Piliny, the great Roman geographer, on seeing the Atlas peaks, described them as 'the most fabulous mountains in all of Africa'. Stretching southwards from the Mediterranean coast in an arc for a thousand miles, they are certainly the highest and most extensive range in North Africa. For the walker and mountaineer they offer an incredible variety of scenery, climate and terrain. Within the valleys one can observe a way of life that has changed little during the last thousand years; the word unique can be used with justification.
The Atlas Mountains form several ranges, The High Atlas runs roughly east-north-east from the Atlantic coast near Agadir as far as northern Algeria, where they diminish and curve eastwards, forming the Saharan Atlas, In the central High Atlas, another range strikes north-eastward. This is the Middle Atlas, the main watershed of the country. At the southern end of the High Atlas, a separate range runs parallel to the south and east. This is the Anti Atlas.
The first phase of Atlas development took place during the Carboniferous era, when marine Palaeozoic sediments were affected by sever pressure, resulting in intense folding and mountain building. This land was then eroded to a flat or gently undulating peneplain. The second phase of development resulted in further wearing down and the deposition of sediments. The third phase, beginning in the middle of the Tertiary period, started with renewed folding, resulting in the mountains as we know them today. The folding was accompanied by down-sinking, leading to the formation of basins such as the Souss, and by volcanic eruptions.
The Atlas are very sparsely populated with wildlife. Most likely to be encountered in the Barbary ground-squirrel; beyond that you may be fortunate and sight a Moulton, the large-horned sheep. Perhaps the most famous animal is the Barbary ape, which is still found in the middle Atlas and the northern slopes of Taska n'Zat, In many places there are still wild boar. Diminishing populations of gazelle, lynx, wildcat and striped hyena also exist. It is possible that leopards also still exist; Lions disappeared only in 1922. The pressures on land and resulting deforestation mean that the future for many of the animals species is uncertain