Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Vast and Spectacular Sahara

Experiencing the Sahara desert, especially camping in it for two nights, was never on our bucket list. It should have been. It was part of our tripBut package with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) and we thought, "Oh, that's a nice touristy thing to include in the itinerary."  So far, it has been the highlight of our two weeks in Morocco.

The Sahara is vast, and we only saw a tiny fraction of it.  While it is a relatively small part of Morocco, it extends across much of Northern Africa.  It is the dominant geographic reality of Algeria, Western Sahara, Saudia Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and other countries.

It's also not all sand.  Much of it in Morocco is dark-colored, pebble-to-fist-sized sedimentary rocks.  It is a fossil hunter’s paradise in some places like the photo below.

While it may seem like it, the Moroccan Sahara is not all bone dry.  Oases and date palms pop up every now and then, and in some areas the water table is only 6-10 feet down.  The aquifers are fed by snows from the high Atlas Mountains, some of which are over 13,000 feet high.

Unfortunately, the Sahara is spreading to the north and south, and droughts are affecting the aquifers. We visited a former nomad who used to run his goats and sheep in grasslands.  (The continuing Morocco conflict with Algeria forced him to abandon is wandering between Morocco and Algeria.). It's now mostly that pebble-strewn land with grasses here and there.

The nomad's daughter with her baby,
about 3 miles from our camp in the dunes
We also visited with a date grower.  He and his father started their orchard in 1985 in lush grasslands.  It is now covered by1-8 feet of sand.  Fortunately, he still has a good well.

It took a full day to get from Fes to Erfound, a small trading village that is the gateway to the Sahara Desert.  We crossed a 6,000 foot pass through cypress forests, stopped at an alpine-like town, visited with a nomad sheppard on a high plateau, and spontaneously pulled over to experience bustling weekly market in the middle of nowhere

The next day we piled into Land Cruisers and rode through about six miles of rock and sand dunes to our well-appointed and secluded camp.  We had running water, toilets, and solar generated electricity.  The food, prepared by hotel staff from Erfound who commuted each day, was very good.  We rode camels, hiked, and visited nomads in the early morning or late afternoons,  then spent the hot afternoons enjoying extended conversations under the tarp with the other 12 in our group.
It was HOT, especially in the tents. The only way to keep cool was to douse our clothing with water frequently.  At night, we could only get to sleep under wet sarongs or sheets and stay asleep by getting them wet again. Fine dust covered everything.

But the views were magnificent, especially as the sunlight changed and as the full moon came out and later the stars.  But for a few flies now and then, the silence was deafening.

Enroute to Quarzazate

It took nearly a full day of driving through expansive vistas and adobe red villages to reach Ouarzazate, the site of many famous movies. (If it had a desert, North African, or Egyptian scene in it, it was probably shot here.  More, perhaps, in a future blog).  What a culture shock, especially the lush hotel grounds and the infinity swimming pool!  We may have finally gotten the last grains of sand our of our belongings, but not our fond Sahara memories.

Our guide, Nory, who has made this trip extra special


  1. This is fascinating and the photos are so helpful. Thank you for all of the details.

  2. Wow! Great blog, great pictures. It sounds like the Sahara has been very cool.