It was expected to be mesmerized by the greatness of the greatest desert on earth, but we also fell in love with the numerous minute wonders scattered everywhere! And I am dedicating an entire blog to the stones & pebbles of Sahara. Let’s explore the ‘rock’ing Sahara day by day.
According to the schedule of our 3N/4D Sahara trip, at first we were taken to Magic Lake. Before arriving there, we stopped several times to take photographs of the lake from distant views and during one of those photo-breaks we suddenly found some flat disc-shaped pebbles diameters ranging from 0.5 cm to 2 cm. It seemed like someone had cut them in this way.
We were curious about those strange pebbles but did not think of asking Khaled, our guide and proceeded towards our destination. After Magic Lake, our next stop was Wadi Al Hitan. There was a museum, where we were excited to find those same pebbles in display. From the label, we came to know that these pebbles are called NUMMULITES. These are actually fossils characterized by their numerous coils which are subdivided into tiny chambers. They are the shells of single celled marine organisms. They were common in 48 to 37 million years ago! We were awestruck! Single celled marine organisms! Is that so! That means Protozoa! Protozoa with a shell! All we knew about Protozoa still then were they are microscopic mono-celled creature! But is it possible for a microscopic creature having such a big shell! It was hard to believe what was written there, but later checked Wikipedia and found the same information. We picked them up, held them in our palm! How fortunate we were! Nummulites are linked with different layers of Egyptian history. Ancient Egyptians used them as coins. In fact the Latin word nummulite means ‘small coin’. The pyramids were constructed using limestone that contained Nummulite.
Nummulites emphasized our enthusiasm and we started noticing each small thing lied on the ground. From that museum we came to know about the birth of Sahara. There was a big sea called Tethys. Some 39 million years ago, it started to get dried gradually up resulting a great desert that is today’s Sahara. This Wadi Al Hitan or ‘Whale Valley’ is special as here the fossils of big marine creatures like prehistoric whales, sharks, sea-cows, mangroves had been discovered and kept open as they were found. Therefore, we considered the possibilities of getting the fossils of small marine creatures too. So we kept our eyes on ground and got rewarded by the finding of fossilized shells, snails, coral, branches of plants and worms!!! Hurrah!
While taking lunch in Wadi Al Hitan, Khaled told that there is a valley where thousands of stones resembling watermelon are scattered everywhere. It is a bit off route. “Though it is not in your schedule, but if you are interested, I can take you there.” – Khaled’s proposal was then & there granted with full of excitement. And what we got to see was mind-blowing!
I am not a geologist, so I cannot explain anything about the reason behind this strange occurrence. Khaled said it is the result of a big meteor fall in many years ago, though I did not get the connection between meteor fall and these round shapes. Whatever be the reason, those white watermelons look beautiful under the setting sun.
That night we stayed at Khaled’s home in Al Bawiti, the main center of Bahariya Oasis. After dinner, Khaled opened his Pandora’s Box. It was full with peculiarly shaped stones and pebbles, fossils of marine creatures, pieces of silica, crystals, flower-shaped pieces of meteor, even cutting tools used by the people from Stone Age – all collected from Sahara! Still then, we used to think that these types of amazing collection could only be seen in the closed glass boxes of the museum. Here, we can touch them, observe them minutely by taking them in our palm and right now, we are sitting beside that strange man, who has collected all these! Khaled was smiling at us. “Even you can find them en route.” – He said. “Not all of them, but most of them.” There are places where these things are common to see. This time, he did not ask whether we are interested to go there or not. Our glittering eyes were enough for him to understand our pulse.
The morning sun helped us to explore Khaled’s garden, decorated by different types of stones collected from Sahara. In some parts he used those white watermelon shaped stones for boundary. And there was a wall fully built with stones of Sahara! Crazy man!
The desert camping safari started with an oasis visit, followed by a visit to the Black Desert area. Behind the black desert we were taken to another valley full of watermelon-like stones. Though neither they were white like yesterday’s ones, nor all of them were of almost same-sized! And they were also less in numbers. But this Watermelon Valley is unique for having diverse types of stones and pebbles scattered everywhere. It was like an open air museum. Everywhere there was some special type of pebbles like whom we had seen nothing before, rather imagined before! Probably this is an example of ‘Desert Pavement’ or ‘Reg'(in Western Sahara), because according to Wikipedia, Desert Pavement is a “desert surface covered with closely packed, interlocking angular or rounded rock fragments of pebble and cobble size.” There is no point of describing them by words. Therefore, let’s have a look on them.
Unique Formations of the Stones
After spending a wonderful night under the starry sky and amidst the great sand dunes of Sahara, we started our venture towards White Desert National Park. On the way, we stopped at Agapat Valley to explore that region. Agapat is a place where white Mushroom Rocks are found emerging from sand-dunes. Even after being in a surreal landscape our eyes were simultaneously seeking for stones & pebbles. Let’s see what we found there.
While we were exploring Agapat Valley by our own, our stone-man Khaled was also in search of new varieties of stones. Suddenly he came to us, closing his fist and said “Guess what I found?” No clue! He opened his hand ….and and… we saw a small shark tooth! We took it in our hand! Tethys Sea had been started to change his marine feature to brackish water around 39 million years ago! That means this shark was alive here on or before that time. It had been waiting for us! For 39 million years…. To be touched by us, held by two representatives of an insignificant species of earth, the species which had landed just 0.2 million years before present!
Before entering our most desired White Desert Area, Khaled took us to show his secret museum. He himself built an open air museum with his collection in the desert! What we saw in his home, was just glimpses of his treasures. He kept his major collection here! Under the open sky! He is sure that nobody could steal his treasures, as nobody knows how to reach this place! Nobody knows ‘his’ desert better than him. See how Khaled’s museum looks like.
Khaled was showing us his stuffs, better to say his ‘loves’ by immense passion, taking one after one out from that heap of sand. I have never seen such a happy and proud man! Just like us, he is not a geologist. He does not how those stones had been formed, but he knows what to be mesmerized for, what to admire and what to adore!
The greatest tiny marvels of Sahara were yet to explore. On that night, when we were staying with Khaled’s family, we were introduced to some flower-shaped dark brownish stones! Nobody can guess they are naturally cut in this manner. Khaled told us they are actually meteorites fallen on Sahara. A particular area of the desert, where this meteor shower occurred is full with these flower stones. Khaled assured us to take us there. But for three consecutive days, being continuously surprised by one after another amazing experiences in Sahara, our brain got overloaded and the flower stones had gone out of mind. But in Khaled’s open air museum we saw numbers of them! Even after this, we hardly believed that we could see them, those extra-ordinarily extra-terrestrial materials in large numbers! How could one have so many unimaginable experiences in one single trip! But again, everything went far beyond our expectations & imaginations! See what we had explored that afternoon!
All the black dots on that picture are flower stones scattered there and they are so many in numbers that Khaled had even written his name with them. See the closer view of the stone! So neatly cut! Like a perfect rose! Not all of them are like flowers! They were of cylindrical, mushroom-shaped, hammer-shaped, and bowl-shaped and so on. But their surfaces look alike. We took some of them to our campsite and captured their photographs at night.
Usually these meteorites are heavier than stone, weigh like metals, but not actually metals! We got some broken meteorites and found how their inside looks like.
There we found a fossilized shell, dark brown in color. According to Khaled, its color had been changed for its physical contact with meteorite!
It was a full moon night and the White Desert looked like somewhere out of the world! And we were playing with some stones which came from out of the world, literally! We travel to see the beauty of our planet Earth, but here we are fortunate to get something beyond the Earth! I have never imagined something like that could happen in my life!
It was the last day of that lifetime trip. We had to leave Sahara and the treasures as well. So, just like Khaled, we made another open air museum beside our tent and kept our collection there. It was not so big, not so diverse like Khaled’s one. But still, it was ‘our’ museum!
The last stop was the Crystal Mountain Area, a mountain whose surface is covered by numerous crystals! Some of them got detached and fallen on the ground! We picked them up and held them high against the sun! It’s marvelous to see the sunlight refracting through them.
Every beautiful dream has an end! But what lasts ever is the impact. Every new experience recreates us! Sahara built us as better travelers who are now learnt not to overlook any part of the nature, irrespective of size!
If you are a Geologist, please help us by providing information about those stones we saw in Sahara and if you find anything incorrect in our write up, please let us know. Thanks in advance.
Reshmi & Saikat