When we think of the desert, we usually imagine extreme heat and lots and lots of sand! While this isn’t the actual definition of a desert (the entire continent of Antarctica is actually a desert) there are lots of places in the world that fit this description. Because it is so barren and the environment is so dangerous, deserts have long been considered both dangerous and somewhat mysterious. Hollywood has made many films that show characters getting lost in the desert. Some movies have even been set in deserts because of their mystery and intrigue. But tales of getting lost in desert climates are not just fantasy...they actually happen.
As roads and modern development has happened, it has forced some development of these climates. The amazing things that are seen and found in deserts are truly remarkable. But some of the most shocking tales are the experiences of those that have been lost in the desert and lived to talk about the experience. The desert environment itself can be shocking to learn about, which is why students in schools love studying about these fascinating parts of the earth. So with all the awesome stories and tales from the desert, here are 15 of the most shocking things people have seen, found or experienced in the desert!
15 Purple Spheres
So a photographer goes out with her husband into the desert to take some pictures and they happen upon a bunch of purple orb-like spheres. This sounds like something out of a movie, but sure enough this was real life! It was not only bizarre, but one of the most shocking and amazing things she had ever seen in her life. They didn’t have a good explanation for what it was, and neither did a friend of theirs who was a botanist. With some news affiliates taking an interest in the story, a lot of speculation grew, including the possibility that it was alien eggs! While this is highly doubtful, the curiosity lives on as we wonder what on earth those things were. Perhaps we will never know for sure!
14 Mansions of Shekhawati
In the middle of the Thar Desert of India sits the largely abandoned historical community of Shekhawati. For hundreds of years, this region was a popular trade route, leading many wealthy merchants to build elaborate and extremely grand mansions and palaces in Shekhawati. In the 1800s, these mansions became larger and larger with each trying to outdo the other. Then in the 20th century, these merchants moved to larger cities and abandoned the mansions in Shekhawati. So now, in the middle of virtually nowhere, sits this land that time has seemingly forgotten with beautiful properties left to decay. If you are headed to India, it may be worth a stop to see what is there. It may just shock you to see the beauty and architecture in the middle of the desert!
13 Fleet of Airplanes
In most hot desert climates, there is no shortage of sand. Tall sand dunes go as far as the eye can see in many deserts. This proved to be a useful hiding tool for the Saddam Hussein regime when in 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and strangely saw a tail fin poking out of the ground. Such a strange find was worth further exploration for sure. The fruits of the dig was the uncovering of 30 new airplanes hidden beneath the sand! This made the news back then for sure and certainly has to go down in the books as one of the strangest and most amazing finds under the sand. It also kind of makes you wonder what else could have been buried under several feet of sand.
12 Ancient Marijuana
You read the title correctly... ancient marijuana was found in the desert! Nearly two pounds of pot was found in 2008 in a grave that is approximately 2,700 years old in the Gobi Desert! This was from a time when people were buried with material things, believing that they could be taken with them to the next life. Scientists have speculated that the marijuana could have been used for a variety of reasons including controlling pain or other medical reasons. The find was written about by Dr. Ethan Russo in the Journal of Experimental Botany. The more practical reason seems like it may be that if he believed he could take things with him to the next life, a two pound stash of pot would be well worth taking!
11 No Rain...EVER!
Deserts are known for their lack of moisture, but you have to assume that every now and again there has to be some type of shower or sprinkling of rain that comes around. While this is usually the case, there are some regions of desert on the earth where there has never been any rain at any point in time... ever! People obviously can’t survive living without water, but there are some that not only have seen these parts of the desert, but they live in them! There are cities and small communities in the Atacama Desert, known as the driest desert in the world that have access to water from neighboring mountain ranges. These areas sustain a population of people and provide a base of operations for studying this amazing phenomenon!
10 Dehydrated Corpses in the Sahara
Did you ever see National Lampoon’s Vacation, where Clark gets lost in the desert and stumbles upon the skeleton of another guy that got lost in the desert? Well unfortunately, that actually happens in the real world! In the Sahara, where they are constructing a highway, workers will periodically find dehydrated corpses as they work! This has got to be one of the most shocking things people could ever find while going about their day-to-day work. It is not entirely clear what happens at that point when a corpse is found, or how long this creates a delay in their work, but the idea of knowing that that poor person had a story to tell and a devastating end of life is not only creepy, but it is very sad and tragic.
9 Fairy Circles
One extreme rarity of the world of the desert is the notion of fairy circles. The word fairy would imply something magical or imaginary, but these are very real phenomena. Fairy circles are extremely rare and they are only known to occur in two places on earth. The circles are actually hexagonal shapes that are discolored from the rest of the ground and somewhat unexplainable. There is a theory that because water is so difficult to find, the plant life organize themselves together to make better use of what resources are available. This is only a theory however and the phenomenon is still unexplained officially. They are absolutely amazing to see and only found in the Namib Desert of South Africa and Western Australia in the Pilbara region of the country.
While you may not have known the official name, you have probably seen a haboob in a movie or on television (it’s okay... go ahead and laugh). A haboob is simply when high wind lifts up grains of sand. Because the wind does this with such force, the sand falls back to the ground with enough force to lift more sand. This pattern continues until you have what we tend to think of as a “sand storm” or “haboob.” These storms are incredibly dangerous and absolutely amazing to actually watch. Strong haboobs are nothing to take lightly. The wind that goes with them has often caused a great deal of damage (just like hurricanes and tornados). So while they may be cool to see on screen, living through them is something entirely different.
Thanks to cartoons and movie depictions, we tend to think of a mirage as when a person is so delirious from heat and dehydration that they think they are seeing things. This is not actually true and in fact a mirage is something that can even be photographed! A mirage is when light is refracted through differing air temperatures. You may have even seen one yourself (often while driving on highways). Historically in deserts, people would see the light of the blue sky refracted in the distance and they would mistakenly believe that it was a pool of water. It has nothing to do with a hallucination, but just a sick joke of science. Now if you are in the desert and you see a McDonald’s appear in the distance, that may be another story.
6 Singing Dunes
Sand dunes are formed under very specific circumstances involving light and dry sand. Wind is the reason these dunes form and they are usually one of the first things people think about when they imagine the desert. Strangely though, people have seen, heard and experienced a special phenomenon known as “singing dunes!” Because the sand on a dune is so light, if a person climbs on a dune, this can create something of an avalanche. When the sand collides with other sand, it creates a sound of up to 100 decibels that just keeps going. The shape of the dune itself amplifies the sound and it creates an absolutely magnificent songlike quality! It isn’t as rare as it would seem and many people have experienced these mysterious and wonderful singing dunes.
5 Mauro Prosperi
Italian policeman Mauro Prosperi decided in 1994 that he wanted to enter the famous Marathon des Sables, where participants literally run 155 miles through the Sahara in less than a week! The race is perhaps the most difficult competition of its kind in the entire world. When Mauro began the race, he encountered a sandstorm that left him disoriented as to his location. Mauro was running in the wrong direction and finally realized that he was lost. He was forced to drink his own urine until he stumbled upon an abandoned building that had some bats. He caught the bats, killed them and drank their blood. He continued onward and found an oasis and was rescued after nine days by travelers. The story is truly remarkable and one worth reading more about. He reentered the race two more times after this!
4 Desert Hitchhiking
The advice to not hitchhike is solid... just ask Ricky Gillmore! Ricky is a paraplegic from New Mexico that wanted a ride to the next town to visit the liquor store. At first, all seemed well enough, when a couple of folks picked him up and drove him where he wanted to go. Later though, when they asked for him to give them some of his alcohol, Ricky declined and everything went wrong. He was thrown out of the car without his wheelchair in the middle of the desert. For three days, Ricky dragged himself with his arms for a total distance of about four miles! When someone finally saw him and stopped to help, he was in serious need of medical attention with multiple injuries and the early stages of kidney failure. Ricky decided to stop hitchhiking after this episode.
3 Alien Doll
Nevada is known for its desert areas. One observer on a message forum recalled being in the middle of nowhere on his way to Las Vegas and pulling over to explore a small rock shelter that seemed oddly out of place. Upon walking up, he saw what appeared to be a person with several other things around him. He didn’t disturb them, but just went on his way finding the whole thing odd. He later told his mother about the incident and she wanted to go back with him to see for herself. They went back and saw the same person sitting in a chair in exactly the same way. The whole room seemed exactly the same. They went in and discovered that it was an alien doll sitting in a chair surrounded by a plate of polished rocks, bedding, a five gallon jug of water and some books. They got out of there and didn’t go back!
2 Disappearing Footprints
You can find all kinds of creepy things in the desert. One message board observer claimed to have been exploring the desert and happened to see a fresh set of footprints in the sand. Usually footprints are covered relatively quickly by wind, so a clear, fresh set couldn’t be that old. The strange part of the story is that these footprints began out of nowhere! There was no parachute nearby to signal a drop from the air. The observer followed the footprints and saw that they came to an abrupt end as strangely as they began. Again, there was no body or indication of anything around that could explain the footprints. Strange for sure and something that will definitely be one of the many secrets held only by the wind and sand of the desert.
1 Tarantula Migration
Many people have a fear of spiders. There is something about these things that just gives people the creeps. Now compound that with a large, furry body and even those that aren’t afraid tend to get a little freaked out. While some people are happy to have these things as pets, an entire migration of them is much harder to handle! One observer said that while riding in a car through Nevada, the driver claimed that the road was moving up ahead. When they pulled over, they saw a huge migration of tarantulas crossing the highway! The observer said thousands of these large spiders were moving across the highway. Their only choice was to stop and wait. What did she do? She stayed in the car of course... sorry, no photo available!