In 1973, a Libyan truck driver, allegedly drunk, got into an accident. He was driving around in the Nigerien (as in Niger, not Nigeria) part of the Sahara Desert, as close as one gets to being in the middle of nowhere (see this map) when he hit a tree. From what limited information we know of the accident, don’t worry: the driver was not injured, at least not badly. We don’t know what happened to the truck, but we do know that the tree was knocked down.
In almost all cases, a uprooting of a tree in this manner would be unfortunate, but hardly tragic. But this was a special case. The tree, called the Tree of Ténéré (pictured above, in a 1961 photo), was the only one around for miles. As in, 250 miles – roughly the distance from Chicago to Cincinnati.
How did it get there? The Sahara was not always as dry as it is today, and probably over a century ago (if not much longer), a group of trees grew where the Tree of Ténéré until recently grew. Over time, given the extremely dry and isolated location of the trees, all the trees save one weathered away. The final tree survived via a complex, deep-running root system which hit the water table a ridiculous 33-plus meters below ground level. (In fact, a 130 foot deep well was built near the Tree of Ténéré as a man-made oasis in the middle of barren wasteland.)
The tree is now on display at the Niamey Museum (the national museum of Niger), having been moved there in November of 1973, just months after its demise. At its original location? A hackneyed metal sculpture, seen here.
Bonus fact: While the North Saharan Desert is, by and large, unpopulated wasteland, there are some nomadic tribes who call it home. Most notable are the Tuareg (Wikipedia entry here), whose lineage traces back over two-thousand years. They are mostly in Niger and Mali, but do not assume that the Tuareg are a tiny group: surprisingly, they number as many as 1.2 million, making up as much as 5% of Niger’s total population and 3% of Mali’s. By comparison, Native Americans (including Alaskan Natives) constitute only 0.8% to 2% of the U.S.’s population.
From the Archives: Circus Trees: A garden full of trees which have been bent and manipulated into amazing shapes.
Totally unrelated product, but awesome: A Barack Obama Chia Pet.