A Berber guide consults a cracked, WWII-era compass amid the sands of the Sahara desert. To navigate the 500-mile (800-kilometer) salt trade caravan route between Taudeni and Timbuktu, Mali, guides use more time-honored pathfinding methods: reading the stars, wind patterns, sand dune formations, even the color of the sand.
National Geographic Cultures Initiative photographer and expedition member Chris Rainier said of his Berber guide: "He could predict, to a mark, where we were and where the next watering hole was."
Dead-reckoning is a necessity during the perilous desert journey. "If you're off by a mile, you miss the water. It is almost certain death for the trackers and camels. So it is imperative that these trackers know exactly what they're doing, not only to the mile but to the day," said Rainier. "If you're one day late, then you're in trouble."
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Photograph copyright Chris Rainier, National Geographic Society