Starting our day in Fes, we headed east for a bit to visit Ifrane and its university, then headed south.
Ifrane is known as the Switzerland of Morocco. Situated in the sparsely populated middle Atlas region, it sits at an elevation of about 5500 feet and regularly gets snow in winter. It was the site of the lowest temperature ever recorded in Africa (-24o
F), and has a ski resort. Four our visit, it was just a pleasant high mountain town with plentiful conifers and few people about. The main purpose of our visit was for Robert (OCU President) and Steve (OCU Dean of Business) to meet with some of the administration of Al Akhawayn University.
After this brief diversion, and a visit to the carved lion for good luck, we headed south across the mountains to Erfoud in the desert, going through a thoroughly entertaining river gorge on the way.
The mountains are like low mountains anywhere, with conifer forests (lots of cedar) and dappled sunlight playing down into the woods. We could have as easily been in New Mexico. We did not see any animals. In fact, throughout the trip, I was struck by the dearth
of large animals and birds other than sparrows etc.
As we came down from the mountains, we entered the gorge of the Ziz River. This river is said to flow intermittently, but either it flows a good bit of the time or it leaves plenty of residual moisture in the ground, because the flat valleys through which it flows are the densest forest of date palms you can imagine. The river does not support water navigation, but its valley, from the headwaters in the middle Atlas Mountains to the desert in Algeria, has served as a tradeway for centuries. The ramparts are bare stony cliffs and hills, The same limestone that forms the Atlas Mountains, and in the valley there are numerous casbahs and ksars. Some of these date back several centuries. In the valley, there are areas of grasslands and these exploited by shepherds with herds of goats and sheep, assisted by highly intelligent shepherding dogs. For our visit, these grasslands were covered with blooms of wild flowers. Although the fossils in marble that are found in rock shops everywhere come from near Erfoud, most of the fossils of things such as trilobites etc come from this river
Beyond Errachidia you enter the area known as the Tafilalet, the ancestral homeland of the current Alaouite Dynasty. This is a land of former lawlessness, where strongly walled casbahs and ksars were essential. It took the French 20 years to "pacify" the region. Beyond Errachidia you are in flat desert land, Although not in sand dunes like the real Sahara. We stopped for the night at Palais du Desert, the only clinker of a hotel the whole trip.
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