold for profit. Sometimes even whole caravans were captured for their resources. Not so much an animal person? Not to worry! There are a few roads and four-wheeled engines surging through the sand to be found!!

Motorized sand conquerors

Although there are several modes of transportation, many are ruled out by the lack of solid terrain. With the desert consisting of mainly sand and dust, it is hard to find reliable ground for transport. The sand that makes up our present day deserts is actually a result of the ever changing temperatures. Within certain geographical locations, the constant changing of the temperatures actually breaks down the rocks forming particles that collect into sand. The sinking nature and ever changing trails created by erosion, sand and windstorms make it increasingly difficult to maintain roads. However the popular vehicle of choice are four-wheeled go-carts.

Go-carts. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

These machines handle easier on the slippery slopes, as they are equipped with track tires for traction in less solid terrain. The Desert Patrol as well as passengers in need of faster travel use these four-wheeled vehicles to ensure that they are able to reach a destination in time. There are some drawbacks, however. Most of the time the weather stays very sunny and extremely hot, but without a cover/roof, these vehicles are less desirable during the incredible intense sand storms common in desert environments. Also, with limited space (only enough for the passenger and a small bag) the driver is forced to travel light.

Don’t miss your bus!

This leads us to yet another popular form of desert transportation. Buses are used to transport passengers along the trade routes and allows for more protection from outside elements as well as more space for luggage.

Yellow bus driving through desert.
Bus driving through desert.
Photo courtesy of Markus Spiering, Flickr/CC

However many of the buses are unreliable due to overheating, worn tires, and bad gas mileage all resulting from the harsh heat elements of the desert. Although we have made great progress in getting from point A to point B, the desert is still a very difficult and dangerous place to maneuver. Many take planes to cross the entire sandy surface as well as to transport cargo. In my opinion camel travel is one of the most unique and practical ways of going the distance and you only find that in the desert!! Don’t let the scorching rays scare you off, beat that heat and get going!

Go! Magazine thanks the Mid-America Transportation Center (MATC) for supporting this article.

By Kearsten Brown, Go! Staff Writer

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