More fossils: a bike-and-hike trip to the north edge of Siwa Oasis

 

Dramatic shapes in the fossil-rich hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis
Dramatic shapes in the fossil-rich hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis

On the way out to Taghagheen Island to watch the sunset with our friends Amal and Ahmed one evening, Alan noticed that there were tombs and interesting formations along the line of hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis. “It’s not really all that far from town,” he said to me. “We could bike out here and hike around these hills.”

That’s exactly what we did. Yesterday morning we equipped ourselves with roasted salted peanuts, dates and lots of water, then rented bikes at a place right next to the Shali. It was so much fun to get back on a bike, even though the main roads in Siwa Town are filled with potholes, stone, sandy patches and 11-year-olds driving three-wheelers (not to mention the hotshots of all ages on motorcycles!).

It took less than five minutes to leave the downtown area and relax into a peaceful, scenic ride. We turned left at the date factory and pedaled through quiet villages and palm groves for about 35 minutes, until we found a spot that looked just right for hiking, with what looked like a gentle sand slope leading up to a colorful cliff with square-cut tomb openings. We pushed our bikes along bund paths running through a date farm, and parked them next to a fence made of palm leaves.

View from  from a small farm to a hill full of fossils and tombs, at the north edge of Siwa Oasis.
Looking from the small farm to a hill full of fossils and tombs.

The farm where we parked was very pretty, though no one was there. I got the feeling that the person who owns it comes out to tend things perhaps once a week.

We set off up a valley towards the cliff and tombs, then started scrambling up the sandy slope. It wasn’t steep, but it wasn’t easy, either. My shoes quickly filled with sand, and it was the one-step-forward, two-steps-back pace for a while.

CliffScape

Eventually though, we got up onto the cliff, and began to explore the tombs. Of course, people in search of treasure had been there before, and cleared most of the tombs. We saw a few where people had tried to penetrate the inner chamber, but then abandoned the effort. I’m guessing that’s because these were the tombs of poor people, and all the opened tombs yielded nothing but bones.

 

We spent the rest of the day wandering in and among some amazing rock formations. Just like at Gebel el Dakrur, they are sculpted by wind and water, but in this part of the oasis, the rocks are even more spectacular.

Architectural1
Entering a dramatic canyon.
Architectural
This looks so architectural to me.
DramaticShape1
Sculpted by wind and water.
DramaticShape2
Momento mori.

We also found way, way more marine fossils here than at Gebel el Dakrur.

SeaBed
Just like finding shells on a beach.
FossilCollection
Loads and loads of marine fossils.
Anenome
A piece of fossilized sea anenome?
Beach
This one really makes me feel like I’m on the beach, not in a desert.
BumpyFossils
Not sure what this bumpy-surfaced fossil is, but we saw quite a few like this.

My favorite find was probably the shards of a layered, clear, glass-like substance. I don’t know if this is shellfish remains compressed to another state, or sand compressed into glass, or what. But it is completely fascinating and amazing to pick up chunks of a mica-like substance and see it flake into layers of transparent material.

GlassyStuffGlassyStuffAndGlassGlassSeeThru

Whenever we lifted our eyes from tiny details, there were spectacular views across the oasis, very different from those you see at Gebel el Dakrur – even though it was a really cloudy day.

SaltSeaBeyond
Looking southeast toward Gebel el Dakrur.
DramaticShapes5
Same direction, different location.

 

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