The abandoned lead and quartz mines lie on the outskirts of Erg Chebbi—a sea of 500-foot-high dunes created by wind-blown sand. The route into this forgotten part of the world takes us through a deserted mud brick village which once housed hundreds of miners and their families. The military keeps a small outpost here and a group of soldiers casually smoking beside a camouflaged Hummer give us a cheery wave.
The open cast mines are scattered along a high plateau with dramatic views of the desert landscape. There’s also a Berber graveyard nearby—no doubt containing many miners. The jagged rock headstones have no names, though you can tell the gender by the way the stones are positioned—two placed parallel denotes a woman, while two stones placed in a T-shape is a man.
The original Dakar Rally route once snaked its way past this ghostly village as riders screamed towards Ourzazate during a monster 250-mile-day stage. The challenging terrain around here is made up of hard-packed soil with fist-sized jagged rocks that’d rip man and machine to shreds. The even more challenging sand dunes are just around the corner. It’s mind-blowing to imagine the average speeds and unwavering commitment you’d need to be a possible podium contender. To put it into perspective, we did 1,200 miles of predominantly sealed roads in a total of 60 hours (six days of riding). These guys do almost five times the distance (5700 miles) over the harshest terrain you can imagine—in a total 48 hours.