Just outside of Prescott, Arizona is Williamson Valley, a quite desolate area where it’s quite easy to find yourself come across a herd of buffalo, within the limits of their farm of course. This hillside sunrise, seen through immaculately kept trees, is in great company amongst Arizona’s other phenomenal natural wonders. Michael Wilson, a Prescott resident, took this stunning photo and has plenty more on his website. While summer in Arizona is not likely to be most people’s ideal destination, its beautiful landscapes like these that draw many of us into the desert.
The earthquake that shook Iran and Pakistan last week has already been overshadowed by fatal tremors in Sichuan, China, a few days ago. Perhaps not surprising given that both places are in seismically active areas, but both of these disasters are repeats of far more deadly earthquakes that occurred in the last decade. In 2008, the Great Sichuan Earthquake killed almost 70,000 people, while a 2003 earthquake in the Balochistan area in Iran killed over 26,000.
That the death toll of such strong earthquakes this year is much lower (188 so far in China and 36 in Balochistan) is partly due to luck and partly due to building changes made in the wake of the last disasters. Iran was lucky that this year’s earthquake struck a less inhabited area, while China was lucky that the magnitude of the earthquake, though great, was still far less than in 2008 (6.6 vs. 7.9 is a huge difference on the logarithmic quake-measuring scale). In Iran, it’s certain that upgrades to buildings would have helped in this year’s disaster. Part of the reason the earthquake in 2003 was so devastating was due to mud brick buildings that didn’t comply with 1989 earthquake building codes. Two years ago when I visited Bam, the city devastated in 2003, almost all of the buildings were girded with steel support beams. It remains to be seen whether Chinese building integrity, which was lacking in 2008’s earthquake, will be to thank for the lower death toll this time around, but it seems likely.
The Iranian earthquake last week was actually almost directly on the border of Iran and Pakistan, in a murky and little-visited area known as Balochistan. Where Iranians and Chinese have enjoyed an immediate and effective response to the crises of the past week, the Pakistanis have not been so lucky. China has literally had to turn away volunteers from Sichuan. And Iran, which in case you’re not paying attention was just hit with its own 7.8 M earthquake, has offered earthquake aid to China. Meanwhile, Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province is suffering something of a humanitarian crisis.
Few people ever travel to Balochistan. It’s bleak and desolate and basically on the way to nowhere. Even the hippies, self-medicating their way to India along the hippie trail in the ’60s and ’70s, would divert through Afghanistan rather than going through the dusty deserts of Balochistan.
I traveled there in 2011, on my way overland to Southeast Asia. We (a convoy of travelers) were assigned armed guards along the way, who took regular naps as we trundled across the desert. The Baloch people, with their sun-beaten faces and piercing stares, often seemed sinister, but it turned out curiosity was simply mistaken for menace. Few Baloch see any Westerners except on TV, though the elder of them will remember a time pre-Partition when British were still garrisoned in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital.
I’m not naive. Balochistan is a dangerous place. Kidnappings perpetrated by al-Qaeda radicals are not uncommon (though they rarely target foreigners). Sectarian violence is a big problem. And there’s always the chance one might get in the crossfire between the Pakistan military and the stout and very armed advocates of an independent Balochistan.
But the regular Baloch, like everyone else on the planet, is just on his hustle, trying to eke out a living for himself and his family. He is abiding by ancient customs of hospitality in his native land. He is offering tea to the strange foreigner who wandered into his shop dressed in a moose toque and suede shoes in the middle of the desert. He is napping in the passenger seat of some foreigner’s car so they can safely transit his homeland. He is yelling at an idiot foreigner to turn off the bloody radio during the call to prayer, but then smiling to show he wasn’t being hostile or anything. And he is helping said sartorially inept foreigner navigate the hectic markets of Quetta to buy local dress that won’t make him stand out so damn much. So spare a thought for the Baloch and their homeland of Balochistan, a small, unlucky corner of the globe where you will probably never go.
[Photo credit: Jae Pyl, Adam Hodge]
“Morocco is a country that awakens in the photographer a desire for adventure,” writes Spanish filmmaker Enrique Pacheco in his introduction to this short film. The title of the film, “The Maghreb,” is a reference to the region of Northwest Africa that is highly influenced by the Middle East. Pancheco, who has been working in video production for more than 10 years, also noted his trip to the country was one of the most rewarding and enriching he has taken on so far, both because he traveled solo and because of the magnificent footage he was able to capture. From ancient mosques to arid desert landscapes, each frame of this video is breathtaking. If you like what you see, the cinematographer will be offering a motion picture workshop in Morocco this October. Not a bad idea, especially because the country was just rated one of the friendliest places for tourists to visit.
Just last month, Gadling took you on a journey inside the world of urban exploration, bringing you on a behind-the-scenes look at the urban explorers who are inventing new ways of visiting the areas under, above and inside the cities we traverse every day. Today, we’ve got another intriguing look at the urban exploring phenomenon to share with you, courtesy of the short film series above called “Undercity: Las Vegas.”
Part of an interesting collaboration with shoe company Palladium, the film series follows the exploits of urban historian Steve Duncan, profiled in Gadling’s recent feature, along with director Andrew Wonder, as they investigate the subterranean water tunnels and unfinished construction sites that comprise the lesser-known side of this urban neon mecca of gambling and nightlife. In this particular clip, Duncan manages to sneak inside the as yet unfinished Fontainebleu Resort Las Vegas, climbing nearly 60 floors to take in an eye-popping view of the early Vegas dawn.
Though the trespassing on the construction site is clearly illegal, it’s an intriguing look inside the urban underbelly that few Las Vegas visitors ever see. Those interested in seeing the full film can head over to Palladium’s video hub to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this ongoing series.
A couple of months ago we reported on how archaeologists discovered how the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria thrived in the desert. A complex system of canals and cisterns trapped the sparse but regular rainfall.
Residents of another ancient city, Petra in Jordan, appear to have taken advantage of desert water to support their civilization too. Jordanian and Dutch archaeologists have discovered that an area 15 kilometers east of the city used to be a large oasis. The ancients tapped into it with an extensive network of aqueducts, reservoirs and underground canals cut out of the rock to water their fields.
Petra, capital of the Nabatean Kingdom, was a major trading center in the deserts of what is now Jordan and grew rich off of trading luxury items such as frankincense and myrrh.
The Udhruh Archaeological Project, named after the site, has found evidence that the irrigation system dates back at least 2,000 years. The area was in use for several centuries and the team has also found what may be the best-preserved Roman fort in the world. You can take a virtual tour of that fort here. The tour will show you not only the fort, but also a Byzantine church and a satellite view of the entire site.
[Photo of Petra courtesy Chris Yunker]