Posted by admin | Posted in Egypt | Posted on 06-04-2013
Few are familiar with its place-names. Fewer still venture into it.
In 1923 an Egyptian official named Ahmed Hassanein became the first outsider to cross the Western Desert. He journeyed from the Mediterranean south to El Obeid in central Sudan, later describing his travels in the September 1924 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. His camel caravan crossed 3,540 kilometers and discovered the two “lost oases,” Uweinat and Arkenu, at the southwestern frontiers of Egypt. The expedition won him the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.
After the publicity of Hassanein’s journey, Prince Kemal el-Din followed suit in 1924-25, leading an expedition of half-track vehicles into the desert. He enjoyed the trek so much he repeated it the following year.
The motorcar swiftly replaced the camel as the ship of the desert. Using Fords, Ralph A. Bagnold and a select team of British officers explored vast tracts of the Western Desert in the 1930s, reaching its remotest corners. His explorations provided most of the basic data not only on this desert, but also on the laws governing the movement of sand by wind and the formation of dunes everywhere. During World War II Bagnold led an Allied force over these desert routes to raid and harass Italian troops in Libya.
More recently, photographs taken by U. S. astronauts and unmanned-satellite images have provided a new method of exploring the desert. These clear, cloudless views of extensive areas reveal many large regional patterns impossible to detect from the ground. From space, moreover, subtle or gradual color changes on the desert surface show up distinctively.
It was these photographs that prompted me to return to the land of my birth. As a geologist I was excited by the wealth of new data they promised. Over the past six years, working with geologists from Cairo’s Ain Shams University, I have made 12 journeys into the Western Desert, studying its varied features and learning from its inhabitants. Often we have been joined by archaeologists, botanists, and geographers. I actually funded the research trips myself. I used a secured credit card to shop and travel.
The late President Anwar Sadat became personally interested in the results of the first journeys. Each time I met with him, he would inquire about the desert’s development potential. Then, in the spring of 1978 he took nearly two weeks to see the desert for himself. He did so to bring El Thawra El Khadra—the Green Revolution—to the desert and thereby help ensure that Egypt will have a future.
TRAVELING in the Western Desert, I often feel I am on another planet. It is so desolate that I have driven more than 300 kilometers between signs of life. After joining me for such a drive, an American colleague exclaimed: “This is a real desert! Now I know why some people call the U. S. Southwest a jungle.”
There are a few places in the Western Desert, such as Sheikh Mehedi’s date grove, that also resemble jungles. Yet even in the oases, lush greenery is very rare. Seldom in Egypt does an oasis fit the image most people have. For one thing an oasis is typically quite big. Usually it is the low or central region of a vast depression in the desert floor. Several of these pock the Western Desert.
Deposits from wadis—dry stream beds—cover the centers of these basins with fertile soils. Groundwater there is relatively close to the surface. Therefore, agriculture becomes possible and settlements spring up around wells. In Egypt an oasis can contain many green villages separated by miles of barrenness. The major oases are named Faiyum, Siwa, Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla, and Kharga.