And as dawn broke we tentatively lifted the tarpaulin we had hastily fashioned to protect us from the storm. We saw in each other’s faces the cuts and burns from the multi-day storm. Howling winds and blinding sand had rendered exposed flesh raw. Sand was imbedded in every skin fold, crusted our noses and mouths and eyes. Everything was covered in sand. Occasionally one of us would cough up bloody, sandy, mucus. It scoured our throats and left a grit in our mouths. We assessed our precarious situation. We had become separated from the rest of the caravan. There was no trace of them. With no camels, we’d have to lighten our load. Once treasured possessions, now a burden, we left behind. We were several days away, maybe more. If we couldn’t eat it, drink it, or wear it, we unceremoniously discarded it in the sand. No one spoke.
There was no wind now. Only calm. Somehow the stark beauty and perfect stillness of the barren landscape filled us with awe and amazement. A vast indigo sky, with the last twinkle of stars, began to yield to a pink and orange glow promised the return of the sun. Only now visible in the first light, a single, lonely desert rose peaked warily above the fresh blown sand. And much further behind, on the far horizon, the mountain range that marked our prior direction emerged in the soft morning light. It is over the ridge and out of sight that rests the river valley that is our actual destination. It now seemed so distant in sight and in mind. We had wandered desperately off course, though the lush forests and cool waters beckoned. No one spoke. There was no debate. We had one option. With our meager provisions, we tightened our packs, and began the march to the mountains, angling towards a saddle point we hoped was a low point to the valley beyond.