Krakow

Błędow Desert

  No District         more than a year ago
Here’s sand in your eye: 40 kilometres away, smack between Kraków and Katowice, lies Pustynia Błędowska - a bonafide, genuine, centuries-old desert. Like all strange geographic phenomena, the sand was purportedly dumped by a migrating glacier – at which point the wasteland was considerably larger. With 150 square kilometre origins, the desert had shrivelled to 80 kilometres at the beginning of the 19th century. Today the largest sand-pitch in Central Europe covers an area of only 32 square kilometres, about 9km long and 4km wide, between Klucze, Chechło and Błędów.

It was here that Nazi Field Marshall Rommel trained his 'Afrika Korps' detachment during WWII, and abandoned military bunkers can still be found scattered around. In fact, even today the Polish army still does parachute jumps in the northern part of the desert in spring and summer. In the 70s, as an accidental consequence of mining in the area (coal, zinc, silver), the desert appeared primed to expand again and the near-sighted government put the kibosh on it. Fearing encroachment into neighbouring farmlands, a programme of forestation was undertaken and today the wasteland finds itself disappearing even more rapidly, strangled by the pine and willow trees that were planted around it. If left unchecked, the desert could shrink to the size of a sandbox or vanish altogether like some sort of mirage that was never there. [In fact, as recently as the 60s, visitors were able to witness strange desert phenomena here like sandstorms and mirages.] Fortunately, action is now being taken to restore the natural area, with the EU even flipping in some coinage. Naturalists plan to strip the encroaching vegetation from the southern edge of the desert and weed out plants which were able to take hold on their own in other areas. Steps will also be taken so that the pristine dunes of the north will be overrun not by vegetation, but by camels. [Actually, camels were never mentioned.]

As it currently stands, the desert is basically split in two sections - the northern section (just south of Chechło) and the southern section (just west of Klucze). To explore the area you really need a car (and then maybe a camel or horse), but you can get to Klucze by bus from Kraków's main bus station, which takes almost an hour. Then your goal should be 'Czubatka' - a viewpoint overlooking the sandy desert valley, which includes an observation tower and serves as the trailhead for the yellow walking route that leads you through the forest and into the sandy wastes, from which two educational trails begin. Another trail leads from Czubatka to the Dąbrówka observation point on the northern edge of the north section of the desert. If you're in Poland to film a 'pierogi western,' then this is the place.

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