Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Last Leg - Over the High Atlas from Ouarzazate to Marrakech

The last leg of my Moroccan adventure (and the final post of this series) includes a trip over the High Atlas Mountains. The light wasn't great this day, so some of the photos might appear a bit dark. But the route was really exciting and scenic! Wish we could have stopped more but we did pretty well considering the narrowness of the highway and the ever-present construction going on.

Map showing our route over the High Atlas Mountains to the city of Marrakech. This road is currently being upgraded due to increased traffic.

This is the Taourirt kasbah in Ouarzazate, the center of the Moroccan film industry. When The Jewel of the Nile movie was filmed here, Michael Douglas built a film studio in Ouarzazate.

Detail of the outside wall at Taourirt kasbah.

One of the inside rooms. The paintings on the ceiling were fabulous.

We took a detour for lunch to an old village called Ait Benhaddou and saw a preview of the scenery and geology in the High Atlas.

This is the old kasr of Ait Benhaddou, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A kasr is a group of earthen-made buildings surrounded by high walls. Most of this kasr is now abandoned as people have moved into more modern cinder-block homes. Note the restored granary on top of the hill.

Nearby, the same conglomerate layer (seen the day before driving to Ouarzazate) was still visible.

Note the ruined kasr in the distance on the right.

This is a detail of the same ruin as the highway twisted around the ruin village. Morocco is a land of adobe.

There were many of these types of villages on Highway N9 west out of Ouarzazate.

Angular unconformity along the highway with tilted Triassic sediments capped by unconsolidated valley floor gravels.

This stream has seen recent flooding, evidenced by the lack of stream-side vegetation in its bed.

In the distance is the destination - the cloud-covered High Altlas.

Driving by at 50 mph, it was difficult to see what the black rocks were. But I believe I saw textures suggesting that it is an intrusive diabase (or dolerite in the UK) sill. If so, this intrusive body wedged a space for itself into the Triassic-age red rocks.

Looking back down the valley to the southeast.

As we begin to climb toward the pass, the sedimentary rocks are eroding down-dip (east) off of the uplifted mountain front.

Swichbacking up the slope, we can look back to the valley and see farming terraces on the hillside.

Vertical beds from the uplift of the Atlas Mountains.

Very near the pass in the mountains was a view back to the upturned sediments. These sure look like Cretaceous-age rocks to me with all of the black shale.


My colleague, John Warme (former professor of geology at the Colorado School of Mines), sent me this cross-section of the High Atlas Mountains. Note the down-dropped rift basins at the bottom of the cross-section. These are colored red in this diagram and are pull-apart basins that developed when North America pulled away from Africa about 200 million years ago. The red Triassic sediments I have shown in this blog are those deposits. The blue "mound" seen rising up above these rift basins are the shallow-marine limestone and reef deposits that eventually filled this basin during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The upward projection of the top surface reflects the uplift of the High Atlas beginning about 60 million years ago.

Finally, the pass at the top of the road. It is about 7,400 feet high.

Trucks making their way up the grade. These vehicles are slowed to about 5 mph on this slope.

Another view from the pass.

This is a view downslope to where we are headed, into to Marrakech.

It was quite a bit greener on the Atlantic side of the Atlas range.

West-facing escarpment in the valley of Marrakech.

I took this picture from my 4th floor hotel room in Marrakech. The snow is from the previous day and night.

This is the Moroccan home of fashion designer Yves St. Lauent, who loved Morocco and its people. As a scientist, I didn't know the first thing about this man except the numerous ads that appeared in magazines. However, a trust has been established in his name by his life partner and the trust has turned a section of the home into a museum of the Berber people. The museum was excellent!

This years olive harvest is said too be one of the best in recent memory. Picked green, they will yield green olives, picked red, they will yield red olives and so on.

Market scene in Marrakech with fresh olives on display. If you are curious about how olives are harvested and sured, see here.

A walk through the medina is a walk back in time. This medina is much noisier than the one in Fes. Here the police have turned a blind eye to motor-scooters that course through the narrow streets giving off gasoline fumes and rowdy noise.

We were stopped in the medina for a few moments where I witnessed a transaction between a young boy and a vendor. The light, the scene reminded me of a Moroccan Norman Rockwell moment. Everything is there - cross-generational engagement, the pervasive Moroccan bread, the Coca-Cola signs.

Another colorful scene with late afternoon light streaming through an opening into a small alley.

A ceramic shop in Marrakech's medina.

A blind woman asks for alms in front of a medina mosque.

Jemaa el- Fna (yes, that is the correct spelling) is one of the most famous public squares in all of Africa. Once the sight of public decapitations in medieval times, it then became a place where trade would occur as Berbers came out of the Atlas Mountains. Today it is full of vendors, snake charmers, jugglers, and people from all over the world. Watch some aerial videos of Jemaa el-Fna here.

Park scene in Marrakech. The lovely area used to be the site of a medieval neighborhood. But a redevelopment project turned it into a public space along what is now the Avenue of the United Nations. Note the tall minaret in the background. This is the Koutoubia mosque built between 1184 and 1199.

The Koutoubia minaret silhouetted by the rising sun. There are agaves all over Morocco, imported from Mexico.

Finally, here is a close-up of a White stork, I had taken a photo of these magnificent birds (okay, maybe they look a bit clumsy) on the first day of our trip in Rabat. They nest all over Europe and North Africa, including the Atlantic half of Morocco.

Some people here were surprised when I said I was going to Morocco, the implication that it was somehow not safe. I say - GO! It is fantastic and the people are welcoming. To the geologist, it's almost a must to see it.

3 comments:

Juce Evans said...

I have spent 5 weeks in Morocco, the first time I took approximately the same route as you, I'm a geology fan, I went to Erfoud, Vallée de Ziz, spoke to the paleontology shops, they are friendly and the rocks are fantastic. I was a solo female traveller. This area is quiet, rural and geologists are welcome.
The second trip was much longer and I was based in the Agadir area. Very different. Western tourists are treated as scum and a never-ending source of cash. You are less than an object. The locals barely see you as human. The Atlantic coast is far more densely populated and the mindset is different.
So GO to Morocco, ... well, maybe, go to Erfoud and do this precise route, yep, definitely, but this area is not representative of the rest of Morocco.
Arizona... now there's a place to go to!

Toni Kaus said...

What a beautiful country. I've never thought of going to Morocco. Now I'm tempted.

picks up stones said...

I have partially solved the "what are those rocks?" viewed from a moving vehicle, by loading a geologic map
onto my GaiaGPS app. It works pretty well anywhere I have explored, even works looking out an airplane window.
I follow the Roadside Geology routes often and have suggested to the publishers they put their nice new maps in a mobile navigation app. Maybe if enough folks ask, it might happen. Enjoyed the wonderful photos. I can buy the
intrusive diabase sill story.