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Monday, November 11, 2013

Morocco -- Atlas Mountains

Map showing the location of the Atlas Mountains across North Africa (topographic and political)

Middle Atlas Mountains

The Middle Atlas is part of the Atlas mountain range lying in Morocco, a mountainous country with more than 100,000 km² or 15% of its landmass rising above 2,000 metres. The Middle Atlas is the northernmost of three Atlas Mountains chains that define a large plateaued basin extending eastward into Algeria. South of the Middle Atlas and separated by the Moulouya and Um Er-Rbiâ rivers, the High Atlas stretches for 700 km with a succession of peaks among which ten reach above 4,000 metres. North of the Middle Atlas and separated by the Sebou River, the Rif mountains are an extension of the Baetic System, which includes the Sierra Nevada in the south of Spain. The Barbary Ape is native to the Middle Atlas, and chief populations occur only in restricted range in parts of Morocco and Algeria.

Snow persists in the Middle Atlas in the winter and can appear starting at 600 m above sea level. Its attractive rock coast is not very hospitable. The basin of the Sebou is not only the primary transportation route between Atlantic Morocco and Mediterranean Morocco but is an area, watered by the Middle Atlas range, that constitutes the principal agricultural region of the country.

The Middle Atlas provinces cover 23,000 km² in area, and comprise 18% of the total mountainous surface of Morocco. The provinces of Khènifra, Ifrane, Boulmane, Sefrou, Khemisset, El Hajeb as well as parts of the provinces of Taza and of Beni Mellal lie in the Middle Atlas region. Béni Mellal on the Oum Er-Rbia River is designated "the doorway to the Middle Atlas."

The Middle Atlas is a solid mountainous mass of 350 km in length in the North-East of Morocco with a unique charm. Its biodiversity, both in fauna and flora, make Middle Atlas a significant tourist destination. The region is noted for occurrence of the endangered primate, Barbary Macaque, Macaca sylvanus; this monkey prehistorically had a much wider distribution throughout northern Morocco.[1] Wild boar and polecat are also found within the Middle Atlas Range.[2]

Its geo-morphologic structure is:

  • Primarily limestone.
  • Tabled rock in the west, running to elevations of 800 to 1,000 metres.
  • Folded rock toward the northeast and running to elevations exceeding 3000 m, with a highest point, the Jbel Bou Naceur at 3340 m.
  • Interspersed with volcanic plateaus.

Area of cedars of Khénifra
Over the mountain slopes, extensive forests of cedar spread, intersected by deep valleys. Bordered by the rich Plaine du Saïs and the cities of Fes, Meknes and Beni Mellal, the mountainous reaches of the Middle Atlas are the stronghold of Berber tribes, speaking Tamazight and living at very low population densities.

The Middle Atlas is crossed by one of the principal access roads to the south Marocain, connecting Fes with Tafilalet. Located at the northeast of Atlas. The Middle Atlas ends in the east at Tazekka National Park,[3] with a landscape replete with narrow canyons and caves. In the south of Sefrou, the forests of cedars, of Holm oak and of Cork Oak alternate with plates volcanoic stripped and small full of fish lakes. The jewel of the Middle Atlas is it Ifrane National Park, located in causse atlassic between Khenifra and Ifrane.

The Middle Atlas high points are Jbel Bou Naceur (3340 m), then Jbel Mouâsker (3277 m), in the North, and finally Jbel Bou Iblane (3172 m), which lies close to Immouzer Marmoucha.

High Atlas Mountains

Jbel Toubkal (13,671 ft) in Toubkal National Park
High Atlas, also called the Grand Atlas Mountains (Arabic: الاطلس الكبير‎ and French: Haut Atlas) is a mountain range in central Morocco in Northern Africa.

The High Atlas rises in the west at the Atlantic Ocean and stretches in an eastern direction to the Moroccan-Algerian border. At the Atlantic and to the southwest the range drops abruptly and makes an impressive transition to the coast and the Anti-Atlas range. To the north, in the direction of Marrakech, the range descends less abruptly.
The range includes Jbel Toubkal, which at 4,167 m is the highest in the range and lies in Toubkal National Park. The range serves as a weather system barrier in Morocco running east-west and separating the Sahara's climatic influences, which are particularly pronounced in the summer, from the more Mediterranean climate to the north, resulting in dramatic changes in temperature across the range. In the higher elevations in the range snow falls regularly, allowing winter sports. Snow lasts well into late spring in the High Atlas, mostly on the northern faces of the range.

A Kasbah in the Dades valley, High Atlas

The High Atlas forms the basins for a multiplicity of river systems. The majority of the year-round rivers flow to the north, providing the basis for the settlements there. A number of wadis and seasonal rivers terminate in the deserts to the south and plateaus to the east of the mountains.

Travel over the high mountain passes is worthwhile. At the foot of the High Atlas one finds Aït Benhaddou, a Kasbah or castle still in use.[1] Among the summits at 1600 m height lies the Kasbah of Telouet on the road to Marrakech.  The canyons and ravines of the Dadès and the Todra are also impressive.

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