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also extend downwards without intermission, yielding no opportunities for any rainwater’s diversion. Much of it looks distinctly old, maybe even volcanic. We understand that the whole panorama was submerged beneath an ocean at some point in the distant past.

Riding at a comfortable speed, the first span of concrete comes just a few minutes past the road’s first landmark, a hangar-sized water tank tethered in place by a pair of pipes extending along the road in either direction. The tank sits just across from a few bits of forgotten mining machinery left to rust under the sun, their fading utility guarded by a long and crumbling wall. The scene brings to mind all the other oddly vacant compounds we’ve seen traveling in Mauritania—large allotments of rock or sand, nothing else, wholly or partially fenced-in by cement walls. Those around the old machines outside Atar are surely decades old, whittled down to the ground in places by the wind and sand, but many of the compounds around the capital are much newer, built of regular cinderblocks. We’ve heard