3,900 Miles Into a Stroll Across the Earth, a Palace of Winds

Pausing for breath on the steppes of Central Asia
Ustyurt Plateau, Uzbekistan, 43°30'31" N, 57°58'12" E

We were going to Khiva, the medieval oasis of cruel khans and wise scholars.

The steppe had no end. Its winds blew our words and brains away. Under the railway bed lay the old Silk Road. Atop the polished steel surface of the rails shone two narrow slices of sky. Clouds floated there in reflection.


View Milestone 39


Milestones are multimedia recordings taken every 100 miles along the 21,000-mile trail of the "Out of Eden Walk."

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Photograph by Paul Salopek

Giant ‘Arrows’ Seen From Space Point to a Vanished World

In the remote heart of Asia, ancient hunting traps hint at ghostly animal herds and boundless human appetites.
Ustyurt Plateau, Uzbekistan, 41°03'25" N, 62°00'21" E

Few people have seen the desert kites of Central Asia. The sprawling archaeological structures, dating back at least to the Iron Age, are extremely remote. They lie forgotten by the hundreds atop the vast and desolate Ustyurt Plateau between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan: mysterious berms of piled rocks and earth that stretch in spidery geometric patterns across the grasslands for half a mile or more. You can walk past them without knowing it. I certainly did.

This summer, I sometimes sat on the strange ruins without realizing it. Their crumbling walls, often consisting of rows of stones just a foot high, disappeared into the distance. They ran in straight ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Blister-ology: The Art and (Pseudo) Science of Foot Care

A global trek of 40 million steps requires some serious toe triage.
Near Nukus, Uzbekistan, 42°40'22" N, 59°11'27" E

Paul Salopek is walking the global trail of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age. His continuous 21,000-mile foot journey, called the Out of Eden Walk, is recorded in dispatches.

Meet Nurseyt Abdullaev: Uzbek university student. Wiry. Adventurous. Energetic. Always positive. Another innocent victim of walking across the world.

“How are you doing?” I shout back at Abdullaev. (He is lagging far behind on a farm road.)

“Good! Good!” he hollers, waving and smiling.

But Abdullaev is not good. My temporary walking guide through the scorching summer afternoons of western Uzbekistan is visibly limping. Because four blisters have turned his feet ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Discovering a Medieval Moon Base in the Heart of Central Asia

At the ruins of a remote caravanserai in Uzbekistan, echoes of modern woes
Beleuli, Uzbekistan, 44°30'15" N, 57°06'55" E

Kublai Khan: “Is what you see always behind you? Does your journey take place only in the past?”

Marco Polo: “Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.”

Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino

We are moving slowly through the world.

The sun melts a hole in the sky: white-hot as the focused beam of a magnifying glass. The steppe is sweltering. Cloudless. Windless. We create our own paltry wind by walking.

There are three of us. Aziz Khalmuradov, my Uzbek guide, limps behind on blister-broke feet. The donkey wrangler, Jailkhan Bekniyazov, is dizzy with some mysterious ailment—sunstroke, or perhaps extreme homesickness. We slog ...

Composite photograph by Paul Salopek

Song of a Scorching Badland

A Central Asian furnace greets a global walker at Milestone 38, the first hundred-mile marker in Uzbekistan.
Near Karakalpakia, Uzbekistan, 44°30'11" N, 56°78'19" E

We were following the old Soviet-built rail line across Central Asia. The stations held the only reliable water in the mummified landscape of the Ustyurt Plateau. A strangely industrial stretch of the walk: following a modern Silk Road of railroad ties, of pipelines, of cables planted on a vast flat badland of space. The steel rails began to click and whine miles before the heavy locomotives heaved into view. The stations were like whitewashed beach bungalows dropped miraculously from the scorching sky. The stations supported the only trees in the visible world. These trees sheltered every bird within eyeshot. We could hear them. Their songs came crackling through ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Footslogging Along One of the World’s Most Desolate Railways

Where stations on the Soviet-built line through Uzbekistan serve as modern caravanserais.
The Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan border, 44°52'51" N, 55°59'55" E

Paul Salopek is walking the global trail of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age. His continuous 21,000-mile foot journey, called the “Out of Eden Walk,” is recorded in dispatches.

The Beyneu-Kungrad railroad linking Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was built by Soviet engineers more than 45 years ago.

Its steel rails are oxidized the color of sunburned skin. They ping and gong in the scorching midday heat of Central Asia. They twang like a slide guitar at the approach of distant trains—the sturdy passenger cars built in East Germany, the freight wagons from Tajikistan, from Russia, from Belorussia. We ...

Composite photograph by Paul Salopek

Walking Alongside a Menagerie Into the Heart of Asia

Ants, tortoises, lizards—and three humans—share the 3,700-mile mark in a global walk.
Near Beyneu, Kazakhstan, 44°59'43" N, 54°41'41" E

We were walking across the belly of Asia. Two ruts unspooled west and east.

It was a shepherds’ track. It cleaved the sun-given world in half: a million miles of grasslands to the right, a million miles of grasslands to the left.

Along its ruts traveled: hissing tortoises, dung beetles rolling their cargoes, sprinting lizards with yellow heads, columns of shiny black ants carrying grass seeds aloft like banners, darkling beetles mating in miles-long orgies. Some of these creatures inched toward China, others crawled in the direction of the Caspian Sea. We three humans tottered, hot and dusty, to the end of Kazakhstan, to the beginning of Uzbekistan, to ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

‘Good’ Wolves, ‘Bad’ Wolves— and Genies—Stalk This Land

Walking the modern Silk Road, trading on loneliness in the remote Central Asian steppes.
Manata, Kazakhstan, 44°6'22" N, 53°12'36" E

“The desert teaches by taking away.”
-- William Langewiesche

Paul Salopek is walking the global trail of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age. His continuous 21,000-mile foot journey, called the “Out of Eden Walk,” is recorded in dispatches.

The Ustyurt Plateau covers 70,000 square miles of Central Asia. Half of this iron-flat tableland lies in western Kazakhstan. The other half sprawls into Uzbekistan. It is an immense land feature largely unknown to the outside world and, because of its extreme isolation, underappreciated even by Kazakhs. The Ustyurt supports herds of gazelles, antelopes, and mountain sheep. ...

Composite photograph by Paul Salopek

God and Evolution Cross Paths in the Wilds of Central Asia

Mecca and a multimillion-year-old shark's tooth feature at mile 3,500 of a global walk.
Near Manata, Kazakhstan, 44°4'29" N, 53°10'10" E

One guide, Talgat Omarov, laid out his camping tarp as a kilim, a prayer rug, and bowed and bowed to Mecca. He hid behind the horse while I photographed the scene—obeying a prohibition of some Islamic scholars against the artificial representation of sentient beings.

The second guide, Daulet Begendikov, hunted fossils. He picked up and threw away a 30-million-year-old shark tooth of exquisite beauty.

Flies buzzed.

We stood at the ragged edge of the vast Ustyurt Plateau. A fiber-optic cable burrowed across the steppe nearby, through the cemetery of a 14th-century Silk Road caravanserai.


View Milestone 36


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Photograph by Paul Salopek

These Barren Plains Hold a Mystery No One Can Crack

Were giant stone balls in western Kazakhstan created by underground lightning?
Mangystau, Kazakhstan, 44°3'15" N, 52°29'17" E

Paul Salopek is walking the global trail of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age. His continuous 21,000-mile foot journey, called the “Out of Eden Walk,” is recorded in dispatches.

They look like a giant’s discarded playthings: enormous rock spheres, some the size of beach balls, others bigger than cars, strewn atop the desolate plains of western Kazakhstan.

They lie clustered by the dozen—by the hundreds, by the thousands. They are ruddy red, yellow-ochre, tan, black-gray. They feel iron-hard under the fingertips. Many appear to be almost unnaturally perfect: flawlessly round, as if produced by machines.

These strange formations, called ...