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The Kalahari, one of the longest unbroken stretches of sand in the world, reaches across the center of Botswana, north into Zaire, and south to the Orange River in South Africa. On its northern edge are the enormous complexes of the Makgadikgadi Pans and the relatively small but no less interesting Nxai Pans, characterized by ancient baobabs and large camelthorn trees. Game migrates between the two throughout the year: In the dry season (Apr-Nov), Makgadikgadi is best; during the rains (Nov-Mar), the animals -- which include springboks, gemsboks (oryx), red hartebeests, black backed jackals, and, occasionally, cheetahs and lions -- move northward to Nxai.

The Makgadikgadi Pans are a vast (12,000-sq.-km/4,680-sq.-mile) game-filled expanse of flat, seasonally inundated land. When the pans fill with water after the rains, they host countless migratory birds, most notably huge flocks of flamingos. This is the place to go to experience space at its purest: The horizons seem endless, and, at night, above the pie-crust surface of the pans, the stars shine with a vibrancy found only in vast deserts.