The White Desert
February 27, 2020
“Have I landed on the Moon?”
Just a few hours south of Cairo and 45km (28 mi) north of Farafra lies a desert that will make you feel like you’ve landed on an alien landscape. *
The White Desert, also known as Sahara el Beyda (sahara means desert), is an astonishing and shocking geologic experience.
Molded by centuries of ventifact erosion and sandstorms, these unique snow-white and cream colored calcium rock formations crop up across the landscape like great abstract statues.
The formations vary in size from massive rock mountains to small rounded mounds lying on the desert floor. Those that resemble food have been given names like “mushroom” and “ice-cream cone,” while others have inspired more grandiose designations such as “the Monolith” and “Inselberg.” Hershey’s Vanilla Kisses?
Arguably the most characteristic of these peculiar natural formations is the famed “chicken and tree” set, also called “chicken and mushroom,” or, better yet, “chicken and atomic bomb.” Only in The White Desert will you encounter such a bizarre and splendid natural museum of chalk rock.
The chalk rock is a seabed that was formed from the remains of microscopic sea creatures whose habitat was located here about 80 million years ago. After the disappearance of the sea, centuries of wind and rain carved today’s rocks into shapes that are determined by the composition and hardness of the rocks and their layer sequence. Occasionally one can find fossils such as clams or sea urchins
Many people opt to spend a night camping in the desert with Bedouin guides where they can observe the changing faces of chickens and mushrooms and monoliths as the bright sun of the afternoon sinks into a shadowy dusk.
As the sun goes down, the calcium reflects the fuchsias and oranges of the sky. And while any night under the stars of the Western Desert is an experience not soon forgotten, the lucky few that catch a full moon will witness the desert giving off a ghostly, iridescent glow.
*Sources include Wikipedia and Atlas Obscura