The Secret Circle of the Sahara
Hmmm. What is that? Could it be the eye of a hurricane? Jupiter's Great Red Spot turned blue? An ammonite? All acceptable guesses. The phenomenon sits in barren Northwest African terrain of the Mauritanian Sahara. A mystery that has intrigued scientists, geologists, astronomists and laypersons alike since its visual discovery by orbiting astronauts during the dawn of space travel. Le Guelb er Richat, or the Richat Structure.
Initially believed to be a crater caused by a meteoric impact, current consensus leans towards the explanation that the geological formation is a symmetrical uplift that has been laid bare by erosion. (For a more in depth explanation that employs even more over-your-head geological lexicon check in with the Geological Society of America.
The 50 km diameter structure, also referred to as the “Eye of Africa”, is located just a little off the beaten path in Northern Mauritania, not far from Ouadane or from the route of the endangered Dakar Rally. So if you're passing by the neighborhood on a Trans-Saharan trek with some nomads, keep your iPhone or GPS handy and have a look.
However, you may be just a tad disappointed when you get there. Like the Nazca Lines in Perú, the Richat Structure is best seen from above. Way above. But, if you are just kind of adventure seeking traveler to visit this part of Africa, chances are you will find beauty and satisfaction in the stunning Mars-like landscapes and otherworldly isolation that the Sahara grants its visitors.
Yet, there are some people who live in the area, scraping by as locals have for thousands of years. And there may, or may not be, a functioning hotel. The results of our research are inconclusive, but a hotel is referenced on a few websites. So let us know if you go. Not the type of place likely to pop up on Orbitz.
Images courtesy of Nasa, Google Maps and John Spooner