The desert shows you nothing; you must find everything.
Sahara: Tenere: Tanzerouft, الصحراء
The awesome Sahara is the largest desert on the planet earth,
with an estimated size of between seven and nine million square kilometres (9,000,000
sq km). Its shortest distance from north to south is about 1000 miles. To imagine
the scale of this gigantic size, the Sahara occupies a third of Africa and is
as large as the continent of Europe. It is made of a number of smaller deserts
including the Libyan desert in Libya and Egypt, the Central Sahara in Libya and
Algeria (including the Ahoggar Mountains, the Tibesti Mountains, the Air Mountains,
and Tenere), and the Western Sahara; stretching across the whole of North Africa,
from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Mediterranean to Chad and
the Sudan; with Tibesti's Emi Koussi being its highest peak (3,415 m/11,200 ft).
Courtesy of Nasa
The Sahara is not a permanent feature of the landscape, but is a continuously changing phenomenon that comes and goes just as ice ages do across time. The last visit was about 5000 years ago, when the Sahara began its current cycle after its lakes and rivers dried up into thin air. All it remained are its prehistoric engravings, paintings and rock petroglyphs of extinct life, and some of the lakes. (See Sahara Wildlife page for more on these periods). Contrary to conception, only a quarter of the Sahara is covered with sand and sand dunes, some of which are nearly 200 metres high. Occasionally, sand dust from the Sahara has been carried as far north as Germany and the United Kingdom, and as far west as the Americas. The rest of the Sahara is mainly:
1- North Saharan: (1,675,300 square km): the far northern part of the Sahara, just below the coasts of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco. A midway point between the Mediterranean climate and the Sahara proper.
2- Sahara Central: (4,639,900 square km): mainly sand dunes, ergs, hamadas and dry valleys, in Libya, Egypt, Chad, Algeria. Mainly dry, rare rain, scarce vegetation..
3- Atlantic Coastal: (39,000 square km): along the Atlantic coast, in the Western Sahara and Mauritania. Moisture from the Atlantic Ocean sustains a small community of plants.
4- West Saharan: (258,100 square km): Saharo-Mediterranean climate, in Tassili n Ajjer, Air in Niger, Dhar Adrar in Mauritanian, and Iforas Mountain in Mali and Algeria.
5- Saharan Halophytics: (54,000 square km): saline depressions sustain salt-adapted plants, in Swia (in Egypt), and in the western Libyan and southern Tunisian salt marshes and lakes.
6- Tanezrouft ('desert'): dry and totally bare desert region, along the borders of Mali, Niger and Algeria, just west of the Hoggar Mountains.
7- South Saharan: (1,101,700 square km): a narrow strip between the central Sahara and southern sahel savanah. Summer rain sustain some plants and grasses in Sudan, Chad, Mali, Algeria, Mauritania.
8- South-South-East Saharan: Tibesti and Uwaynat Mountains (82,200 square km): more rain and lower temperatures sustain a family of trees and bushes including acacias, palm trees, myrtles and Tamarix, in northern Chad, southern Libya (by the Sudanese border).
Temperature In The Sahara
Winters in the subtropical north can be very cold where temperatures can fall below freezing point, as opposed to the mild tropical south, where rain falls more during the summer than it does in the north. Similarly, temperatures are high during the day and low at night. Although in the summer the temperature can reach 50 degrees Celsius in the shade and in the winter can reach -9 (minus nine), the average year round temperature is about 30 degrees Celsius. Between the 27th of December and the 18th of January some area of the Sahara becomes covered with a thin white layer very similar to frost in Europe, which turns the surface white and hence the name: "The White Nights".
Wind In The Sahara
One of the main features of the wind in the Sahara is its ability to change
the surrounding landscape by shifting sand from one area to another; leading
to the formation of sand dunes on roads, where driving at night becomes very
dangerous. The worst time to visit the Sahara is between March and April largely
because of the wind: very windy almost every single day, especially near the
end of March and most of April. It is also common to see archaeological artifacts,
like flints, stone tools, pottery shreds and bones,
exposed by the wind and scattered
across the surface of the Sahara. These are part of Libya and the world's heritage
and history and therefore should be left where they are. Not doing so could lead
The Libyan Sahara
The Libyan Sahara can be further divided
into several smaller deserts or
regions. For convenience, Libya may be divided into three sections (from
top to bottom): the Western section
the top and all the way down to Acacus); the Middle
(from Surt and all the way down to Sarir
Tibesti); and the Eastern section
the Libyan desert, all the way to Kufra and down
to the border with Sudan.
The Western Section
Al-Hamada al-Hamra (the Red Plateau): a mixture of sand seas and rocky plains, immediately below the Western Mountain and all the way down to Awbari Sand Sea and Wadi Ash Shati. Often accessed via Daraj and Ghadames.
Idhan Ubari (or Awbari Sand Sea): a sand desert of magnificent sand dunes and desert lakes, starting from the Algerian border and extending east to Sabha. Bordered from the south by Hamadat Zigher (west) and Wadi al Hayat (the Valley of Life), where a strip of oases and settlements cuts through from Sabha to Awaynat near the Algerian border.
Ghat: immediately below Idhan Awbari: includes three mountains: Acacus, and Messak Mellet & Messak Settafet, separated by Wan Casa (a narrow strip of sand running along the Acacus mountain from south to north). It is often used to enter the Acacus Mountain either coming down from Serdeles (Awaynat) or from Wadi Metkhandoush via the Messak Settafet.
Idhan Murzuq (Murzuk Sand Sea): immediately west of the Messak Millet and all the way east to Jabal Ghunaymah.
The Middle Section
The Pre-Desert: this term is generally used to refer to the area before the desert proper, just below Misratha and immediately to the west of the Western Mountain, which includes sites like Ghirza.
Sahara Surt (Surt Desert):
this mini desert is located below the Gulf of Surt
(Syrtis) and between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica,
which includes Waddan Mountain and the Black Mountain
The Black Haruj Mountain: right at the centre of Libya, with a summit of 1200 meters (Qaraf as Sabah), and surrounded by a huge area of lava flow, which accounts for its name. Accessed from Zillah (in the north) via a track that cuts through the mountain all the way south to Tmassah and Waw al-Kabir.
Sarir Tibesti: from Waw al Kabir one can turn west and enter Sarir as-Sabah and then Bin Ghunaymah mountain (the site of several Garamantean and Stone Age discoveries); or continue south towards Sarir Tibesti (which extends a bit into Chad) and south-west towards Waw an-Namus.
Rebiana Sand Sea: from Waw an-Namus one tracks east across the huge Ramlat Rabyanah (Rebiana Sand Sea) towards Tazirbo (in the Eastern Section).
The Eastern Section
Marmarica (al-Butnan): a small desert area starting immediately below the coast and between the Green Mountain and the Egyptian border in Cyrenaica, and extends all the way down to the great sand seas and Al Kufrah.
The Great Sand Sea & Calanscio Sand Sea: these great sand seas separate Cyrenaica from the Libyan desert proper in the south and along the Egyptian border; with various oases: Jaghbub (by the border), Awjilah, Jalu, and various oil fields.
As-Sah'ra' al-Libiyyah (the Libyan Sahara, also known as the Libyan Desert ): occupying much of south-east Libya and extends into Egypt, which includes: Rebiana Sand Sea (coming from Waw an-Namus), and then Zighan, Buzaymah, Rebiana and al-Jawf; from which one can either head north towards Jalu (via a tarmac road), or track south towards Jebel Uweinat.
Jabal al Uwaynat (Jebel Uweinat), close to the Egyptian border: also the site of prehistoric art.
The Languages Spoken in the Sahara
The main language spoken in the desert is Tamasheght or Tamazeght (Tamazight), the Berber language of the nomadic Tuareg people, who inhabited the Sahara from immemorial times. The Tuareg tribes are found in several countries including Libya, Chad, Niger, Mali, Algeria, Burkina Faso, northern Nigeria, Mauritania and the Western Sahara. Other none-Tuareg Berber-speaking areas include Siwa (in Egypt), Jalu and Awjilah (in Libya), and other villages in southern Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Other languages spoken in the Sahara include: Arabic (of Egypt, Libya, Mauritania and the Western Sahara), Beja (of the Red Sea), Nilo-Saharan (of the western Sudan including the Fur of Darfur, and the Tbawi of the Tebo of Libya), and the Saharan languages (of Niger and Chad including Kanuri, Tedaga and Dazaga). The Berber, Chadic and Arabic languages are members of the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family (originally the Hamito-Semitic Family), of North, Central and North-East Africa.
The Red Sahara Desert