Of Sinai's Mysteries: The Colored Canyon
by Lara Iskander
Sinai holds many historic and natural assets making it unique and distinct from the rest of Egyptian deserts. Its varied and beautiful mountain forms and stretches of sand, its importance as a land of miracles and holy places and its location, standing between two continents, are all elements that have dominated its history and often made it the scene of bitter fighting.
Sinais first settlers, who predated the Nile civilization, were nomads from the east. They worshiped a moon goddess called Sin, from where comes the name, the Land of Sin.
Historically, Bedouin tribes used to control the peninsula; a land about 380 km long and 210 km wide, and a surface area of about 61,000 sq km. Over the years, the numbers of Bedouin have clearly decreased but big numbers still live nowadays around El- Arish on the northern coast. However, they are still considered the original residents and guardians of ancient traditions.
In all Sinai there are approximately 80,000 Bedouins, from which perhaps 30% have found a tourist related occupation. On a desert safari, you will find no better way to cut across the vast stretches of sand and mountains and the harsh desert climate than when accompanied by a Bedouin guide. They know the lands and hideouts of the desert like no other.
Today, the outstanding natural beauty of the peninsula attracts big numbers of pilgrims, visitors and travelers from all over the world, where they go discover the mysteries and splendor of Sinai; desert safaris, diving along the eastern coast and exploring the world famous coral reefs of Ras Muhammad, bird watching, climbing Mount Sinai, watching amazing blends of golden and red colors during sunrise over the mountains while relaxing under the palm trees of a desert oasis, visiting St Catherine's monastery, Dahab and Nuweiba, or hiking through the Colored Canyon, one of the highlights and most popular locations in Sinai.
The Sinai Desert is probably one of the most attractive areas in the world as the dynamic interaction between rock and desert climate has created spectacular and varied desert sceneries. The landforms are diverse and dramatic, including vast sand dunes, massive granite peaks and deep gorges. When hiking through the rocky and mountainous desert, one can witness many fascinating types of rock when it comes to shape and color. There are green, red, yellow, purple and even blue rocks among many other shades.
Canyons originate by a process of long-time erosion from a plateau level, with a stream gradually carving out its valley. Cliffs and canyons' walls are often formed of resistant sandstones, granite or cut into limestone rocks.
Such dramatic landscapes and astonishing shapes are found in particular in the Colored Canyon, an inviting destination for the active and adventurous.
The level of difficulty in hiking through canyons varies from one canyon to another; luckily the Colored Canyon in one of the most beautiful and easiest to visit. If you have already been to the White Canyon and enjoyed it, you are bound to find this one even more fascinating and much easier to do as it does not involve as much climbing
The Canyon is located about 12 km north of Nuweiba, two hours from Sharm El Sheikh. It lies in a limestone mountain chain named El Tih, where, it is said, Moses was lost for 40 years. The area is only reached by 4x4 vehicles and you need to be accompanied by guides. The small oasis of Ain Furtaga is the beginning of the trek leading to this geological wonder of Sinai. Upon arrival to the entrance of the maze, you have a couple of hours walk ahead of you along with some light climbing.
Simple but essential precautions are required in order to make the most of your day trip: make sure you are wearing suitable shoes, have all the water supplies you need but the minimal baggage to carry as they become more of a burden afterwards.
As the name of the canyon suggests, the sandstone has been mineralized and stained in a variety of attractive ways transforming the cliffs to a spectacular multi-colored stone. The canyon itself is a water-eroded, narrow and twisting path formed over thousands of years into the rocks, surrounded by spectacular 60 meter cliffs with narrow slots with drops sometimes referred to as slot canyons - beautiful sculptured walls and cliffs made of sandstone with layers of amazing colors such as pink, purple, silver and gold.
The path is little more than a meter wide and in some places the surrounding cliffs reach 80 meters high.
The eroded rocky walls, fossilized shells and small phosphorous openings, seen only at a closer look, no doubt housed various sea creatures in the past when the canyon was once under sea level. Millions of years ago, Sinai was covered by the sea, and the Colored Canyon is one of the amazing legacies left by the ancient ocean upon the landscapes.
With every step you take through the canyon, you will become even more impressed with the imposing geological formations and art-like shapes and imbedded patterns displayed on the cliffs. Keep a close eye out for details and you will find that your imagination can easily fly and pick out human and animal faces on the sides of the walls.
As you follow the twists and turns of the maze, at one point the hike will involve sliding through a rather narrow hole in the rocks. Though at first it might seem a bit alarming, with the help of your guide, sliding down through the gorge will be a funny but definitely memorable experience.
From the summit, you can make out the distant oasis and Bedouin village at a distance. Admiring the scenery and landscapes from that height, the view as the sun lightens the rocks, is simply breathtaking making it seem a million miles away from everyday life.
The end of the canyon meets with a large sandy valley. Following this stimulating hike and in attempt to escape the baking heat of the desert, lounging around and snorkeling at the remarkable "Blue Hole" nearby would be the perfect choice for ending the day. The Blue Hole is a round hole in the reef table which drops down to more than 120 meters. The Blue Hole lies 10 km north of Dahab and is accessible via a 15 minutes off-road drive along the beach. On the other hand, relatively close Bedouin camps are also ideal spots for relaxing and having lunch in a traditional surrounding
Trekking through the Colored Canyon is a lot of fun and it is also a very popular day trip for tourists staying at the Red Sea resorts given its proximity. It is also easily accessed from any of the camps and resorts in Taba, Dahab or Nuweiba. The vast open spaces, ever changing scenery and extra-ordinary colors coupled with an abundance of clean, fresh air makes this a unique experience, which will definitely leave you with memorable impressions.
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Last Updated: June 9th, 2011