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Mindat, Morocco and Moi -November 2012

Last Updated: 23rd Dec 2012

By Timothy Greenland

I arrived at Marrakech airport about 9H30 AM on the 31 October after getting up at 4H 30 to get a taxi to Lyon St Exupèry airport for a disgustingly early start! The duty-free shops were open, so I was able to get the couple of bottles of vodka (Zubrowka) for Tomasz, as requested. I also was just able to get a bite of breakfast before being called to board the plane. An uneventful flight across France and the Pyrenees, then down Spain and across the Mediterranean took us to Marrakech. A nice clean international airport awaited us, with straightforward immigration formalities, and a not-too-long wait for hold baggage. My big red rucksack appeared and I went through the exit doors to find a driver with a Mindat identification waiting for arrivals. After a short time I was joined by Pietro Merlo and Luca Esposito from Italy who had arrived on a flight about the same time. I changed 100 Euros into Dirhams (Dirahim, for the purists) at an exchange rate of just slightly over 10 Dirhams for 1 Euro. We then drove a short way into the town centre (Medina) to the Islan hotel, where several people had already arrived. I got the conference bag of documents – and an attractive ball-point pen and gave Tomasz the vodka… Here I learnt that I would be staying at that hotel and that my room-mate would be OT Ljøstsad from Norway. I was lucky on both counts – the ‘other’ hotel (Foucauld) turned out to be much less attractive, and OT was a pleasant and easy companion. He didn’t even complain about my snoring! I remained at the hotel while people arrived and met a lot of participants; meanwhile the weather decided to play a trick on us and set in to rain solidly! Unlike a good number of people, I did not go to explore the town in a downpour and profited from a lazy day in preparation for the efforts to come. At the evening meal on the hotel roof terrace, they had rigged awnings to protect the tables from the wet, but some found its way through nonetheless… As for all our meals to come, we had a varied buffer of local dishes to chose from and make up a plateful to taste. There was beer and red and white wine for all who wanted some. Entertainment consisted of local musicians and performers – including snake and scorpion charmers, and a gentleman with a monkey who performed many tricks – including repeatedly sitting on Jolyon’s head. The monkey seemed to enjoy himself – perhaps more than Jolyon... We went to bed quite early to be ready for a trip to the Sidi Rahal Triassic basalts in the morning. Even the middle-of –the night prayer calls from the Koutoubia mosque just over the road from us (Huge, but not open to visits – dates back to the 12th century)
Minartet of Koutoubia mosque - the rain has slackened off a bit, but the roads are still wet

1/11/2012 To Sidi Rahal. My badge told me to be on Bus No. 8. A smaller one than the others with as companions Michael Long (English ex-pat, living near Malaga, Spain), Kevin Downey and his companion Hilda Allach (USA – she from Colombia originally), Anna Stanzel and Karin Pongratz from Austria, and Knut Edvard Larsen from Norway. Our bus leader was Gerhardt Brandstetter; another Austrian. (I think I have ‘zapped’ one or two!!! – old neurons). We all embarked OK for a couple of hours drive to the Sidi Rahal locality. Once we left the main roads, the driving became more difficult and slower, because yesterday’s rain had swelled the oueds (wadis – usually-dry river beds) and rolled large boulders downstream in many cases, with considerable damage to the road surfaces… We arrived at the locality which is a considerable pile of rubble from people seeking specimens to sell – there is no commercial quarry there. Once the busses were parked everyone grabbed backpacks and hammers and dispersed across a wide landscape – dotted with the occasional hopeful seller of specimens – many of which had been ‘enhanced’ with spray paint of some other colouring material, with the most gaudy results!

Sidi Rahal landscape - with Mindaters

"Organ pipe" structures at outcrop on top of hill.

Geode in situ in the Triassic basalt

Chacedony/jasper fillings in the basalt

I took a very few representative bits for the record, and we all drove back to the Sidi Rahal village where local dealers had cleared space in huge heaps of geodes and concretions of all sizes and colours (mostly natural!) to set up tables with piles of local bread, salt, dates, nuts, vegetables and whatever for us to eat. Much mint tea flowed, and was more to my taste than the Algerian variety I knew – less sweet and a great flavour. I saw nothing I wanted to buy although several people made purchases, including some amusing faked galena geodes – entirely made from baked pottery and cleavage fragments of galena. Interesting and rather amusing, but not for me…

We then drove back to Marrakech and cleaned up to visit the Medina Souk with one guide per busload. We drew the ‘king’ of the lot - a right clown! He was great fun and very animated – and known to everyone in the souk – but I think a pinch of salt should be liberally applied to the stories he told us of the history of the place… We visited several shops and stands with him. I was very interested in a Berber pharmacy with a whole slew of herbal remedies for all the ills under the sun! I bought some massage oil for Martine’s neck and some anti rheumatism cream for her toes – and a sizeable pot of local saffron for a very reasonable price – what a scent!!! I also got a neck and shoulder massage for the princely sum of 20 dirhams… We then all converged on the Café de France on Jemaa el Fna square for mint tea and a wonderful panoramic view of the square from the rooftop terrace.

Jemaa-el-Fnaa square
seen from the 'Café de France terrace

Quite smoky
but no fire alert - just cooking; and very good too!

The next day (2/11/2012) we started out, not too early, in our buses to drive through the Atlas Mountains towards Ouarzazate along roads that were mostly in good shape, but had suffered water damage where the intermittent streams beds crossed them. Our driver has a relaxed attitude to road markings (one solid white line = ‘there are two sides to this road’; two solid white lines = ‘It’s twice as much fun to overtake here’…) He did however slow down for sheep, donkeys etc. Pedestrians are remarkably confident, so there can’t be too many ‘incidents’ – I suppose… We soon got into the foothills where the countryside was still green, but with evidence of recent landslips, probably from the unusual rain.
Looking back down towards Marrakech shows fertile countryside

While the road climbed ever higher into more rugged mountain teritory

We made a stop at a roadside mineral stall – with a lot of dyed geodes etc, and some genuine specimens – nothing of interest to me, though except a forlorn puppy who was delighted to have some fuss and to play for a while.
Roadside stall with many 'painted' geodes

Soon the landscape became rather bleak with a few wooded valleys

But even at the top, there were roadside sellers of minerals and souvenirs - Meanwhile the weather was threatening more rain

The odd tree manages to survive

This waterfall is probably rarely seen - a result of yesterday's downpour

We stopped for a sandwich lunch at the Palace of Tishka at the Tizi’n Tichka pass

Florino Lazo at lunch

We then drove down to the cultivated foothills towards Ouarzazate – the Moroccan Hollywood, where films like Lawrence of Arabia were made.
Entry to Ouarzazate; the weather seems to be improving

We arrived at the Karam Palace hotel and found our luggage waiting for us, having arrived by a separate bus. The rooms were great… In the early evening, we visited the old citadel, the Taourit Kasbah, where the rulers of the city and their court resided.

We followed the guides into the Kasbah, where they told us about the history of this fortress/palace

Decorated façade of the fortress

The decoration of the ceilings, walls and window alcoves are all done in natural vegetable and mineral pigments, and are being carefully restored. Naturally, the reception rooms and throne room were the most spectacular, but the baths and salons were also very impressive.
Wall and ceiling decoration

Wall and ceiling decoration

Wall and ceiling decoration

The window alcoves were also decorated either with:

or without Mindaters

We emerged at nightfall and returned to the hotel for a good supper and a rest in preparation for tomorrow’s visit to Bou Azzer, no less.

Nightfall over the Kasbah courtyard

We started off bright and early on 3/11/2012 for a longish drive. The mountains showed a trace of snow on their summits – a foretaste of things to come, but we didn’t know that at the time…

A foretaste of snow on the peaks of the Atlas mountains

There was some morning mist in the valleys and spectacular peaks all around

Atlas mountain view

At a roadside stop there was an eroded landscape with the moon still out in the sky
On the other side of the road, a rocky mount was an irresistible attraction – not rich in specimens, though.

The forms taken by the mountain tops was quite fantastic, rising out of a scrub-land high plain

And they formed a dramatic backdrop to a short stop where we found a bar serving decent coffee… Very welcome.

There were beautiful flowering shrubs in the car park area

After a quick coffee we hastened back to the buses. Then, at last we approached Bou Azzer itself. The first signs of activity were the settling ponds where all the ore from the regional mines is trucked for treatment

Approaching Bou Azzer Centre
Approaching Bou Azzer Centre

Then, round a corner, we came to the mine itself – Number 3 shaft head-frame.

Bou Azzer #3 shaft
Bou Azzer #3 shaft
I don't think Jolyon was having an argument - just discussing photographic technique!

We could not collect here, so continued to the Aghbar mine dumps

Dumps at Aghbar mine

Personally, I was not very successful here, but I believe several people found nice specimens. Luckily I had bought a pretty little erythrite on spherocobaltite for a modest sum at the stop at Tizi’n Tichka pass on the way to Ouarzazate…

Erythrite on spherocobaltite “Bou Azzer" (probably Aghbar mine), Morocco – Purchased.

We then continued to Agoudal quarry – which is more of a rift work in my view. A deep cut along a cobaltian vein with piles of rock around and about… The shady side of the rift was most generally popular, but I did get some stuff from a sort of ‘bridge’ between the two deeper sides of the rift. Nothing spectacular – though one piece might perhaps have some cobaltaustinite and perhaps roselite there. Still needs further cleaning…
closeup of specimen found at Agoudal

Even if they are not great classical specimens (!), I found them myself – and that makes them great for me…
We continued to the Oumlil East quarry workings – fairly large dumps – some more erythrite and signs of Ni mineralisation, as in the photo below – annabergite, I suppose??? Probably not!! Uwe Kolitsch suggests conichalcite - a much more likely identity!

Possibly conichalcite; Oumlil East Quarry

We then drove to the Kasbah Meteorite hotel – where we had a rousing musical welcome!

I was one of those who slept in very comfortable Berber tents in the hotel forecourt.

Next morning (November 4, 2012) we boarded our buses after the usual breakfast, and drove to Alnif village where there is a veritable industry of preparing fossils for sale to tourists and to institutions for the better pieces. I found a little café for a nice cup of coffee or three while others searched for specimens. There were a few bits from nearby mineral localities, but nothing that tempted me. The most interesting pieces were blatant fakes of fossils. The most weird and wonderful body plans had been invented by some resourceful artisans, but there were also rather good fakes of authentic species (especially trilobites) and a good number of real specimens, usually identifiable as the least showy pieces. Some specialists among us were amused to find slabs with co-existing fossils in the same stratum which were separated by millions of years in time. I wouldn’t trust myself to be sure of any of the things I saw there; the workmen are really very skilful!

From the village we bussed along adequate roads, then across the reg (stony desert) to Jebel Issimour where there is a well-known exposure of trilobites and other stuff. Each driver took a different path across the flat rock-strewn desert to avoid driving in each-others’ dust.

The 'road' to Jebel Issimour

I wandered round and saw a few imprints, but I suspect Martine would demand divorce if I were to start bringing back fossils too! I believe some people found quite respectable specimens there. The productive horizon has been trenched out by local diggers around the contours of the hills there. This zone is marked by the concentration of Mindat members raking around in the debris shifted by the locals…

Fossil outcrop at Jebel Issimour

After this visit, we were given lunch by Ben Youssef Hamed in Mcissi (not a mistyping). Ben Youssef is a colleague of Tomasz Praszkier’s and helped to organise our trip. His family made us welcome at their house, and arranged a splendid lunch. There was a show of fossils, meteorites (looked genuine) and some of the Azurites and Malachites that are coming from a local mine, which we were unfortunately not able to visit…

We then drove to our next hotel at the foot of the Erg (sandy desert) Chebbi dunes.

Erg Chebbi dunes

The main hotel (Yassmina) was nice, but I and OT were among those who were to stay at the Palmiras y Dunas hotel about ½ mile off. We were lucky in that our room was in reasonable state – once I had found someone to come and unblock the shower drain – but others had to e moved because the recent unusual rain had seeped in and got into the bedding etc! This was finally sorted out, and we had a good dinner with traditional dances and singing at the Yassmina hotel. OT and I decided to walk back. There was no moon and the night was very dark under a glorious star-lit sky. The ‘road’ through the desert to our hotel was difficult to follow, and we wandered off it. Making for the lights from our destination, we took off cross country and suddenly I put one foot forward and there was nothing there. I had come across a pit dug for some purpose about a meter and a half deep in the soil! ; Luckily I just scraped my right elbow a bit and was able to scramble out, warn OT and find a safer route to our hotel! No problem…

Interestingly, there was a large lake of water next to the Yassmina hotel with trees sticking up out of it. We were told that it had appeared some 24 hours earlier after the heavy rains, and would be gone again in a couple of days… Sure enough, by the time we left it was a lot smaller…

The next morning (5 November 2012) we abandoned our buses for 4WD vehicles to visit a locality in the Taouz region. To avoid a long detour, we drove right across the desert (reg) to meet up with the road nearer to our destination. The desert is flat and smooth apart from small rocks littering the surface, and the drivers just blasted off straight for the destination – at up to 90+ KPH…

Leaving Erg Chebbi to visit Taouz

Eventually we reached the village where we could rejoin the main road and visited their oasis with extensive cultivation of palm trees and all sorts of vegetables. The irrigation channels were carefully operated despite the recent rain, which had brought out one unexpected inhabitant of the desert:
Oasis frog

We continued along the road to Taouz, then took to tracks again to visit the ‘vein 12’ locality at Tadaout. The vein cuts a stream bed and there are a number of small shafts with hand winches and a couple of adits. I visited one of the adits and saw some vanadinite in situ with lots of iron and manganese oxides. The stream bed contained many vanadinite fragments concentrated by the rain wash, and I explored the boulders upstream on the S side of the stream and found some greeny-brown microcrystalline coatings on goethite (yellow streak) that I hoped might be mottramite but an IR spectrum by Dr RSW Braithwaite of Manchester University shows it to be just goethite - pity.
Goethite Taouz

A bit lower on the stream bed to the south-west, I came across several pieces, probably from the same source, of quite decent vanadinite on goethite (perhaps with other Fe Mn oxides.
Vanadinite on goethite; Taouz (vein 12)

The photo width is about 5 cms. The biggest piece I collected measures some 10 x 7 x 7 cms and shows a lot of nice scattered individual vanadinites to perhaps 4mm. Not perhaps a top specimen, but nice to have found!

A curious visit was also made to some rock carvings, said to date to about 10,000 years ago. Perhaps – but I suspect the fish may be of later date…

Ancient Antelope carving
Fish carving - probably a recent 'addition'

That evening, when we got back after a fast and exciting drive through the reg to the Erg Chebbi we had just time for a quick wash-and-brush-up before meeting at the Hotel Yasmina, where a crowd of camels were waiting in the evening light to carry us up the dunes to watch the sunset from the summits.
Camel park

So, up we got and off we went;

Me on "Bob Marley"

No the gentleman to the right in the previous picture is not a veterinary surgeon checking my mount – poor camera angle! My camel was called “Bob Marley” according to his owner. In front of me was “Jimi Hendrix”, ridden by a charming Canadian lady, whose name I am ashamed to say, I have forgotten…

Off we rode into the sunset

Riding through the dunes

Finally we left the camels in a valley and climbed the dunes to watch the spectacle. If not on top of the world – at least on top of a dune!
I'm Happy!

The camels waited in the valley while we all watched the sun disappear behind the dunes

The view was well worth it – and our camel-minder helped me down the dune in the best possible way – he grabbed the blanket I was sitting on and ran downhill as fast as he could, giving me a wonderful sleigh-ride! (He did ask me first – I was the only one to accept!). After supper we returned to Palmiras y Dunas – without falling into a pit this time! Next morning (6 November 2012), we took our luggage to be transported to the next hotel – our home for the conference and the rest of the trips, and boarded our busses to travel through the High Atlas Mountains towards Midelt – with a stop on the way at Erfoud with its “Fossil Factories”. Most of the work we saw was genuine preparation of proper fossil specimens – but I suspect a fair bit of ‘manufacture’ goes on too… We got back on the busses and drove to Hameda quarry near Jorf. There are extensive old workings on a large fluorite vein in a valley with several shafts, some with windlasses still present, Fluorite fragments of various colours are abundant and there is some barite. I concentrated on a smaller working up the hill to the left facing the valley entrance that seemed more recent. A small quarry face led back to a underground working probably on a cross vein, but the recent rains had flooded the area and I did not feel like a swim…
Hameda quarry approach track

On the dumps, I found a representative fluorite specimen as a souvenir:
Fluorite on quartz, Hameda quarry

We then drove on through a wonderful landscape of the Atlas Mountains towards Midelt. There was clearly snow on the higher peaks and the roads had been damaged in places from flooding and landslips. After passing through the towns of Goulmina and then Rich without stopping, but with enough view to see the layout of the town centres (Medina) we continued to the small but rather attractive town of Midelt – in the middle of which a signpost indicated “ Mibladen”… A short way, perhaps 6 – 7 kilometres, out of town we arrived at a large hotel site on the roadway – the Taddart hotel where we were to stay for the rest of our time at the conference. OT and I had a nice large room on the 1st floor, and the hotel took laundry! At last, I could get my things washed and not worry if I had something to wear in the morning!!! In fact, my laundry was returned the same day – but it was not my clothes! I took it to reception and they indicated that another resident had been dissatisfied with my clothes, and the swap was made with no further problems. Midelt is quite high up in the foothills to the Atlas (1500+ metres – ca 5,000 feet) and the weather was not too warm. They had lit nice fires in big chimney-pieces in the dining room and reception area, and very welcome they were, too

Taddart Hotel dining room

Next morning (7 November 2012) the conference proper started after breakfast. First, Jolyon gave an overview of the past 12 years of Mindat, from its start on Christmas day 1993. A very interesting story, and an explanation for some of the little idiosyncrasies in its operation – to be dealt with by a re-formatting of the structure along the lines of the future Gemdat project that will be presented more fully tomorrow.

Two other talks were scheduled, the first by Tomasz Praszkier on the Mibladen localities and some other useful info on Moroccan minerals. The second was a wonderful (as you might expect) exposé of the localities around Bou Azzer given by Georges Favreau. He gave us a lot of useful info about the rarer species like lavendulan, parasymplesite picropharmacolite etc that can be encountered.

Before lunch we went to see the museum and shop attached to the hotel and run by Rachid Adnane, owner of the site and president (=mayor?) of Midelt. There were a good number of top-class specimens with prices to match, and a good stock of more ordinary ‘bits’. All looked genuine to me – but dearer than from road or mine –side dealers. I bought none for the moment. I didn’t like the lack of prices shown. One was supposed to assemble a flat of specimens and get an overall price for the lot at the end – no haggling seemed to occur…

We then got into the busses and drove to nearby Mibladen village where the local women’s association had prepared a lunch for us and arranged a show with about 20 local dealers displaying stuff. The lunch was in a big Berber type tent in the courtyard. At the entry we washed our hands from a huge beaten copper kettle, and then queued up for a succulent tajine and all the trimmings. They also gave us supper!

Dinner in Mibladen

After lunch I bought a decent anglesite from Toussit and one of the new barites from Nador (Sidi Lahcen mine). On the way home we could see that snow was beginning to coat the higher peaks and gathering clouds promised more…
Snow on the Atlas Mtts from our hotel room

The conference programme on the 8th Nov 2012 started with an interesting description of the massive sulphide ore deposits of Tsumeb by E. Tonkacheev – lots of thin section and electron microscope stuff. The mine furnished some 90 million tons of refined Cu, Pb and Zn over its lifetime… I must admit to preferring the secondary minerals, though! This was followed by a talk on the Langesundfjorden alkaline deposit in Norway. Lots of hyper-rare species, a bit like Mont St Hilaire, Many of them are not exactly showy – but fascinating compositions. After a coffee breal Carl Graeber talked about Mexican minerals with some useful and unusual information on Baja California localities. The morning was closed by Ray Hill who surprised us all with an account of minerals to be found in Jamaica. The island is about ¼ igneous rocks and ¾ limestones with extensive “Bauxite” deposits from leaching of Al from the soils since mid Miocene period. Agates were found on the beach and an extensive search led to the river valleys from which they had washed out. A local gentleman started a lapidary business polishing these stones and training others to cut and polish stones too… Agate, jasper and silicified bauxite constitute the suite…

After lunch, Jolyon presented the new Gemdat site. It has a rationalised structure unlike Mindat which “just grew”, and looks very efficient. Mindat will be re-modelled along these lines in the (near) future… The next talk was from Georges Favreau again – this time on the rare Mn minerals from Tachgagalt (Ouarzazate proc, Morocco). Some very nice micros – I wish we had been able to collect there! We then heard from Miro Ng of the different names for types of Chinese Jade, and the correspondence between the names and the mineralogical composition of the material, then, finally, Penny Williamson told us of her trials and tribulations setting up a series of mineral display cases in the University of Wollongong, Australia.

That ended the business for the day and there was time for private discussions and socialising before dinner on site.

The third and final Conference day was the 9th Nov 2012. We started with an impressive presentation by Georges Favreau on the Imiter silver mines, which have operated since the 8th century. No collecting is allowed there, and visitors to the mine are searched and controlled thoroughly before leaving… A new shaft has been recently put into operation (Igoudrane shaft) but has not yet produced much in the way of specimen material. This was followed by an account of the Cobalt silver mining district in Ontario Canada. Some personal stories of how the speaker, David Joyce had investigated many old claims in the district and of how some people had got rich from surface veins and lodes…

Olav Revheim then described the pegmatites of the Iveland area of Southern Norway which have provided excellent specimens of minerals like Gadolinite, Aeschynite(Y), Euxenite, polycrase etc. The morning session ended with an exciting presentation by Mark Mather who showed a re-mastered 8mm film of the claim worked by his father, and their adventures setting up hydraulic mining gear, and then bringing in a big bulldozer by raft to work the claim. A cabin was built where the family lived during the accessible months to work their claim, but it was only marginally successful. Eventually it was sold – and the richest area was found – right beneath the cabin! Many of the pieces of gold found there were well crystallised…

In the afternoon, John Magnasco (BAM – was at the Eldorado meeting) gave a talk on twinning that I found useful. I hope he will send me a copy sometime then Peter Lykberg gave a general overview of gem pegmatite occurrences and E Tonkacheev told us about mineral collecting in Russia – and the difficulties of obtaining a permit to take any specimens out of the country.

Finally, Tomasz Praszkier revealed the site of the next Mindat conference – Madagascar! It is planned for early summer 2014, and Tomasz gave us a long slideshow of the planned itinerary. Although it is a marvellous place to be sure, I do not plan to go. It sounds like pretty hard going in places, and I am not getting younger. Also, much of the opportunities will be to purchase material – mostly gem type – on the spot, and that is less interesting to me. I’m sure though, that it will be a wonderful experience for all those who do participate…

After the conference, I was tired out, and decided not to go on the surprise party trip in the evening, but to crawl into bed and rest. The others were driven in our busses to Mibladen, where a part of the ‘Les O’ mine had been cleaned up and transformed into a veritable palace for the party. There were lights placed in mineral-rich cavities in the walls, carpets on the floor and decorations galore. A fine time was had by all who described it to me later, but I was sound asleep!

Next morning (10 Dec 20142) I was rested, renewed and ready for the fray. Just as well, because we drove out to Mibladen for a collecting trip. Our first stop was at the mine called “Les O” – a row of big square openings in a low cliff face right under the road and running under the village. Inside the workings were a series of interconnected flats with pillars of rock holding up the roof – that we were warned not to touch! There were numerous vughs with a lot of cerussite on barite and galena and some vanadinite here and there. The cerussite tended to spall of as soon as one tried to detach a specimen from the quite hard and coherent country rock. I found a nice boulder fallen from the roof with decent cerussites and got to work on it – but was insistently hurried along to follow the others deeper into the mine – where I found nothing worthwhile!!! Oh well – I just took one small cerussite on galena as a souvenir and explored the cavities in the mine walls. I’m sure there was a fair bit of decent collectable stuff to be found, but all I saw required more time than was available to get anything out… From there, we went to Coud'a, near to the ACF shafts (as distinct from the ACF incline…). The ground was pocked by small one-man shafts going down a few – perhaps 10 – metres to the vanadinite-rich zone. Near several of the shafts there were small stone huts occupied by the miners while they were exploiting their ‘claim’. Many of them had tables or blankets on the ground with a selection of specimens for sale, some from other Moroccan localities.

Small shafts at Coud'a (Mibladen)

I chose to spend 200 Dirhams on a visit down one of the shafts to collect what I could. A couple of others came down with me, including Kevin Downey from our bus. The shaft was quite narrow – perhaps 70 cms circumference; with a well-fixed iron ladder on one wall. Slightly more difficult was the fact that the ladder started some 1.5 metres from the top, needing a bit of monkey work to get onto it in the first place. It then went down to about 6 metres below surface.
Small shafts at Coud'a (Mibladen)

The picture is a time exposure with the camera held into the shaft – the lines are not scratches, but dust motes swirling round and caught by the time exposure. The scale can be judged by the pair of boots belonging to someone still working away down there…

At the bottom of the shaft a pair of crawl-ways extended front and back along the vanadinite rich seam. I found a good spot about 10 metres along the one which the boots are protruding from, and tried in the cramped space to recover a bit or two. There were brilliant red vanadinites to about 8mm on barite in the roof, but the rock was hard and time was short. I did, however take off a nice crested barite, white at the sides and black (?Hollandite) in the middle constellated with a multitude of tiny brilliant vanadinites, mostly on the black part. I left the rest for the local miner – after all, it’s his livelihood and I had my 200 Dirhams’ worth in that piece – in my opinion anyway.
Vanadinite on baryte, Coud'a, Mibladen; 6 x 7 cms

From Coud'a we went a short way to Lidal, where wulfenite is more common. Again big square openings into a small cliff face, liberally equipped with Moroccan dealers around and within the mines. Wulfenite could be seen, mostly in the roof of the workings, as red platy crystals – mostly broken and quite difficult to get at. I tried at one moderately accessible place, but recovered nothing I wanted. A way above the mine entrances there were numerous dinosaur tracks in slabs of rock – interesting…

The owner of the shaft (whose card I have somewhere – but where???) sold me an incredible piece – and I mean that at face value. It purports to be a native wire silver on acanthite from Imiter. These are mostly fakes, and I would be surprised that it is real. Under the ‘scope, I can’t work out how it was done though. There are several too-bright tangles of wires which are almost certainly wrong (though I can find no glue) but on the matrix there are a number of short tarnished curls that might be OK… I paid him too much in reality – worth it for an interesting piece anyway, and the acanthite is worth that to me. If it were to be true – even if ‘enhanced’ it would be a bargain – if not, it goes into my "fakes" category; more investigation is called for. We drove back to the Hotel, tired but happy with a really good day of collecting. Another good supper was laid on, and bed was very welcome.

The next day (11 Dec 2012) dawned cold and rainy, but we bravely boarded the buses to go to the Aouli mining centre. The road passed through spectacular gorges with a swollen river thundering through them. We stopped on several occasions to take photos and to admire the scenery – for once no mineral sellers appeared! Perhaps the flurries of snow that were dusting the higher peaks dissuaded them… Before we started, the view from our room already showed that the snow had been falling on the hills, and encroaching on those that were only a little above the town of Midelt.

Snow encroachinng on Midelt
Snowy Atlas mountains

Sorry about the pylon – our room window was placed so that I couldn’t avoid it!

The mining centre at Aouli was huge in its heyday; however most of the specimens with the locality ‘Aouli’ are from more distant workings, such as Sidi Ayed, which we would visit later. As we drove towards the old centre, the road followed a winding river gorge and showed a lot of deterioration from the recent rains. All the verve and insouciance of our driver was needed at some of the crossings of the much-swollen river – but he got us there in the end!

The higher reaches of the river showed relatively little run-off as yet in the deeply eroded runnels, but more rain was on its way.
Moulouya river running strongly above Aouli

The main river was running quite strongly, but the blue sky gave us hope for the next steps.

Approaching Aouli

The road ran on towards the top of the gorge. The road bed had profited from extensive consolidation dating from when the mines were still operational, but that was beginning to show signs of deterioration – no-one much lives up here now that the employment opportunities are gone. We arrived at Aouli:

Abandoned buildings at the Aouli mining centre

Massive remains of the works running up both sides of the gorge dominate the scene. The housing for the mine managers was fitted with massive metal shutters on the doors and windows as a protection from flash floods. Though the river was rising, we were not at that point – yet!

OT Ljøstsad at Aouli

It was here that I managed to get a picture of my kindly room-mate – OT Ljøstsad!
No specimens were to be had at Aouli itself, so we got back into the busses and set off to climb out of the gorge past huge piles of crushed fines – there must have been an immense operation here once. At the top of the gorge we emerged onto a flat plateau that stretched in all directions, cut by some river gorges, and bounded by craggy peaks. The weather was still morose, but a rainbow promised hope,
Approaching Sidi Ayed

While the hills looked less optimistic
Approaching Sidi Ayed

We drove past a couple of mine workings with dismantled headgear and visible outcrops of the veins without stopping in increasingly blustery weather. When we finally arrived at the place known as Sidi Ayed, the wind was blowing strongly from the North-East, and clouds were thickening. We walked upslope towards a rift work and many minor piles of rock and small outcrops. The discarded rock was rich in malachite and azurite stains, crusts and sometimes crystals, often on platy barite. I saw little fluorite, and none worth the effort… As we examined the dumps a persistent rain developed and was blown horizontal by the wind. I got a few bits of the typical malachite/azurite – only small crystals, one with what looks like cerussite, and not easy to clean. Sidi Ayed clay seems perhaps even stickier than the Chessy variety! NB Cerussite is not listed from the locality – testing required… Anyway – after about an hour I was soaked, and sheltering downwind of a 2-foot high ledge. The wind was strong enough that that constituted a dry spot. The others too were getting disheartened and we converged on the mini-busses for shelter. Luckily, I had thought to bring some dry clothes, having my doubts about the weather… Once the scattering of hardy souls who had continued to search despite everything had been rounded up, we drove back the way we had come through squally rain. The river had risen a fair bit, but the road along the gorge was passable and we got back to Midelt safely. The fires in the hearths were very welcome…

Next morning the view from the window of our room showed that the snow line had descended almost to our level
More snow on the Atlas

And the higher peaks looked good enough to ski on!
More snow on the Atlas

We were scheduled to go to visit Kerrouchen today (12/11/2012), but the snow rendered the roads impracticable and the quarry was said to be under several feet of snow. We therefore stayed around the hotel fireplaces and socialised for the day. A lot of people were comparing and exchanging specimens, while others went into the town to do some shopping. Mike Long and I took another look at the hotel museum and shop and chose some pieces. I got a nice sharp group of garnet (andradite, I presume) and a neat little titanite on orthoclase from Imilchil, an Imiter acanthite (presumably on silver and a cobaltian calcite with nice semi-transparent nail-head crystals (a habit I had not got). The tray cost more than I would have paid a street seller for the same bits (if I had found them – the garnets were not often offered), but Mr Rachid Adnane deserved our custom for the effort he has put in to open such a museum and for the hospitality we enjoyed at his hotel.

Garnet Imilchil 4cm
Titanite and orthoclase, Imilchil 2.5cm
Garnet Imilchil 4cm
Titanite and orthoclase, Imilchil 2.5cm
Garnet Imilchil 4cm
Titanite and orthoclase, Imilchil 2.5cm
Acanthite Imiter 3cm
Cobaltoan calcite Bou Azzer5 x 4cm
Acanthite Imiter 3cm
Cobaltoan calcite Bou Azzer5 x 4cm
Acanthite Imiter 3cm
Cobaltoan calcite Bou Azzer5 x 4cm

That was the end of the trip properly speaking, and the evening meal was largely taken up with “goodbyes” to new friends and thanks to the organisers for their excellent planning.

13/11/2012. Now it only remained to drive back to Marrakech to catch a ‘plane next morning. The Islane hotel was booked, and we made up a busload and set off. The mountains still looked very snowy, but we were told the road was open, so set off by the more direct mountain route. Some others chose to drive a much longer way round avoiding the heights, but we took the risk.
The view from the hotel was still snowy, and we were soon onto snow-bordered roads, but the main roadway was clear and we climbed steadily up to the pass. The driver was careful, but we could make quite good time and it was interesting to see the countryside under a white blanket.
Road back to Marrakech from Midelt

Road back to Marrakech from Midelt

The snow grew deeper and decorated the trees
Road back to Marrakech from Midelt
Road back to Marrakech from Midelt

But the local transport did not seem to require snow tyres...
Road back to Marrakech from Midelt

Soon we reached the top and could see the snow-free plain below us leading on to Marrakech. Near this point there was a sharp reminder that the road had been treacherous shortly before. A big semi-articulated truck had left the road and was hanging right over a precipice that seemed to drop almost sheer to the plains! I couldn’t get a photo – and I wonder how the driver managed to escape from his cab, which was hanging over the void… I just hope he wasn’t still in there!
Road back to Marrakech from Midelt

In mid afternoon we were back at the Islane Hotel, and I arranged for a taxi to take me to the airport early next morning. After repacking for the air voyage, a group of us went back to the Jemaa-el-Fnaa square that we had visited on arrival to eat at one of the cookery tents – and very good it was, too.

Supper in Jemaa-el-Fnaa

Seated on the left: Mike Long, Anna Irene Stanzel, and Florino Lazlo adjusting his glasses. To the right: OT – my room companion for the trip and Karin Pongratz from Austria, like Anna.

We had a good meal, and then returned to the hotel so as to be ready for an early start next morning. I woke without problems, and my taxi was on time. The airport formalities were smooth, and I had time to get a decent breakfast before boarding. Luckily my backpack was within the weight limit, despite rocks… The flight was delayed at departure, but we caught up some time and were back in Lyon only about half-an-hour late. Martine was waiting for me, and it was a rather calmer driving experience as she brought me back to our flat – to start unpacking…

It was a wonderful trip, and a memory I shall treasure.

If any of you can add details or tell me if and where I made errors, please don't hesitate to contact me... And Mike, if you read this I can't find your e-mail, so if you could get in touch (by PM perhaps) I would be very grateful...

Happy Christmas and a mineralogical New Year to you all



Article has been viewed at least 8925 times.


Tim, thank you very much for great report!

Tomasz Praszkier
16th Dec 2012 6:25pm
Thanks so much Tim. It was great to meet and talk with you.

Rob Woodside
16th Dec 2012 7:55pm
Great report with great photos - you have been faster then me - thanx a lot!
By the way: i absolutly loved to have you in "my" bus!

Gerhard Brandstetter
16th Dec 2012 9:57pm
Wonderful report, Timothy. We are so happy that we met you and look forward one day to visiting Lyon.

Linda Smith
17th Dec 2012 1:09am
Tim, Good meeting you. Great report and pics! Thanks for posting this.

Frank Ruehlicke
17th Dec 2012 2:42am
Thank you all for your kind comments. At Tomek's suggestion I have changed the locality that I thought was "ACF shafts" to Coud'a and the "Ait Ahman" locality to Oumlil East Quarry. If anyone else has suggestions for changes, I'll be glad to hear them...

Timothy Greenland
17th Dec 2012 8:17am
Hi Tim

Great read and great pics. Wish I had made it over. Maybe next time.
Thanks for sharing


Keith Compton
17th Dec 2012 12:18pm
Thank you for the report! Very interesting.

Pavel Martynov
19th Dec 2012 10:06am
A+ on that report enabled me to re-live that most interesting Mindat excursion with most interesting and friendly people with your very thorough journal... providing information that I had missed during the trip ( probably because I was too busy wrapping my mineral finds:))
Happy holidays to you and yours
John Montgomery, Ontario, Canada

PS got a good early morning laugh at your "veterinarian shot"...haha

John Montgomery
20th Dec 2012 12:08pm
A very nice report, Timothy!!

OT. Ljøstad
21st Dec 2012 7:04am
Hello Timothy, I know a little MOROCCO, I would have been happy to participate, but my work does not allow it. This very beautiful story reminds me of good memories. Hope to meet again. Friendly.

Bonjour Timothy, je connais un peu le MAROC, j'aurais été heureux de participer mais mon travail ne me le permet pas. Ce trés beau reportage me rapelle de bon souvenirs. Au plaisir de se revoir. Amicalement.


21st Dec 2012 12:34pm
Hi Tim
Sure was nice to meet you and thanks for such a great report.
Makes one want to do it all over again.

Cheers ...Trevor

Trevor Kitto
22nd Dec 2012 7:27am
You are all very kind! My grateful thanks to one and all for your comments and your company on the trip. I have just received a message from Uwe Kolitsch pointing out that what I thought might be annabergite from Oumlil is much more probably conichalcite (or even perhaps bayldonite. I have altered the comments around the photo in consequence.

Happy Christmas!


Timothy Greenland
23rd Dec 2012 4:08pm
Very nice report Tim!!!

Luca Esposito
29th Jan 2013 8:20am
Hi Tim

Just finished processing my lot of Moroccan minerals.
Have to start on the photos.
Enjoyed seeing the trip through your eyes.
Great pictures. . .
Especially the oasis frog.

Thank you
Liz Fodi
Toronto Ontario

Liz Fodi
30th Jan 2013 12:56pm

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