Seas of sand
"The Sahara is by far the biggest
desert in the world. It stretches over 5000 kilometres
from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, and covers more
than a quarter of the continent of Africa. Its name comes
from an Arabic word for desert.
Some parts of the Sahara are made up of kilometre after kilometre of shifting
sand dunes. These huge areas of continuous sand are called
ergs, and in these areas many dunes are more than 200 metres
high. The world's highest dunes of sand are in the Algerian
part of the Sahara. They
are 465 metres high, which is
taller than the Empire State Building in New York.
Rocks and mountains
Only about a fifth of the Sahara is covered with sand. Some of the desert is
made up of flat stony plains called regs. At its lowest
point, the desert is 132 metres below sea level. But most
of the Sahara is made up of rocky uplands called hammadas,
and there are many high mountains. At the Sahara's highest
point in Chad, the Tibesti Mountains rise to 3415 metres.
These mountainous regions have slightly more rain than
other parts of the desert, and there is sometimes snow
on the peaks.
Wandering the desert
The Sahara has about 90 large fertile areas, called oases, where people live
in villages and grow crops. There are also many smaller
oases that support one or two families each. Altogether,
fewer than 2 million people live in the Sahara. Many of
these are nomads, such as the Tuareg of the central uplands.
Nomadic people wander the desert, travelling from one oasis
to the next".
The Western Desert
"Two thirds of Egypt is covered by the Western Desert. This is part of the Great Sahara that stretches across
north Africa all the way from the Atlantic coast to the Nile Valley. There are a few mountains in this desert,
with Jebel Uweinat in the far southwest heing the highest point at 7,000 feet.
More impressive than the mountains are the great depressions that can drop several hundred feet below sea level.
The largest is the Qattara Depression, which covers 7,000 square miles. Qattara starts just south of the
Mediterranean coast and, at 440 feet helow sea level, is the lowest point on the African continent.
For the most part, the Western Desert is a flat sandy plateau. Close to the border is an area known as the
"Great Sea of Sand." Here you will find the type of sand dunes that form most people's idea of a true desert.
The shape and movement of the dunes of sand is controlled by the wind. Some dunes may move a few hundred feet a year,
while others are almost stationary.
Few spots in the world are as inhospitable as the heart of this great desert, where temperatures can rise as
high as 120°F. Moreover, at night, there is no cloud cover to retain the heat, so the temperature might drop to
The desert is not totally barren, and except where there are shifting dunes of sand, some forms of life will survive.
The desert has its own species of birds, snakes, scorpions, and lizards.
There are six major oases in the Western Desert. Here, the famous Desert Plant
palm trees and other crops grow, supporting a human
population. Today, top quality dates are packed in factories within the oases and sent by truck to Cairo.
The Eastern Desert
The Eastern Desert, starts at the Nile and
runs east to the coast. A mountain range
borders the Red Sea. Long ago, this was a fertile area, and it still has ancient valleys, called wadis
("wah-DEES"), that were once riverbeds. There are also impressive fossilized forests where the sand is littered
with millions of ancient trees, now turned to stone.
It was once thought that human habitation was limited to the coast, but two tribes have recently been
discovered living a nomadic life in the Eastern Desert. Recently the coast has become an important center for
the Egyptian oil industry. The coastal town of Hurghada is even being developed for tourism.
The Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai is a barren desert peninsula. Geographically, it is really more part of Asia than Africa.
It is bordered by three seas: the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, the Gulf of Suez to the west, and the Mediterranean
to the north. Since the building of the Suez Canal, the Sinai has been physically cut off from the rest of the country.
In ancient times, the Sinai was a wild and inhospitable desert area that formed a formidable barrier between Egypt and her Middle Eastern neighbors. The ancient Egyptians did little in the region except send the occasional
mining expedition in search of turquoise or other minerals.
In the north, the Sinai is a flat and sandy desert area. The south is far more mountainous, and Jebel Katherina
is the highest point in Egypt at 8,652 feet. Jebel Musa, or Mount Sinai, is another impressive peak and rises
to 7,497 feet.
The Bedouin people have always lived in the Sinai, traditionally as nomads, moving from oasis to oasis.
In ancient times they were fierce warriors and the Egyptians only entered this area under military protection.
Today, many of them have abandoned the nomadic way of life, and instead make their living from a combination
of date farming and raising livestock".
Extract frpm “The World’s Top Ten Deserts”, Written by Neil Morris. London: Belitha
Press Limited, 1996.
Extract from “Cultures Of The World Egypt”, Written by Robert Pateman. New York: Marshall Cavendish,