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The eastern reach of the High Atlas is definitely the least known -- and visited -- of the range, although it holds just as much scenic, and decidedly more historic, drama than the central and western regions. The Eastern High Atlas is nature's buffer zone between the relatively lush, cedar-topped Middle Atlas and the harsh, palmeraie-dotted Saharan south, and visitors will notice the change from the traditional, low-level, earthen homes of the Middle Atlas Berbers to the famous ksour and kasbahs of the southerners.

The highest peaks in this section of the range are on its northern flank, centered around the 3,747m-high (12,293-ft.) Jebel Ayachi, which rises to the south of Midelt, a Berber frontier-type town on the plains between the Middle and High Atlas. Connecting Midelt to the region's southern side is the only major road, from which a number of other minor roads, mainly pistes, branch off into the High Atlas and eventually emerge at the Todra or Dadès gorges or the western reach of the Middle Atlas. It's a fascinating route and is as dramatic as the passes of the Western High Atlas.

The northern ascent from Midelt via the curiously named Tizi n'Talrhmeht (Pass of the She-Camel) is short and steep before flattening out to desertlike plains, which mark the beginning of the southern ksour. These castlelike fortresses are often shadowed by old French Foreign Legion posts, as this whole area was historically notorious for attacks on caravans and travelers by the Berber Aït Haddidou tribe. Only in the 1930s, 20 years after the beginning of colonial rule, did the French finally subdue these nomadic tribesmen. Rich, the major town of these plains, is watered by the Oued Ziz. Following the watercourse west will eventually bring you to the village of Imilchil, its nearby annual festival steeped in romance and tragedy. Going south from Rich, the route passes through the dramatic Ziz Gorges before finally arriving at the administrative and military center of Er Rachidia and the beginning of the vast pre-Sahara.

This is a sparsely populated region of mainly harsh, rugged terrain. Accommodations are available, mostly in Imilchil, though the standards are basic, which means no central heating or electric sockets in the bathrooms for your appliances. However, I find that the cuisine and hospitality make up for this. Winter in the Eastern High Atlas can produce some gloriously mild, sunny days, followed by freezing nights and an irregular fall of snow in the higher areas around Imilchil. On the other hand, summer can be stifling, especially on the southern flanks, where you can be confronted by the hot Saharan winds.