Only 30 minutes inland drive from Almeria in southern Spain lies the only true desert in Europe. “Badlands” might actually be a better term for an area that is criss-crossed by dry ravines, canyons, gulches and mesetas. So akin to the Arizona and Colorado equivalents is it, that these badlands have been used in many a famous movie scene. From the Spaghetti Western movies to Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian and Indiana Jones, among many hundreds of others. But I was more fascinated by the hiking opportunities!
Information is hard to come by. There are some useful internet sites that give a general idea and the long distance GR140 also passes though here, but the ground is so intricate and complex that maps are virtually useless.
I found Google Earth gave the best indication of possible routes. The wide “Ramblas” (wide valleys) have 4 wheel drive tracks along them but linking them into a circular route is not always easy. The best and most interesting terrain is to be found by those who have an exploratory nature.
Starting near the Mini Hollywood theme studios at Tabernas we took a track heading NE which dropped down into a dry valley with steep, loose walls. Then it was on down the wide Rambla de Tabernas. Interest builds as we reached an area of table topped mesas. Although close to the motorway between Granada and Almeria, you feel strangely detached. On past a strange clump of palm trees (planted there for the oasis scene in Lawrence of Arabia). Funnily enough, there are also huge swathes of bamboo growing (in a desert?), proof that the water table is in fact not far below the surface. This wild scenery is just magnificent!
Happy to have some fun we turned west up a dry ravine. This led to a loose scramble into an adjoining gully, the walls of which narrowed until only wide enough for one person. Not a place to be in a flash flood! Breaking out onto open hillside we linked a further set of ravines and ramblas before arriving back at our start point.
For those who like their terrain and scenery rough and raw this place is magical. And my abiding memory? Standing above Rambla Alfaro in the same spot where Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach divided the loot in the “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, with the chaotic badlands spread out below.
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