Site # 1: Yelleg, Halal, and Maghara Mountains
The mountains of Yelleg (1087 m), Halal (892 m), and Maghara (750 m), are isolated highlands of the Tih (= Wildrness) Desert of North Sinaï. These mountains, besides being rather rich in plant dibversity, include many interesting elements not known from the Egyptian mainland, or even in other regions of Sinaï. The only conifer tree in Egypt, Juniperus phoenicia, is restricted to these three mountains. Boulos (1960) recorded 200 species of vascular plants from Maghara during one collection trip (22-28 April 1959). Among his collections many were new records to the flora of Egypt, of which Rorippa integrifolia (Cruciferae) was described as new to science (hence endemic, and Rosularia lineata (Crassulaceae) was a new genus to the Egyptian flora, previously known only from Palestine and Syria. Danin (1969) described another new species (endemic), Origanum isthmicum, from Gebel Halal, and he states that the entire population of this new species amounts to 1000-2000 individuals, occurring within an area of no more than 10 sq. km, on the north-west flanks of the Gebel Halal. Among other species restricted to these isolated mountains, and not known from other regions in Egypt, are : Astomaea seselifolium, Ephedra foemina, and Rubia tenuifolia. These is still more to be discovered and a lot in need of conservation. The following is a list of these species:
Rare: Caralluma sinaica, Zosima absinthifolia, Ephedra foemina, Rubia tenuifolia, Leontice leontopetalum, Dianthus sinaicus, Echinops galalensis, Scorzonera judaica, Cynomorium coccineum, Pterocephalus brevis, Hippocrepis unisiliquosa subsp. unisiliquosa, Trigonella schlumbergeri, Asterolinon linum-stellatum, Verbascum sinaiticum, Solanum sinaicum, Allium artemisitorum, Muscari commutatum,
Vulnerable: Origanum isthmicum, Astomaea seselifolium, Juniperus phoenicia, Rosularia lineata, Acacia pachceras var. najdensis, Ceratonia siliqua, Euphorbia hierosolymitana, Astragalus amalecitanus, Polygala hohenackeriana, Verbascum fruticulosum, Allium desertorum, Androcymbium palaestinum, Bellevalia desertorum,
Endangered: Rorippa integrifolia, Pancratium parviflorum, Colchicum guessfeldtianum, Tulipa polychroma.
Above and beyond this rare assemblage of rare, vulnerable, and threatened species, a species of the legendary plant Sylphium grows in very small numbers south of Gebel Maghara. This Gebel revealed a coal mine in its lower strate, but its extraction proved too costly.
Site # 2: Gebel Dokhkhan
See Gebel Shayeb El-Banat
Site # 3: Gebel Elba Region
The Gebel Elba region is situated in the south-eastern corner of Egypt, and lies adjacent to the border between Egypt and the Sudan, and the Red Sea. It extends into the north-eastern corner of the Sudan. About 480,000 ha of this region has protection status on the Egyptian side since 1986, modified by a Prime Ministerial Decree in 1995, as Elba National Park. It comprises a series of basement complez mountains (gebels), some of which rise above 2000 masl (e.g., Gebel Asoteriba 2218 masl). The Gebel Elba massif faces along its broad front the north and northeast winds which bring moisture and cause orographic rain in winter. Average annual rainfall in the area is 50 mm/year. But orographic precipitation , drawn from moist north-easterly winds, can bring as much as 400 mm on Elba. This creates “mountainn oases”, or “mist oases” on the slopes of these mountains. The area is dissected by numerous wadis which drain this high region and where runoff is collected following orographic rains,thus supporting a rich and unique biodiversity of producers and consumers. The region comprises a variety of distinguished habitat-types:
·Red Sea coral reefs
·Mangrove growth (Avicennia and Rhizophora) in the shallow coastal water
·Low shore-line coastal dunes
·Littoral saltmarsh belts
·Coastal desert plain
·Coastal mountains and associated hills with representative mist oases.
Hundreds of plant and animal species have been recorded in the area (485angiosperms, 23 mammals, 22 reptiles and amphibians, and 40 breeding birds). Many of these do not occur elsewhere in Egypt, but rather represent the nothernmost extension of the biocoenoses of the Ethiopian Realm, while several are locally endemic. The area provides a habitat and refuge for many species threatened with extinction, such as the African wild ass, the addax antelope, the Tora red hartbeast, the dama gazelle, and the scimitar-horned oryx. The area also has a very important conservation value, and is the traditional home of several hundred nomadic Bisharin tribesmen, whose language and some of their traditions can be traced to the Ancient Egyptian language and traditions.
Site # 4: Gebel Oweinat Region
The Gebel Oweinat was first discovered in 1920 by the Egyptian explorer Ahmad Hassanein Pasha. It is described as the most formidable mountain in the generally flat and featureless Western Desert of Egypt. Situated roughly at the center of this hyperarid desert, it stands out like an island from the surrounding plain. Its height is sufficient to capture a little rain (in the order of 50 mm/year), from the summer monsoon clouds of the Sudano-Sahelian belt that may reach that far to the north. The last rainfall was seen in September 1998. Probably as much as 10 to 15 years may pass without a drop. Yet this little rain is sufficient to allow vegetation and some wildlife to survive.
Geologically the Mountain is composed of of two very different parts. The western part, lying entirely in Libya, is composed of a large granite ring complex (like the one of the St. Catherine mountain complex); about 25 km in diameter, being the eroded remnants of a large arachaic granite dome. The interior is less resistant to erosion, thus a large basin occupies the center of the ring, with three large wadis, Karkur Hamid, Karkur Idriss, and Karkur Ibrahim, draining the interior towards the west, all supporting scarce vegetation. As granite erodes, it forms huge boulders that are stacked upon each other like an emptied bag of potatoes. The southern half is less eroded, with a large crescent shaped plateau filling the interior of the ring, much dissected by shallow water courses. This plateau apparently acts as a large reservoir after rains, as two permanent springs, Ain Ghazal and Ain Doua, can be found at the southern foot of the Mountain. Since the base of the Mountain is well above the permanent aquifer, the source of the water can only be rainfall. However, they never went dry in living memory.
The eastern part of the Mountain area consists of a large block of Palaeozoic sandstone, restring upon metamorphosed Precambrian basement rocks, propped up against the granite western uplift. The sandstone slab forms a large elevated plateau, that is dissected into several large units. The massif to the south is the highest point of the Mountain (1932 masl), and another three large, slightly lower plateaus, lying to the north, surrounded by vertical cliffs. To the north the sandstone hills continue, much dissected for a further 10 km, to the north and to the east. To the south, the cliffs form a vast perpendicular wall dropping aqlmost 600 m to the foot of the Mountain. The high plateaus and the northern foothills are drained by a large complex wadi system, which merge into Karkur Talh. A lesser wadi, Karkur Murr, drains the eastern foothills to the south. Near the mouth of Karkur Murr there is a permanent rock pool, Ain El Brins, the Prince’s Spring, or Bir Murr.
There is a curious feature on the western tip of the easternmost of the large sandstone plateaus (named Hassanein Plateau by the 1968 Belgian expedition). It is a white circular patch, about 350 m in diameter, that strikingly stands out on satellite photos. During an ascent made in October 2002, the explorers could take a peep into this “white blob” at a shallow angle from a vantage point, but as they ascended higher up the main massif, it became hidden from view. From what could be seen, it is a sand filled depression or basin, with walls of sandstone that are sloping towards the inside, and drop almost perpendicularly on three sides to merge with the cliffs of the Plateau. It could be the remnant of an ancient impact crater. This theory awaits investigation.
Karkur Talh is the largest wadi of the Mountain. Its mouth, marked by two acacias (hence the name), visible for many kilometers, opens onto the broad sand plain flanking the Mountain on the north-east side. From the narrow mouth, choked with sand dunes, the wadi winds for some 25 kms towards the base of the sandstone plateau, forming the highest part of Gebel Oweinat. Except for a few kilometers at the beginning, most of it lies within Sudan (the border is marked). As one proceeds inwards, the thinly spaced vegetation becomes more dense, with Acacia forest, continuous tufts of Panicum grass, and Colocynthis, covering the wadi floor in the broad middle section.
In Prehistoric times, the wadis were densely populated, as attested by the hundreds of rock paintings and engravings that may be found in shelters along the sides of all the main wadis. More recently, Tibbu nomads inhabited the Mountain up till the arrival of the earliest explorers in the first half of the 20th century. By 1931, the Tibbu were gone, driven away by increasing aridity. Presently there is a Libyan border post at Ain Ghazal, and a small police post at Ain Doua. A heavily used desert track passes by along the western rim of the Mountain, linking Kufra with El-Fasher in western Sudan.
Site # 5: The Gilf El-Kebir Plateau
The Egyptian explorer Prince Kamal el-Din Hussein discovered the Gilf Kebir Plateau in 1926. He mapped its eastern cliffs, leaving others to complete the exploration. In the early 1930’s, the British Patrick Clayton sketched the western edge. In the same time, the famous Hungarian desert explorer Count Laszlo de Almasy, chief character of the film “The English Patient”, winner of the 1996 Oscar for best picture, was leading his exploits atop the Plateau, discovering several vegetated canyons he professed as Zarzora, the Lost Oasis. In 1978, a group of NASA scientists studies the area and reported a landscape similarity between it and that of Mars. In 1993, Theodore Monod visited the Plateau and reconfirmed its scientific significance as one of the driest regions of the Earth. The Martian Gilf El-Kebir has attracted scientists, but due to its remoteness, ans several other factors, it has not yet been fully explored. The Gilf El-Kebir Plateau is thus an extensive virgin Saharan area, first discovered in 1925 in the far southern corner of Egypt. It is a high plateau of Nubia sandstone standing from 200 to 300 m above the surrounding desert plain. This Plateau has vertical escarpments on all sides and is dissected by numerous canyon-like dry wadis, but its top is flat, except for a few basalt flows. It is covered with a thick red soil, indicating heavy rainfall in older times. Occurrence of Early Palaeolithic and Neolithic aretfacts has been reported in one of its wadis, Wadi Bakht.