High Atlas Sampler

High Atlas Sampler

Looming large on the southern horizon is Toubkal, the highest peak of the High Atlas mountain range at 4,167m. Here, another facet of Morocco’s geography waits to be discovered.

First, the Marrakech Plain is crossed with its extensive areas of irrigated olive groves. People are seen everywhere; sitting, walking, talking, playing, cycling and working. Small settlements are encountered with fruit and vegetable stalls, informal cafés, tiny shop frontages, tele-boutiques and family-run workshops. But soon the road begins to climb, twisting and turning as the High Atlas foothills are encountered.

Berber communities live in the mountain valleys, their clay pisé buildings blending into the natural landscape and clinging on to steep mountain sides. Extensive, deep, water-eroded gullies, thickly-wooded hillsides, irrigated valley floors, upland terraced plots, labour intensive farming, sheep pastures and exposed rock strata are some of the sights along the way. All along the route there are rock and fossil sellers who are trying to add to their family’s income.

The higher you go, the more dramatic the landscapes. The origins of this huge fold mountain range are clear to see with strata, folds, screes, rock pedestals and incised meanders all to be spotted – eyes will be out on stalks!

Lunch is taken in Taddert, a tiny but bustling service centre for travellers that stands 1,350m high. It’s the original 24/7, hence the glorious mix of cars, lorries, buses, 4x4s and minibuses all stopping for refreshment (the donkeys too!).

Soon it’s the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass, the highest road point in the High Atlas at 2,260m. To reach it, the road continues to rise in ever-increasingly tight turns and severe zig-zags from Taddert. Now you’re well above all human activity and the ‘bare bones’ of the High Atlas are revealed very clearly.

At our specially selected viewpoint, the mountain panorama looking north, east and west is breathtaking. All around are the immense, bare peaks of this area of the High Atlas with their steep, deep, water-eroded V-valleys. Rock strata are easy to identify and the concept that these rocks were once sediments at the bottom of an ancient ocean can really be understood, almost felt. You really do feel ‘on top of the world’ here.

By now it’s mid-afternoon and time to return to Marrakech. There is the opportunity to study incised river systems and meanders, as many fine examples are seen. River cliffs and slip-off slopes can be readily spotted too – the action of river processes. Eventually the twists and turns of the road diminish and you’re back on the flat Marrakech Plain once again; traffic volumes increase, speeds slow down and soon you’re back amongst the hubbub of colourful, clamorous Marrakech.

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