I was zooming around the planet today at lunch, using the best program ever, Google Earth, just cruising around, looking for things that stood out, when I noticed a very very large shape in western China. (Right in the center of the image to the left) Now, I consider myself fairly geographically knowledgeable, (self proclaimed map geek) and I know that western China is notoriously desolate, but I had never seen or noticed anything this big on any globe or map. Upon further research, I found out that it is the Taklamakan, the largest "all sand" desert in the world. As features visible from space, (on cloud free earth days) it's pretty cool. Not Jupiter's Great Red Spot cool, but still interesting. It covers 270,000 square kilometers. One branch of the silk road went north of it, another went south. I'm sure there was a very good reason to have gone around, rather than across it. China has used it for testing their atomic weapons, another reason to go around. Check it out on Google Earth if you get the chance. Zoom as far in as you can to get a sense of how desolate it is, a whole lot of sand, with dunes that strech thousands of kilometers. I still want to go there. But that's just me.