About 380 million years ago, during the Devonian period, the Moroccan Sahara Desert (Erfoud) was the floor of a large prehistoric ocean. Due to a number of different factors, fish, plants and other ancient marine species were fossilised as the sea water receded.
The lack of oxygen, tectonic movements, high temperatures and other natural factors turned Erfoud and the surrounding area into a geological area full of mines and quarries, where fossils and marbles are embedded in huge boulders. During this trip, you will have plenty of opportunities to visit many locations and sample different types of fossils and ancient marbles.
Begin your geological adventure with a visit to the former palatial residence, Kasbah Telouet, visit the salt mines of pink salt rock, and drive through the beautiful Ounila Valley to visit the first geological site of this tour, where phosphate rocks are mixed with other minerals. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou.
Take a walk in the Oasis of Skoura and tour Kasbah Amredhil’s small museum and enjoy a 4×4 off-track drive along the road of a thousand Kasbahs, explore the amazing canyons of Toudgha Gorges, or go for a hike with a local guide around the gorge, if you wish.
In Asfela, you can find different cretaceous specimens being excavated and can search for fossilised fish teeth and other ancient marine species. Drive along the beautiful Ziz Valley, home to a variety of palm trees, via the Oasis of Tafilalet, and finally arrive in Erfoud.
Here in Erfoud, the most famous area for its fossil finds, you will visit a geological area where large slabs of rocks have been carved out of the boulders; each piece with its own characteristics in terms of age, raw material and colour. In the workshop, you will see how the fossils are worked into furniture and artefacts, examine the end-products. You will be given an explanation of the different fossil species found in the rock.
In the desert camp in the Erg Chebbi dunes, ride camels, and witness the spectacular sunset from the summit of the dunes (250 m). Savour dinner under a starlit sky in the red dunes of Merzouga, share an evening of music with the nomads, and sleep in a comfortable Bedouin tent near the big dunes.
Drive along Berber villages, and stop at more mines about 10km from Alnif, go off-road through Dra’a Valley’s unlimited palm trees, ancient Kasbahs and green oases along the ancient caravan route. Visit Kasbah Tamnougalte, explore the beautifully restored Kasbah Taourirt, and arrive back at Marrakesh.
South Morocco is a geologist’s paradise! The mountain strata, rocks and fossils all bear witness to the area’s evolution all over this fascinating & unique region.
1st day: Marrakesh – Ouarzazate
Morning departure from your hotel/riad in Marrakesh at 8 o’clock and driving across the High Atlas mountains. At panoramic viewpoints, there will be opportunities to stop and take photos. As we start climbing the High Atlas mountains, we will stop to look down into a deep ravine. Over Moroccan mint tea, we will explain the original formation of the High Atlas Mountains and the significance between the sea-bed of long ago and the varying colours of the soil and rocks now.
After the Tichka pass, the highest in North Africa, we leave the main road and drive into the mountains. Passing by the Kasbah of Telouet, which once served as a palatial residence and the headquarters of the powerful Glaoui tribe, we will stop at the salt mines. Here the salt has a reddish colour. The salt pans and the encrustations are clearly visible outside the mine.
Then the route crosses the Ounila Valley, which is spectacular for the colours of the soil strata and rock formations. Here there are many yellow phosphate rocks, mixed with other minerals.
At the end of the valley lies the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, the oldest and most famous Kasbah in Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here you will have lunch before climbing up to the top to admire the strategic positioning of the Kasbah on this outcrop.
Another 30 miles takes us to a hidden oasis of Fint outside Ouarzazate. You spend the night here in this traditional Berber village.
2nd day: Ouarzazate – Dades Gorges
Morning departure at 8 o’clock to the Dades Gorge, passing the Oasis of Skoura, where numerous ancient kasbahs, some sadly in ruins, stand amongst the palm trees. We turn north, going off-road to Aït Toumert and later Aït Mraou via Boutaghar. Here, judging from the different herbs that grow, “Azir”, “Cheh”, Za’atar”, “Fliou”, “Zoukeni”…., we can see that the soil is very salty. All of these herbs are to be found in the local markets and even as far away as Rissani. Minerals such as quartz scatter the ground.
Once passed the village of Boutaghrar, we come to caves where nomads live and tend their goats. We will stop to take tea with them.
Finally, we reach the main road again in the Dades valley and turn north to the gorges. Here you can walk and discover more about the local rock structures on the hillsides, and the pebbles along the river-bed. Later we return down the valley to our overnight accommodation.
3rd day: Dades – Toudgha
After breakfast, you travel back to Boumalne and the main road. After about another 90 kilometres, we turn left again towards the High Atlas mountains to visit the Toudgha gorges. The steep sides are sheer, 300 metres high and made of Bathonian (Jurassic) orange limestone. You can walk through the gorges and your driver will fetch you to continue along the road until you reach Tamtattouchte. You return to spend in the night in the valley.
4th day: Toudgha – Erfoud
After breakfast, we follow the river downstream to Tinghir and turn east along the main road. Before reaching Tinjdad, you can see a spring, Lala Mimouna, on the left-hand side of the road where the water is acid to the tongue. Here there is a special rock which is cut into tiny pieces and burnt in incense burners.
After Tinjdad we reach Guelmim, a mining town, where we turn left and drive about 45 km towards Asfela where you will walk for about an hour and a half. Here you can find different cretaceous specimens being excavated. It is possible to have lunch with a local family.
Passing through Er Rachidia, we turn south again following the fault of the Ziz Valley. We turn left off the main road for about one kilometre to search for fossilised fish teeth and also part of their vertebrae. At Aïn El Aati, you will see a geyser shooting acid water high into the air. We drive the short distance to Erfoud via the Ziz Valley and the Oasis of Tafilalet. Dinner and the night are spent in Erfoud.
5th day: Erfoud to Merzouga
Erfoud is the most famous area for its fossil finds, although they are to be seen throughout the south in a broad south-easterly band as far as Tata. (The whole area around Tata has even more, and different, secrets to reveal!) First, you will go to the area where large slabs of rocks are being carved out of the mountains to be taken for working into furniture and artefacts. Surprisingly at present, there is no control over the numbers being exported. In the workshop, you can see the end products but more importantly, you will be given an explanation of the different species found in the rock.
South of Erfoud lies Rissani, the seat of the current Alouite dynasty of kings in Morocco. Here you can wander around the traditional souks and markets.
From there we skirt round the Erg Chebbi dunes to Khamlia, where you can enjoy a mixture of Gnaoua and Berber music performed by local people. As you go further round the dunes, you come to the lead mines of Mifis where kohl, famously used to enhance the beauty of Arab eyes, it worked. You continue to Tamerdanit, where you can have tea with nomad people.
You have dinner and spend the night at an authentic nomad camp with shared bathroom facilities and a private tent for each couple or family.
Alternatively, you can choose a luxury camp with private bathroom, king-sized beds, beautiful Moroccan furnishings and lamps tastefully arranged to enhance your enjoyment of the silence and beauty of the dunes.
6th day: Merzouga – Agdez
If you wake up early enough, you can watch the spectacle of the sunrise, when the colour of the dunes and the play of shadows are an awesome sight. The itinerary continues to the Dra’a Valley. At Messici, you will probably notice piles of minerals at the side of the road awaiting collection. They have been mined from the distant hills. You can collect handfuls of these stones for further identification at the end of the day!
At Alnif, there are more mines about 10 km from the main road. Lunch will be in Nkob. Later the journey takes us to Tansikht to drive along the ancient caravan route. Here we discover the real Dra’a Valley with its huge palm trees and ancient villages. At the end of the afternoon, we stop in Agdez for the night.
7th day: Agdez – Marrakesh
After breakfast, there will be a visit to Kasbah Tamnougalte where about thirteen families still live, whilst other parts crumble and decay. The road to Ouarzazate crosses the mountain pass of Tizi-n-Tinfifte (1660m) at Aït Saouen.
Once in Ouarzazate, we visit Taourirt Kasbah, originally the residence of the Pasha of Marrakech and a symbol of the feudal period of the Lords of the Atlas.
The return to Marrakech will complete the trip by the early evening.
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