Sunday, March 17, 2024

Around the World in 24 Days - A Story of Stone - Part 4 - Luxor and Giza, Egypt

I'm so sorry for the delay in posting – I've actually been to Antarctica on a two-week trip and was unable to upload photos on the weak internet signal. I'm back to share these images and thoughts on visiting some of the best preserved ancient wonders anywhere on the globe!

Here I continue the story of my Around the World trip completed in January. We left the Serengeti in Tanzania and took an interesting route up to Egypt. The flight was about four hours long as Tanzania is located in east-central Africa. For some reason (and unlike other times that I've done this flight) we did not take a straight line north to fly directly over Khartoum the capital of Sudan. I was looking forward to this as Khartoum is located at the confluence of the White and Blue Nile rivers. Instead we tracked curiously to the northeast over Kenya, western Somalia, eastern Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea, then straight up the gut of the Red Sea. Yep, this is the area where the Houthi rebels are presently firing rockets at ships (none were sighted). (I found out later in asking the captain of our jet that the reason for our detour was security - apparently flying over Sudan today is deemed "risky". The detour was not unwelcome as it provided a highlight for me - flying over the Afar triangle. This is where the Arabian plate has pulled away from the African plate to form the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Afar Triangle Flyover

The red line marks our flight route from Kilimanjaro to Luxor - the geology annotations are by me. Note how the
shape of the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula (where our red colored jet route takes a jog to the left) perfectly
matches the shape of the inset of the Afar triangle. This is where the Arabian plate use to attach to the African plate
prior to 5 Ma. Therefore, all of the solid ground shown in Afar is post-5 Ma volcanic rock that has "filled in" the
depression since Arabia jetted away to the 
northeast from Africa. Map in the public domain and by DEMIS Mapserver.

We obtained a peek at the top of Kilimanjaro, elevation 19,341 feet and the 'Roof of Africa'
See my images from a trek to the top from 2014 here.

For all of you geography geeks I include some screen captures from an app I use called Flyover Country. It shows your location while flying, your altitude, speed, etc. Most importantly, it shows the general geology below you on the ground. Here are three screen captures from my flight over the Afar triangle - the blue dot marks our jets location at the moment I snapped the screen capture. I was seated on the left side of the jet during this flight segment and so I could see things to the left of the blue dot - a perfect venue to observe an active tectonic landscape from 37,000 feet up! This is why I still love to fly.

I include (five photo's below) a shot of the sinuous dark gray lava flows
that are evident on the app here

A canyon system in eastern Ethiopia

Note the en echelon fault blocks of volcanic rocks on the
northwest edge of the Afar triangle

As the Arabian plate began to pull away from Africa 5 million years ago, these blocks were faulted down and rotated

Here is the volcano center and associated lava flows depicted in the Flyover Country app above - awesome!
Note the high-standing volcanic center and dark lave flows radiating out from there

A lone tanker ship cruises north in the Red Sea toward the Suez Canal


Finally, on the ground in Luxor Egypt!

This is the Pharonic-era road to Luxor Temple excavated from beneath millennia of Nile River sedimentation.
The ancient road is located at least 5 meters (16 feet) below the modern city seen on the far left

Inside the temple area, the Pharonic-era foundation was buried to the
bottom of the small windows. Then in the 8th century a mosque was
on top of this  foundation. 20th century excavations have re-
exposed the ancient Egyptian foundations. This is why when 
visiting Luxor, visitors walk below the present-day surface that sits
on Nile River recent sediment.

The entrance to Luxor Temple at sunset on January 16, 2024

Karnak Temple in Luxor

Statues at the entrance to Karnak Temple

The obelisk at Karnak carved from Aswan Granite

The granite was quarried hundreds of miles away near Aswan and transported by boat down the river. The age of the
 red granite is constrain to between 700 and 575 Ma, the older age representing the age of emplacement within an
Archean craton and the younger age as its cooling age. See a paper on this granite here.

A special chamber was open to us this day that held spectacular art frescoes

The colors have survived through the millennia 

Valley of the Kings and King Tutankhamun's Tomb

On the West Bank of the Nile River, tributary streams have carved canyons called wadi's into the limestone and
shale rocks of the Theban Formation. It is Eocene in age, about 50 Ma, and was deposited during the final stages of
the Tethy's Sea. It was in this wadi that Egyptian kings were buried in tombs cut into the limestone. Members of
our jet group were allowed to visit the Valley of the Kings after hours at sunset, after the throngs of tourists had
returned to their hotels in Luxor. We had the valley all to ourselves! I snapped this photo of the Theban Formation on
the drive into the valley.

The authorities open and close various tombs at staggered intervals, to allow for a reduction in outside air in the
tombs. This is the entrance to one of the other tombs in the Valley of the Kings. 

A painted hieroglyph inside this tomb showing a Nile River boat

This is where the king's mummy would have been, along with all of the funerary objects. Some of the tombs were
raided in Egyptian times, some during the time of Alexander the Great, others during the Napoleonic era.

Entrance to Tomb KV62, the archaeological name for King Tut's tomb. Wikipedia has a great write-up of the tomb
here, explaining how the tomb was robbed twice shortly after the young king's death but then repaired with many
 funerary objects replaced. The tombs for Ramesses V and VI were later built just to the west of this and spoil from
these excavations further hid the entrance to KV62. It was not discovered in modern times by Howard Carter
until 1922! 

This is the real King Tut, close-up and personal, still lying inside his tomb. I was actually shocked to see the young
king present here - he must have been "on tour" in an exhibit the last time I was in here. I do not recall seeing
this before.

I did not tickle his feet but was tempted...

Self portrait inside the tomb

The east wall of the tomb. This was an excellent visit to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings!

What a fantastic visit this was to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. But we were not done with Egypt just yet. After two nights in Luxor, we rebounded our jet and made a day stop in Cairo to visit the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. That's right - a 90-minute flight to Cairo, then seven hours on the ground in Cairo, then our six hour flight to Morocco, which will be the last posting for this trip.

Giza and the Sphinx

Again, seated on the left side of the jet, I was able to obtain some great views of the Nile River valley from the air. It was a perfect morning for flying!

View to the southwest rising out of Luxor. The plateau of Egypt's Western Desert is on the horizon and the wadi's that
hold the tombs in the Valley of the Kings can bee seen slicing back into the plateau. In the Eocene, this part of Africa
was inundated in the final stages of the Tethy's Ocean.

View to the south toward Luxor of the Nile River valley

Prior to 1964, when the High Aswan Dam was completed on the Nile River, everything you see in green was subject
to the annual flood of the Nile River. These floods are what nourished Egyptian high culture as the fertile silt of the
Nile refreshed the growing area of the floodplain. The source of these floods was an enigma to the Egyptians as
the floods came in June and lasted until August - a typically very dry time in Egypt. However, it was the snow melt
from the Ruwenzori Mountains in Ethiopia that were the source of these floods. Check out this article from Saudi
Aramco Magazine (May/June, 2006) by John Feeney that describes the very last flood in 1964 to inundate the Nile.
I developed a short lecture for our guests on the jet about this final flood. 

Landing in smoggy Cairo - nearly 23 million people and growing like a weed! In 1950, its population was 2.5 million.

We hardly ever pull into a jetway at airports since our jet will be grounded for our typical stay of two or three
nights. Even for the seven hour stop, we got to disembark on the tarmac and bus to the terminal.

Egypt's GDP is 10% related to international tourism and so the government is proactive to insure the safety of
visitors. many of our guests wondered if it was safe to visit since we had armed guards following us on the one hour
drive from the airport on Cairos far east side to Giza on the far west side. I snapped this photo from our van.

On the ground at the Great Pyramids of Giza! They are truly astounding.

But the highlight of this particular visit for me would be our visit to the Sphinx, which I have seen many times before
but never like we did on this day, January 18. Note the platform to the left of the Sphinx - this is where visitors
typicallyview the monumental statue. However, we were able to utilize the walkway shown on the right to descend
right down to the giant figure.

Close-up of the Sphinx, the oldest known monumental structure in all of Egypt, dating to about 2500 BCE (Before
the Common Era or what used to be called BC - Before Christ). The Sphinx therefore is about 4500 years old!

Our visit included a lecture between the paws of the Sphinx from famed Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass. What a treat!

Views like this are not normally obtained, unless one is with a special group

The lecture venue

Rare view of the Sphinx - what a special day to experience this. After the lecture, I approached Dr. Hawass and told
him I was from Flagstaff. His eyes light up and he smiled - "Oh, I gave a lecture in Flagstaff and loved that place!"
Of course, I knew this because 18 months earlier I had attended his lecture as the Keynote Address of the Flagstaff
Festival of  Science.

A view from the southwest of the Great Pyramids of Giza

View to the northwest

Desert skies, even on the edge of 23 million people, are magical!

Leaving Egypt after our day in Giza, a day I will not soon forget! Join me next week as I do my final post from this
Around the World trip, this time from Marrakech Morocco! Thanks for reading this far!