To Walk This Wilderness, Carry a Shovel

Caching water on the steppes of Kazakhstan is like an act of worship or a duty of penance.
Ustyurt Plateau, western Kazakhstan, 44°37'13" N, 53°34'43" 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.

What is the most important tool required to walk 350 miles across the vast, barren, sky-crushed steppes of western Kazakhstan?

A shovel. A shovel allows you to dig. And to dig is to live.

You must sink the shovel’s blade into the salt-crusted soil. You must hack and chop through the wiry roots of the sparse and brittle grass to reach:

Water.

Water is the rarest of all elements in the

Latest Posts

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Where the Streets Have No Name—Literally

A once ‘closed’ port city now offers a gateway to Central Asia.
Aktau, Kazakhstan, 43°36'9" N, 51°12'57" 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 ferry from Baku, Azerbaijan, kissed the chalky shore of Kazakhstan.

Twenty-eight Turks and Kazakhstanis ricocheted down the rusty gangway to the dock. They were hard men with soft truckers’ guts—traders on the modern Silk Road. Their camels were old Renaults and Volvos and Mercedes that hauled tons of frozen chickens, toilet porcelain, oil field equipment and green tomatoes. There had been a bacchanal in the ship’s mess room ...

Photograph by John Stanmeyer, National Geographic Creative

Walking 21,000 Miles Across the World Is…Normal

On National Walking Day, Paul Salopek reveals unexpected rewards of taking to your feet.
Aktau, Kazakhstan, 43°38'19" N, 51°11'53" E

I am walking across the world for the next six or seven years.

My intercontinental ramble, called the Out of Eden Walk, is a storytelling project that aims to retrace the footsteps of the first anatomically modern humans who migrated out of Africa back in the Stone Age. I am plodding toward Tierra del Fuego, the last cranny of the continents to be colonized by our species. Along the way I am writing stories and recording images of the people I meet. And one small perk of this 21,000-mile-long stroll is to offhandedly tell a café owner in, say, Central Asia, that I’ve just ambled in from ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Walking Baku: Stroll Through the World’s First Oil Capital

Take a virtual tour of the city on the Caspian Sea with 500-year-old steam baths and the world’s largest KFC.
Baku, Azerbaijan, 40°22'07" N, 49°50'10" 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.

Cupped in an amphitheater of rumpled hills on the windy Caspian Sea coast, Baku has attracted human wanderers since the Stone Age. First it offered fish and shelter, then it flourished as a strategic medieval walled port made powerful through trade along the old Silk Road, and finally, in the mid-19th century, the city exploded as the world’s first petroleum capital.

By 1900 dynastic European fortunes were being made in Baku ...

Composite photograph by Paul Salopek

Floating Between Continents in a Ghost Ship

Trapped in limbo on the Caspian Sea, a watery link on the modern Silk Road.
Aboard the MV Fikret Emirov on the Caspian Sea, 42°25'40" N, 51°23'51" 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.

It is a tricky business, crossing the Caspian Sea by ship.

The Caspian is a fickle sea—her mood changes swiftly, like the color of her waters, from placid green, to stormy grey, to dangerous wind-raked white. This biggest of the Earth’s lakes—for the Caspian is truly a lake, and her vast waters, the size of Germany, are only a third as salty as the sea—make shipping unpredictable, a waiting ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

A Goodbye Toast to Hemingway and Barney the Dinosaur

After 600 miles of mountains and a slew of hassles, Paul Salopek finally makes it through the Caucasus.
Baku, Azerbaijan, 40°13'55" N, 49°37'7" 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.

We rise early, my guide Rufat Gojayev and I. We take our last footsteps together in the Caucasus.

Our path is a road—a modern, high-speed, multilane highway in Azerbaijan. It is a type of artifact I have not seen in many miles of walking. (Normally I avoid such rigid corridors: They are inhuman spaces to walk in, a world of harsh surfaces built for the requirements of metal and rubber, for ...

Photograph by John Stanmeyer

Walking Through a Landscape of Pain in the Caucasus

Slaughter still haunts Turkey and Armenia a century later.

Do landscapes cup the bitter essences of bygone human suffering?

Does mass atrocity change the delicate blue cast of shadows thrown, for example, by nodding steppe grasses? Or alter the flight of hawks?

And what balance of memory and forgetting can help traumatized cultures move towards healing?

These questions rose to mind as I walked roughly a thousand miles through eastern Turkey and the Caucasus, one of the most gorgeous—and war-haunted—corners of the planet. They are also questions I grapple with in the fifth installment of the “Out of Eden Walk” series of stories in the print edition of National Geographic, now available online. (Read the opening of the story ...

Photograph by Nino Akhobadze

Walking Alongside the Daring and Creative

Georgian artists leave their daily lives behind to take part in a global foot journey.


Trail Gallery is an occasional feature highlighting other voices along the 21,000-mile trail of the Out of Eden Walk.

None of us walks the Earth alone.

True, the Out of Eden Walk project is “solo” in concept. I am retracing the global pathways of the African ancestors who discovered the world in the Stone Age by navigating my way, unaided by a team of field logisticians, across the planet.

But I hope it’s clear by now that I am rarely solitary. I like to walk with local people. They are my guides. They become my family. Most of them are daring and creative souls ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Rock Art Reveals Prehistoric ‘Serengeti’ in the Caucasus

When aurochs moved across the plains and "talking" drums rang out.
Gobustan National Park, Azerbaijan, 40°06'48" N, 49°22'43" 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 boulders sit on a hillside above the glittering mirror of the Caspian Sea.

They are made of limestone, these weathered, bone-smooth rocks. They are the color of chalk. Some are shaped—partly hewn—into oblong surfaces: into tympanums. Hammer them with a fist-size cobble: They produce a strange, haunting, almost metallic gong that carries far on the desert winds. Archaeologists believe they are Stone Age signaling drums. Their ringing comes ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Striking East From a True Frontier

After 3,100 miles on foot, closing in on Central Asia.
Near Gobustan, Azerbaijan, 40°04'58" N, 49°20'47" 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.

After staggering down the lonesome Shirvan Highlands for days, my guide Rufat Gojayev and I wash up against the barren shore of the Caspian Sea.

Every 100 miles on the Out of Eden Walk, I have been taking multimedia recordings of the landscape. This particular “Milestone” denotes the 3,100th mile covered since my first step in distant Ethiopia. It seems utterly unremarkable—a featureless, wind-polished desert outside the Azeri town of Gobustan. Yet ...