We had to locate our path better than these maps permitted because we planned to sample the surface periodically and compare its brightness with color variations in space photographs. So I called on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for help.
NASA lent us a battery-powered transmitter, which we installed in a vehicle. We sent signals up to the Nimbus 6 satellite as it passed over us two or three times a day, and it relayed our message via a station in Alaska to NASA computers in Maryland. They plotted our latitude and longitude. Back in Washington, D. C., I was able to view the satellite markings of our tracks and to coordinate our field-sample sites with the satellite photographs.
Somewhere in the totally barren stretch around Bir Kiseiba, our sharp-eyed lead driver Ayed spotted a camel caravan. As we drew closer, I leaned out of the jeep to take pictures with along telephoto lens. I soon realized that the lens might look like a gun and quickly retreated.
The caravanners, five lean and tall Bedouin, greeted us. They had come from deep within Sudan. There they had loaded their camels with a sodium salt called natron. Natron was used in mummification long ago. I asked the caravanners how their cargo would be used today.
“Do you chew tobacco?”
“No,” I answered.
“Well, if you did, you would find a piece of natron in every pouch packaged in Egypt. A small bite is said to tenderize the tobacco and remove its bitter taste. They tell me it is very good. I don’t chew tobacco either.”
These sturdy men had been traveling 26 days along the Track of the Forty. This route connects Kharga to El Fasher in Sudan and is so named because camel caravans take forty days to travel it. Forgotten caravanners had erected cairns of black rocks along the track, but the mummified bodies and sandblasted bones of camels that had not survived the journey made better markers. If you want to make your own trip, but have no money, then you can apply for a loan from http://citrusnorth.com/
From Bir Tarfawi we drove west toward the Gilf Kebir Plateau and Gebel Uweinat. Vance Haynes and archaeologist Bill McHugh asked us to stop at a site. As a geologist I found these sites nondescript and dull. But as the archaeologists began their work, I changed my mind.
Their nimble fingers first produced stone blades. Pieces of ostrich eggshell turned up, along with black pebbles charred by fire.
Bit by bit a panorama of life unfolded. The blades must have been shaped by human hands. There certainly would have been no ostriches here if the land had not been covered by grass. For the humans to build a fire and cook the eggs, there must have been firewood and, hence, trees. The spot must once have been fertile.