Gorges du Ziz and Tafilalet
The N13 north to the Gorges of the Ziz is a superb route. For the first 20 km the road follows the Oued Ziz. Caves can be seen cut into the cliff, no doubt used to store crops. On your right is the western shore of the
Barrage de Hassan Addakhil, completed in 1971. The dam supplies water to Er Rachidia and the region's oases. It also limits the potentially destructive flash flooding of the Oued Ziz. Migrating birds stop over on the lake, too. If you travel along this route in the evening, the sun accentuates the landforms, highlighting bands of hard rock with screes between. Then you come to the Gorges of the Ziz, a spectacular ride in a narrow defile 2 km in length.
Meski, lying to the west of the Erfoud road about 18 km east of Er Rachidia, is the first halt, famed for its
Source Bleu. Developed by the Foreign Legion, Meski has a springwater pool surrounded by palms, and a popular camp site, the Camping de la Source Bleu. The
Ksar of Meskiis around 500 years old and the ruins make an attractive silhouette.
Nearby is one of the most spectacular views in Morocco, the huge oasis-canyon of the Oued Ziz. There is a track, marked by a small cairn, which runs to the edge of the gorge. The view is magnificent - and there will be others there admiring the scenery too.Along the Ziz Canyon
After the viewpoints, the road soon drops down into the valley, some 20 km long, where a succession of
ksarhouse the farming people who make their living from the area. The southern stretches of the Ziz valley, known as the Tafilalet, are particularly fertile. Historically, the region was of considerable importance, due in part to its location on the trans-Saharan trade routes. In the eighth and ninth centuries the region was a separate kingdom, and became known as a centre of religious unorthodoxy - of the Kharijite Berber heresy and later of Shi'ism. The ruling Alaouite Dynasty originated in Rissani. From 1916 to 1931 French control of the region was challenged and effectively thwarted by local forces. Many of the settlements of the valley were destroyed in a flood in 1965. Today the region produces figs, olives and dates, but is noted especially for its tamarisk trees. (Dried tamarisk fruit is used in the leather industry for its tannin, essential to the curing process.)
At 28 km from Er Rachidia, the road drops to the valley floor along a road descending down the cliff face.
Zoualais the first settlement. You could take time to explore the oasis here. Above are soaring crags, below are palms and the water, a fine dual environment for birds, the green contrasting with the rock faces. Further on, the large settlement, strung out along the road, is
Aoufouss, about 45 km from Rachidia. Red-washed concrete houses line the road, the old pisé dwellings are clearly visible further back. For a break, try the Café Saada, where you can sit under trees on the opposite side of road. The road then rises out of the canyon floor onto an arid plain for the final approach to Erfoud.
Borj Yerdi, 14 km north of Erfoud, you will see a small geyser to the west of the road. Unfortunately, the water, red and iron-rich, is unsuitable for agriculture. The first small dunes come into view here and if driving watch out for sand on the road, despite the tiny fences of palm fronds put up to control the shifting dunes.
North of Erfoud, on the eastern side of the road is the
Ma'adid. Here it is said the streets are so narrow and the arrangement so complicated that only locals can find their way in and, more importantly, out. Take a guide if you visit. There will be crowds of excitable children, eager, as usual for bonbons and stylos.