Natural Wonders

 After our desert experience ended last Monday we planned an easy day to recuperate.  The auberge provided us a room to shower and then served us breakfast.  We then embarked on an easy drive of approximately 100 miles from Merzouga to the small town of Tineghir.  This path is part of what is known as the “Road of 1,000 Kasbahs.”  The guidebook describes Tineghir as a wealthy town because of the silver mining activity in the area.  That is not too apparent, though its appearance is quite a bit better than the last time we were there.  That was in 1987, so I suppose a lot of changes should have been expected.  It is also a provincial administrative center for the government, which accounts for some of the building and development occurring in the past 25 years. 
      Tineghir’s claim to fame is its location at the entrance to the Todra Gorges.  The Todra river flows through the valley and on toward the city of Ouarzazate nurturing another oasis, a wonder of nature in itself.  We had traveled along the River Ziz on our way to Merzouga a couple of days earlier following alongside the oasis watered by the that river,  visible for some fifty miles all the way to Rissani, and then becoming subterranean.  The oasis is a thing of beauty, a sliver of green maybe a few hundred yards wide, surrounded by a stark and severe landscape that is otherwise devoid of almost any vegetation.  One guide told us the oasis running from Erfoud to Merzouga is estimated to have 180,000 palm trees.  The tall palms are always the most prominent feature of the oases.
      The local populace perform amazing feats of agriculture, exploiting the meager water resources.  Practically every square yard of soil that can be reached by any water at all becomes small but productive plots of barley, wheats and a variety of vegetables.  Fruit trees such as fig and apricots are present, helping to provide much of the nutritional needs of the people.  At this time of the year there are lots of flowering trees and shrubs, especially oleander, most often displaying showy blossoms of pink, but also some white and a deeper rose color as well.
      The gorge itself, a mile or so from the city center, is a true natural wonder.  Sheer cliffs, maybe two or three hundred yards apart in some places, but often much more narrow, rise to an altitude of almost 1000 feet and continue along the road for about 15 kilometers.  The shimmering light that penetrates the space provides a constantly changing background of shadows and colors.  The shallow river, cascading over the rocky river bed completes a restful and refreshing landscape.
      After the intensity of the camel trek the previous day, a more subdued schedule in this picturesque and serence environment provided a much needed respite.  By Tuesday morning we were ready and anxious to get back on the road, planning to spend another fairly easy  day in Ouarzazate, before undertaking the difficult drive toward Marrakesh, climbing over the High Atlas mountains through the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass, the highest mountain pass in the country.


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