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The gas company’s compound marks the end of civilization leaving town. It’s built around a bus-sized tank of propane, stuck up on stilts, beneath a tall roof for shade. The compound is parked some distance beyond the last few houses in town, to minimize disruptions in the event of calamity. Its outsized capsule is mother ship to the countless bottles of gas used for cooking around Atar, which find their way back home aboard slow-moving donkey carts. The bottles themselves, of indeterminate age, are invariably dented and rusted-out—one gets the sense that they’ve all fallen off the cart a few times. It doesn’t seem to matter.

The carts—bare slabs of shiny rusted metal centered over what must be vintage car axles—are usually piloted by young men. But not always; on the way to the gas works and elsewhere, it is not uncommon to pass wholly unsupervised carts, pulled by their donkeys towards destinations unknown. What well-trained creatures they must be! The headless horseman comes to mind. The carts’ ancient tires are inevitably bald; many of them lean outwards from their axles at unlikely angles.

You don’t see many camels on the road to Azougui. There’s not a whole lot for them to eat—a few thorny bushes, the occasional short and denuded tree scattered across rocky terrain stretching to the horizons. It’d be some tough footing, for meager rewards. But if the road passes through a moonscape, the camels become its crossing guards—enormous, lumbering beasts bearing uncertain trajectories, the greatest of which would take out the windshield and more in a crash. Their presence exerts a salutary effect on speeding vehicles, as if they carried useful signs.

The road itself has little to say. The impressive reign of its asphalt is interrupted only by three short sections of concrete, each of them spanning a subtle trough in the topography, where running water must have once been a going concern. Hard to imagine in such a place, yet it’s all the evidence will suggest—the rock all around must