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Sierra del Pinacate Range

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Pinacate Beetle

We registered, offered a donation, and the ranger, not used to being visited by Americans, walked out to the truck and waved goodbye the whole while as we raced westwards.

It is North America's last frontier, a barren, hundred-mile stretch of blackness and inhospitability. It is The Pinacate, named after its primary inhabitant; a rather insignificant beetle which stands on its head and lets out a rather putrid odor.

Nobody lives in the inner Pinacate. At one time, it was the primary hiding spot for smugglers from South America. Now, it is home to the last of the dwindling pronghorn antelope. It's also the largest dune field on the continent.

The Pinacate is home to scorpions, black widows and the poisonous gila monster. And, it crawls with rattlesnakes. "Big ones," the archeologist who I had been communicating with told me.

Ten thousand years ago, in the holozoic, the Pinacate went from lush to dry. Seven thousand years later, it burst into a lava scape, which is why today it is known as the 'Black Desert'; black sands, black cinder cones, black dust. The black rocks, which litter the desert, were cast from the final explosions as the volcanic magma turned to stone.

The drive began as flat wasteland, beige sands and dying cholla. 15 miles west and the black dunes began to appear, until all that was left was us, blackness, and random cacti, with giant lava flows extending into nowhere like giant octopus legs.

Twenty miles in and we ascended Mount El Elegante, a rough rock strewn road. At the top, we hiked to the giant crater - a mile across and a perfect circle, with dying saguaros in its core. Up there we could see for miles, and realized that this was the farthest we had ever been from other people. Not a soul was to enter the Pinacate our entire stay, we were isolated, 50 miles of nothing, nobody, just us and the strange unexplainable "Waaaaaaaaaahhmp" grumbling in the desert.