FAQ on desert camps

FAQ on desert camps

Where are the desert camps located?

The desert camps are located at Erg Chigaga dunes, at the heart of the Iriqui National Park (see below). The Erg Chigaga is the longest erg, ‘sand sea’, in Morocco at approx. 40 km length. Being 60 km from the nearest village/road (at Mhamid) makes it an opportune location for star-gazing and immersion in nature.

Camp Al Koutban, see image above, is ideally-placed for the tallest dune in the entire Erg (and some wildlife spotting), but all desert camps offer plenty of viewpoints from dunes closer to camp.

*NB: if you are taking the short 4 days tour between Marrakech and Fes, we offer alternative camping at Erg Chebbi dunes, to minimise driving hours. However, on the 5 days tour between Marrakech and Fes we offer desert camps at Erg Chigaga dunes.

How do we travel to the desert camps?

The Erg Chigaga dunes are approx. 20 hours round-trip from Marrakech (or on the Fes-Marrakech route, approx. 26 hours trip).
We arrange the stays at the desert camps as part of a complete package round-trip from Marrakech, or a through-trip between Marrakech and Fes. The packages include private driver-transport and hotel accommodation either side of the camping stay.

We can also arrange to collect you from Ouarzazate, or from the coast (Agadir, Taghazout, Essaouira).

Please look over our 4×4 tours page for various options with the desert camps. The most comfortable minimum round-trip is 4 days/3 nights (with 1 night camping). We recommend you spare an extra night to allow yourself a full day in the Sahara to really switch off.

Alternatively, we can put together a self-drive package for you, and arrange for a desert guide to join you in your vehicle at the village of Mhamid. Or you may finish a multi-day desert hike with a night in comfort at one of the desert camps.

What is the Iriqui National Park?

Iriqui National Park was established 30 years ago to protect the biodiversity, flora and fauna across 123,000 hectares of south-eastern Morocco, and in particular to preserve the temporary wetlands of Lake Iriqui, at the heart of the desert. The lake bed is normally a dried salt flat, which you will drive across.

Iriqui National Park is the largest park in Morocco (re: surface area) and is unique in that it is Saharan. The dunes of Erg Chigaga are simply a small part of the Park.

How big are the desert camps?

We offer desert camps with no more than 14 tents.
At the heart of each camp is the campfire, and the restaurant tent (*and bar at the luxury camp).
If you want to camp in privacy away from others, we recommend staying at the private nomadic camp (but with your own staff).

What should I pack/bring to the desert camps?

Please bring good sun protection, including lightweight long sleeves and hat – even in Winter, the sun remains very strong.
Please bring clothing you can layer easily as temperatures will fluctuate greatly day to night. You will certainly need a down/warm jacket, hat and warm sleepwear in the months from late November through to mid-February.
For footwear, trekking sandals (with socks) are ideal. Running shoes/trainers will be suitable for hard terrain, and note that sand/dust will get underneath your insoles.
Please bring a personal travel kit (e.g. immodium, antihistamine, painkiller, rehydration powders, support bandage, band-aids, antiseptic wipes, dressing, hand gel, eye drops).
Please protect cameras/phones/tablets from desert dust, even with a sealable plastic bag.
Lastly, please pack a book or two if you plan to disconnect.

What is there to do in the desert?

You can be as relaxed or as active as you like. Key times of day are sunrise/sunset, and meal times.

The stays at the desert camps include a camel trek before sunset (or walk if you don’t wish to ride). The round-hike (or camel trek) from Camp Al Koutban to the tallest dune in the Erg Chigaga is approx. 90 minutes.
Other hiking options are possible if you request a guide at time of booking. Without a guide, you can walk out from camp, but ensure to keep the camp in sight at all times.
The camps have shared sand-boards.
There are outdoor relaxation areas and hammocks.

Lastly, you may want to find a quiet vantage point and practise some yoga against the backdrop of the dunes.

Do you cater for a vegetarian/gluten-free/vegan diet at the desert camps?

Dietary requirements are catered for at the desert camps. Please mention your dietary restrictions/allergies at time of booking.
The emphasis is on fresh vegetables and fruit, tagines, couscous, soup, salads, bread/pancakes.
We provide bottled drinking water, which you should also use for brushing teeth.

What is the bathroom situation?

The desert camps source water from a natural spring, several kilometres from Erg Chigaga dunes.
We encourage you to use water sparingly in the desert, especially in light of recent drought conditions in the south of Morocco.
The tap water in the bathrooms is not drinkable.
Towels are provided (*and toiletries at the luxury camp).
The luxury and private nomadic camps have private bathrooms adjoining the sleeping tents (bucket shower, Western toilet).
Camp Al Koutban has a shared bathroom block (Western toilets/showers).

Will there be electricity at camp?

The electricity supply at the desert camps is generated by solar panels.
At Camp Al Koutban, should you need to charge your phone, camera battery, or other kit, please ask the team and they will use one of the sockets at the kitchen.
At the luxury camp/private nomadic camp, the sockets may be used in the tent.
However, you may want to bring an external power bank if you need to charge equipment while you’re travelling.

What sort of weather can we expect?

For queries about Morocco weather, we find the ‘meteoblue’ forecasts reliable. Search for Mhamid or el Gouera for the Sahara desert – www.meteoblue.com
The best times of year to visit the desert are from the end of September through to early May.

It’s not unusual to have windy conditions in the desert. These tend mostly to occur around the change of seasons/temperature changes (i.e. early Spring). Conditions can change quickly, it is a fact of life in the Sahara.
Winters see cold overnight temperatures (even as low as freezing by dawn) with warm daytimes. However, climate change has affected what were once seasonal patterns and Winters are shorter/drier than before.

Will we see animals near the desert camps?

There is abundant desert wildlife to be found in the Iriqui National Park.

For an overview of what to expect, please click here.

 

Please also visit our Instagram feed.

 

Desert wildlife

Desert wildlife

Desert wildlife near camp

We love encountering wildlife on our travels, and our part of the desert, in the Iriqui National Park, is teeming with animal and birdlife. Despite first impressions, there is abundant desert wildlife to be seen if you know what to look for.

Sometimes all you need is a little patience or luck to stumble upon some of our local species and migratory visitors. Some of the species are nocturnal (staying active in cooler temperatures), while some are endangered and, naturally, elusive.

Endangered Dorcas gazelle - desert wildlife in Morocco

Dorcas gazelle

Below is a glimpse of the desert wildlife we’ve been fortunate to spot out from our camp, Camp Al Koutban. We’d be keen to know if you’ve seen any other species.

Our camp is ideally-placed at the heart of the Erg Chigaga dunes for the tallest dune in the Erg, and we also have plenty of other viewpoints nearby. When we say we want to bring you close to nature, we mean it.

One way to know we’re surrounded by desert wildlife, look down at all the tracks in the sand when you’re out walking, especially early morning.

White-crowned black wheatear - desert wildlife in Morocco

White-crowned black wheatear

If you want to get even closer to nature, then join us for a desert hike and camp wild across several days.

Desert wildlife – animal life

Desert wildlife in Morocco - The small rodent Jerboa (hunted by the fennec)

Jerboa

Dorcas gazelle (pictured at top) endangered, but numbers in the Iriqui National Park have increased over recent years (NB: the village of Mhamid El Ghizlane is named for ‘the plain of the gazelles’)
Jerboa, pictured
Hare
Fennec fox, pictured

The Fennec fox - desert wildlife Morocco

Fennec fox

Hedgehog
Berber skink (aka ‘sand-fish’, pictured)
Dab lizard
Saharan striped polecat (rare)
Addax antelope (endangered, re-introduced to the Iriqui National Park recently)
Jackal

Desert wildlife in Morocco - The Berber skink (or 'sand fish') which seemingly swims through the sand

Skink, which seemingly ‘swims’ through sand

Desert wildlife – birdlife

Desert wildlife in Morocco - desert birdlife

Blue-cheeked bee eater (migratory)

Sand-grouse, pictured below (distinctive call in flight, groups fly in V formation, and you may see them at ground level amidst small shrubs)
Wheatears, pictured (both the white-crowned, and the desert wheatear)
Desert sparrow

Desert wildlife in Morocco - wheatear

Desert wheatear

Lark
Bee-eater, pictured (typically February/March – look for birds in/above the calotropis trees)
Houbara bustard, pictured (endangered)

Desert wildlife in Morocco - Houbara Bustard

Houbara Bustard

Stork (group, in flight in circular motion)
Egyptian Vulture (rare, alone or pair)
Brown-necked raven (common)
Little owl (common, palmeraie)

Desert wildlife in Morocco - sand grouse

Sand grouse

For further images of desert wildlife in Morocco and camping in the Iriqui National Park, please follow us on Instagram.

Prehistoric rock art in Morocco

Prehistoric rock art in Morocco

Cataloguing Rock Art in Morocco

Rock art is found throughout the Sahara, principally in the desert mountain and hill ranges, where stone ‘canvas’ is abundant: including the highlands of Adrar in Mauritania and Adrar des Ifoghas in Mali, the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, the Tassili n’Ajjer and Ahaggar Mountains in Algeria, the mountainous areas of Tadrart Acacus and Messak in Libya, etc, as well as the length of the Nile Valley.

Explorations in the early twentieth century by celebrated travellers, ethnographers and archaeologists brought the rock art of the Sahara, and rock art in Morocco and northern Africa, to the awareness of a European public.

Rock art in Morocco (Ait Ouazik gazelle)

Since 2013, the British Museum has engaged in a project to study and catalogue the rock art images of Africa, including rock art in Morocco in both the Atlas mountains and the Sahara, digitally preserving African rock art, ensuring global open access well into the future. Their research provides new information and perspectives on the collection and the ancient and modern cultures it represents.

Please visit the British Museum’s website for more information, click here.

Rock Art in Morocco – the site of Ait Ouazik

More than 300 rock art sites have been documented in Morocco, mainly located in two areas: the High Atlas Mountains, and the Sahara desert region to the south and east. They comprise mainly engravings (as opposed to paintings), which could be up to 5,000 years old, and include domestic and wild animals, warriors, weapons and scenes of battles and hunting. Antelope and cattle are the most represented animals in Moroccan rock art, although elephants and rhinoceros are common. 921 images have been catalogued across the various sites.

Rock art in Morocco at Ait Ouazik (antelope)

One of the most renowned and well-preserved sites of rock art in Morocco is that at Ait Ouazik near Tazzarine/Zagora. Getting there involves at least a half day’s round-trip out of Zagora and some of that on piste (unsurfaced tracks). This can be combined with one of our longer tours to the desert.

Being in such a remote location you may find the site at Ait Ouazik to yourselves. There is a local guardian/caretaker who has taken a special interest in the rock art and shows visitors around. Over the years some stones have already been removed to use in construction down at the village and the guardian is ensuring no more are taken.

Rock art in Morocco (wheel)

We were captivated by the images carved on the stones and representation of animal life on the continent thousands of years ago (the Sahara desert is, after all, relatively young). The site lies in a broad, dry valley with occasional palm trees and Acacia trees providing verdant relief. It is easy to picture a greener landscape of savanna in this part of Morocco.

We hope you enjoy some of the images we took. If you’re at all interested in extending your tour in the south to visit the Ait Ouazik rock art site near Tazzarine/Zagora please let us know.

Rock art in Morocco at Ait Ouazik

Further images are on our highlights reel (rock art in Morocco) on Instagram.

 

Trekking in the Sahara Desert with Wild Morocco – Forces of Nature

Trekking in the Sahara Desert with Wild Morocco – Forces of Nature

I may have mentioned elsewhere on the website that trekking in the desert is like no other trekking experience. On my first ever desert trek 13 years ago, I had the privilege to experience four seasons in four days in the Sahara, mid-May. Let’s say it was my first taste of a true desert storm while camel trekking, and there’ve been plenty more since.
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The Spirit of Community in Morocco

The Spirit of Community in Morocco

Morocco’s culture and spirit of community

“So, what can I expect when I visit Morocco, tell me something more about Morocco’s culture?” It’s so close to Europe, yet so much further beyond in terms of culture and history. The Arabic name given for Morocco by medieval historians and geographers is ‘al-Maghrib al-Aqsa’, translated as furthest Westerly Kingdom (of the Maghreb countries, in North West Africa). Morocco is just 13km from mainland Spain, and even shares a land border with Spanish territory.

I would urge you to read something of my insight into Morocco’s culture. What follows is what you glean when living in a small community in Morocco, not from the books or the media, or from a short visit. We’ve previously touched on some of the cultural aspects in other blog posts, such as the tea ceremony, and social etiquette with greetings. The guide-books will also help you steer clear of any basic faux-pas, or you can certainly ask your driver/guide during your trip about Morocco’s culture.

Morocco's Culture and Spirit of Community

Use the below as a benchmark to guide your expectations of the Kingdom (and, certainly, of the warm welcome you can expect to receive!). Please do ask us about travelling during Ramadan, Eid al-Adha, and other religious festivities, as they can be quite magical times to visit the Kingdom and should not be ruled out as no-go periods. Such national holidays are a vital part of Morocco’s culture and if you get to experience them, so much the better.

Note: I first wrote this post about seven years ago. Since then, we’ve all gone through the covid pandemic and the devastating earthquake in September 2023. Without going in to detail, the overriding feeling I have taken is the sense of solidarity and support from within Morocco’s mountain communities and the country as a whole – the nation has each other’s backs, to put it bluntly! If that doesn’t speak volumes about Morocco’s culture and spirit of community then what does?…

Morocco's Culture

Morocco’s culture and spirit of community

  1. Gratitude and happiness are derived and enjoyed from what you have in life, not from that for which you yearn. In other words, you are content with your lot in life. Take pleasure from the simple things (such as the beauty of nature) and be thankful to God at all times.
  2. Treating a guest generously and selflessly. A Moroccan proverb says ‘The guest is always a guest, even if he stays for winter and summer’. Moroccans regard travellers and foreign residents as guests in their country and Moroccans take the safety of visitors as a point of honour.
  3. Charity begins at home and is then very much continued outside of the home. One of the pillars of Islam and embedded in Morocco’s culture/spirit of community.
  4. The ability to share freely, e.g. a small meal will always go a long way and a stranger is never allowed to go hungry. Often those who have the least to share, are the most generous.
  5. An open-door policy and acceptance, the knowledge that you are welcome in a stranger’s home, and at face value.
  6. The family unit is key and many generations still share the same home; this promotes selflessness. There may only be one bread-winner supporting a large family (and he will likely be your driver, guide, chef, support team). Respect for elders, especially your parents, is integral to Morocco’s culture.
  7. Knowing your neighbours and treating them as an extension of the family. You may have to call upon them in times of need. This also leads on to the fact that everyone knows each other’s business (good or bad!).
  8. Above all, bear in mind that underpinning all of this is the Muslim faith and the piety of Moroccans. Please ask us about travelling during Ramadan and Eid.
  9. Please see note above on solidarity and support from within.

Please contact us for any further insights in to Morocco’s culture and community spirit.

Please visit our Instagram feed for further images.

 

Our Top 5 Things to Do in Morocco

Our Top 5 Things to Do in Morocco

You can’t possibly do and see everything that Morocco has to offer in one trip. If you can experience our top 5 things to do in Morocco that will be eye-opening enough (and, hopefully, inspire you to visit us again).
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The Iriqui National Park

The Iriqui National Park

Iriqui National Park

Created in 1994, Iriqui National Park was established to protect the biodiversity, flora and fauna across 123,000 hectares of south-eastern Morocco, and in particular to preserve the temporary wetlands of Lake Iriqui, at the heart of the desert.
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Facts on Morocco – Did You Know?

Facts on Morocco – Did You Know?

Facts on Morocco

Discover some little-known facts on Morocco

The Arabic name given for Morocco by medieval historians and geographers is “al-Maghrib al-Aqsa”, translated as Furthest Westerly Kingdom (of the Maghreb countries, in North West Africa). One of the least well-known facts on Morocco is that it is just 13km from mainland Spain (and plans are afoot to investigate feasibility of constructing an undersea tunnel between the two countries before the end of 2030). Morocco’s territory borders 3500km+ of the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. It shares land borders with Spanish territory, Algeria and Mauritania.

The Atlas Mountains is a mountain range which stretches across northwestern Africa extending about 2,500km through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and dissecting Morocco in two. The highest peak is Jebel Toubkal, with an elevation of 4,167m.

The Anti-Atlas range extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest of Morocco toward the northeast to the heights of Ouarzazate and further east to the city of Tafilalt (altogether a distance of approx. 500km). In the south it borders the Sahara. It includes the Djebel Siroua, a massif of volcanic origin with the highest summit of the range at 3,304m.

An erg (also sand sea or dune sea, or sand sheet if it lacks dunes) is a broad, flat area of desert covered with wind-swept sand with little or no vegetative cover. The term takes its name from the Arabic word ‘arq’ meaning ‘dune field’. Approximately 85% of all the Earth’s mobile sand is found in ergs that are greater than 32,000 square kilometres (12,000 sq mi). Ergs are also found on other celestial bodies, such as Venus, Mars, and Saturn’s moon Titan.

Iriqui National Park is the largest national park in Morocco and the only one in the Sahara Desert. Established to protect the biodiversity, flora and fauna across 123,000 ha of south-eastern Morocco, and in particular to preserve the temporary wetlands of Lake Iriqui, at the heart of the desert (which support grazing of animals and migratory birds in winter).

Facts on Morocco - Iriqui National Park

The Sahara (‘the Great Desert’ in Arabic) is the largest hot desert and third largest desert after Antarctica and the Arctic. Its combined surface area of 9,400,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq mi) – accounting for substrates such as the Libyan Desert and the Sudan region is comparable to the respective land areas of China and the United States. Many of its sand dunes reach over 180m (590ft) in height.

Erg Chigaga dunes are Morocco’s longest sand dune field, approx. 40km in length. Erg Chigaga is 90mins off-road journey (60km) across the desert terrain from the nearest village (Mhamid El Ghizlane, see below) and sits within Morocco’s largest protected national park – the Iriqui National Park (see above), approx. 500km from Marrakech by desert piste and road (or 270km from Ouarzazate).

Facts on Morocco - Erg Chigaga dunes - Wild Morocco

 

Temperatures not only in the Sahara but also in Marrakech, Ouarzazate and the Anti-Atlas mountains are in the 40s °C in summer (very high temperatures can start in June). In winter (typically January) snow in the mountains can close the high passes at times, or lead to unexpected delays and route changes. The weather conditions in the desert are prone to change quickly and never predictable. Windy conditions in the desert are common in Spring, however this is not the same as a full-blown sandstorm.

Morocco is home to one of the largest Acacia tree forests in North Africa (a reminder of the savannah that was present in the south of Morocco before the Sahara desert encroached). The resin of the Acacia tree (once crystallised) is added to tea in the south. Look out for the Acacia groves on the Draa Valley and near Foum Zguid.

Facts on Morocco

The Dorcas Gazelle is endangered and you will be very lucky should you spot one in the Iriqui National Park when you visit Erg Chigaga. The Arabic word for gazelle is ‘rhazal’ and the village at the desert frontier, Mhamid El Ghizlane (pronounced rhazlane) is named for the ‘plain of the gazelles’. Keep your eyes open for their white tails, particularly amongst vegetation.

Our team are the last generation to have grown up as children in the desert, previously practising a way of life that was unchanged in centuries. Our parents kept farms and livestock in the desert (in Iriqui National Park as it is now) when water was freely available. That way of life became untenable three decades ago when the river to this region (the Draa) was dammed near its source and the desert encroached on farmland. Of all our facts on Morocco, this one is most poignant.

Facts on Morocco - Wild Morocco

There are three UNESCO biosphere reserves in Morocco established to encourage sustainable development (the Argan biosphere, the southern Morocco Oasis and the Mediterranean Sea Reserve [with Spain]).

The imperial cities of Morocco are the four historical capital cities of Morocco: Fes, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat. The term was used from the 15th century to denote a self-ruling city that enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy. An Imperial city held the status of Imperial immediacy, and as such, was subordinate only to the emperor, as opposed to a territorial city or town.

Facts on Morocco - Fes

Camels in Morocco are known as dromedaries – camels with a single hump on their backs. These are very gentle creatures that are highly intelligent and extremely patient, the exception being the leaders of the herd, which can become aggressive if the herd is in danger. They have long thick eyelashes and very hairy ears as a protection from the sand. Full-grown camels can stand at a height of between 6 / 7 feet and their lifespan ranges between 25 to 50 years of age. Owners respect them for their natures and their ability to survive in the desert with very little food and water. That amazing ability to survive the desert temperatures comes from being able to increase their own body heat. (An aside on one of these facts on Morocco – camels generate a good income for their owners, especially during the visitor season when camels are used in the hiking trips).

Rock art is found throughout the Sahara, principally in the desert mountain and hill ranges, where stone ‘canvas’ is abundant: including the highlands of Adrar in Mauritania and Adrar des Ifoghas in Mali, the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, the Tassili n’Ajjer and Ahaggar Mountains in Algeria, the mountainous areas of Tadrart Acacus and Messak in Libya, etc, as well as the length of the Nile Valley.

Facts on Morocco

Explorations in the early twentieth century by celebrated travellers, ethnographers and archaeologists brought the rock art of Sahara, and northern Africa in general, to the awareness of a European public. More than 300 rock art sites have been documented in Morocco, mainly located in two areas: the High Atlas Mountains, and the Sahara desert region to the south and east. They comprise mainly engravings, which could be up to 5,000 years old, and include domestic and wild animals, warriors, weapons and scenes of battles and hunting. Antelope and cattle are the most represented animals in Moroccan rock art, although elephants and rhinoceros are common.

The traditional ‘kasbah’ of southern Morocco is the family unit of the wealthy classes and has varied forms and multiple functions. For the most part, they are country houses; the ground floor is used for agricultural purposes and the upper floors serve as living quarters in winter (upper portion) and summer (lower portion). Adjoining houses are reserved for agricultural workers. The kasbah can, however, also be a veritable palace-fortress, the seat of local power (e.g. at Telouet – it then takes on the dimensions of a small village).

Ait Ben Haddou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, formed of a series of pise- (earth/mud) constructed dwellings and fortified walls, barely inhabited now, but some families have remained.

Facts on Morocco - Ait Ben Haddou

It offers a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earth construction techniques. The oldest constructions do not appear to be earlier than the 17th century, although their structure and technique were propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco. The site was also one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakech by the Draa Valley and the former Tizi-n’Telouet Pass.

Saffron is produced in Morocco in the foothills of the Atlas. It is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the ‘saffron crocus’. The crocus bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas. The styles and stigmas, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food.

Saffron is one of the world’s most costly spices by weight. Its aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet.

We hope you enjoyed some of our facts on Morocco. For further facts on Morocco’s geography and getting around the Kingdom, whether with us or by public transport, please refer to our page here.

Please refer to our Instagram feed for further images.

The Moroccan ergs – Erg Chigaga and Erg Chebbi

The Moroccan ergs – Erg Chigaga and Erg Chebbi

We are often asked the question about the Moroccan Sahara – Erg Chigaga and Erg Chebbi, which one should I visit?

It’s difficult to answer that one on an impartial level, as Yahya hails from the desert region closest to Erg Chigaga. However, we do always give practical advice, depending on your proposed travel schedule in Morocco. Sometimes, it’s just too far to reach one erg (‘sand sea’) when the other would allow for a far more comfortable and sensible journey. You should also consider whether you’d like to spend more than 1 night under canvas in the desert, and which time of year are you travelling in Morocco.

Erg Chigaga and Erg Chebbi each have their merits. Both dune fields are 10 hours+ from Marrakech, we advise you break the journey, with lots of overnight options before and after the desert; Fes to Erg Chebbi is feasible in one day (7 hours), or take 2 nights from Fes to comfortably reach Erg Chigaga. If you’re travelling over from the Coast, opt for Erg Chigaga, which is part of a neat loop through the Anti-Atlas mountains, the Sahara desert and the Draa Valley.
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