Over the centuries the river Dades has sculpted the breathtaking Dades Canyon in the south of Morocco. There is a road that follows the river over 64 kilometres made up of hundreds of slopes and bends that transverse and hug the sinuous mountains.
If we take the National Route 10 that runs from Ouarzazate up to the feet of the Atlas mountain range, after 115 kilometres we arrive to the small town of Boumalane de Dades, at 1.600 metres of altitude, on the edge of the High Atlas. Behind, we leave towns such as Ait Ibriren, Tamellat, Ait Ouglif or Ait Aïssi. These towns enshrine the Berber tradition of the valley where Ksars and Kashbahs can aslo be found. Close to the hamlet of Ait Larbi we find the “Monkey Fingers”, a prominent geological curiosity of near vertical rocky outcrops right by the riverbed. These are also known as the “Fingers of God” or “Atlas’ Brain” and are made up of strata of red sandstone rising up to 200 metres high.
Gorges and vertical walls
A few kilometres later and the well known gorges of Dades start. From this point onwards the road moulds into frenzied twists to accommodate the breathtaking vertical walls carved by the river over the centuries. The river banks are green but as you go up in altitude the landscape turns more arid to give rise to the spectacular rock formations that shape the mountain range. Its height, cooler and more humid climate propitiates a different kind of vegetation than that which is usually found elsewhere in Morocco. (there are plenty of fruit trees, walnuts, birches and almond groves and practically no palm trees at all). Its natural and geological diversity which includes karstic canyons, limestones, alluvial fans, basalts and sandstones, and its architectural quality also make it exceptional.
The road, despite being tarmacked up to the village of Msemrir, is not in the best of conditions and it is therefore highly advisable to drive slowly. There are hardly any railings to protect you from the several hundred meter drops and driving conditions in Morocco as a general rule aren’t the easiest in the world. Weather-wise the best time to visit the lower valleys is during the months of March, April and May, and the mountains from May to July.