Egypt’s White Desert (Desert Week 2012)
Thursday, 12th July 2012 by Chris Hannigan
Perhaps one of the most surreal deserts in all the world, Egypt’s little known White Desert is home to some of the most photogenic and breathtaking landscapes on the planet. Located 45 km (28 mi) north of the town of Farafra (or 250 miles southwest of Cairo), this astounding natural wonder gives us a glimpse into the ancient watery past of northern Egypt, and offers those who choose to venture out into the desert a chance to have a truly magical experience.
The “White Desert” (or Sahara el Beyda as it is known locally) gets its name from the broad, white chalk fields that spread across the barren and rocky expanse of the eastern Sahara. In some places, the chalk completely covers the normal brown windswept sand resulting in a very snow-like landscape.
Throughout the desert, strange rock formations called inselbergs (from the German for ‘island mountain’) rise above the white surface of the ground. Many of these formations have bizarrely alien shapes and have descriptive names like “ice cream cone” and “tent”.
The unique inselbergs formed when soft soil of ancient plateaus began to break down and erode around harder rock that still stood underneath. Over time, water and wind erosion shaped them into magnificent rock formations that, along with the contrast created by the white desert floor, have attracted visitors from around the world.
Many of the formations have been compared to the shapes of other unlikely objects including mushrooms and chickens. Tours frequently take visitors through the desert’s “mushroom fields” allowing them to take photos and often stay overnight.
Visitors often describe the experience of staying overnight to that of staying in the arctic, and that’s not just the colour – the desert is known for getting pretty cold at night!
Photo courtesy nomo/michael hoefner under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
Today the desert is described as having two sections, the New Desert and the Old Desert, and most of it can only be accessed by four wheel drive vehicle – surely a worthwhile trip however, as the White Desert must surely be one of the world’s least known, but most beautiful natural wonders.