So far we had been moving steadily east, from
Rabat to Meknes to Fez. Today we changed
directions, however, and turned south with the intention of crossing the Middle
Atlas mountain chain. At some point the Atlas Mountains formed a continuum with
the Appalachian Mountains of North America to the south, and the of Great Britain-Greenland-Scandinavia
to the north. This mountain chain formed as Laurasia and Gondwanaland sutured
together to form the supercontinent of Pangea in the late Permian, only to be
segmented during the Mesozoic, as the current continents started to split
apart. This is one of the cornerstones of the plate tectonics theory, so I am
particularly happy to be able to see the Caledonian Mountains Atlas Mountains.
As we traversed the country I saw a few shops selling rocks and fossils, among which I recognized ammonites of good size. Unfortunately our guide had planned to stop at a rock shop tomorrow, so he didn’t call for a shopping stop for me.
As I said, we headed south from
and within an hour we were climbing the foothills of the Atlas, driving into a
cypress forest that was pleasantly cool compared with Fez. After a couple of hours we stopped in
the most beautiful Alpine village imaginable, Ifrane, where we stopped to have
a cup of coffee and to buy the makings of lunch. I took advantage of the break
to walk a bit through the city, which was refreshing and beautiful. The houses
look much like Swiss chalets, because the snowfall in winter requires steep
roofs. I also saw quite a few storks nesting on the chalet roofs, which
reinforced the similarity with European mountain villages. Once I got to the
coffee shop I found a street vendor waiting for me; my buddies had told him I
was in the market for fossils, and he had a nice little Bakelite box with a
neat collection of Moroccan fossils, which included a trilobite, a couple of
small ammonites, belemnites, sea urchins, and a fine collection of shark teeth.
He wanted US $25 for it, but I didn’t want to carry so I kept saying “no
thanks”. He kept dropping the price to convince me, and I finally gave in when
he hit US $15. They are nice fossils, but how am I to get them home?
Continuing south we went over the Middle Atlas by a 1,000 m high pass, and dropped slightly into the high plateau that separates the Middle and High Atlas. The cedar forest is gone, replaced by grasslands where nomadic Berbers tend to big flocks of sheep. They live in typical Berber tents, and are continuously in the move from the highlands in summer, to the coastal lowlands during the winter.