The Atlas Mountains are a mountain range in located in northwest Africa.
It stretches around 2,500 kilometers (1,600 miles) through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
The Atlas Mountains are not a continuous chain of mountains but a series of ranges separated by wide areas of land, which are called plateaus.
The mountain range separates the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert.
It has several passes that provide routes between the coast and the Sahara desert.
Toubkal, located in Morocco, is the highest peak in the range, and in North Africa. It is 4,167 meters (13,671 feet) high.
The second and third highest peaks in the Atlas range are on the mountain Ouanoukrim in Morocco. The two summits are Timzguida which is 4,089 meters (13,415 feet) high and Ras Ouanoukrim which reaches 4,083 meters (13,396 feet).
The range can be divided into four general regions:
• Middle Atlas, High Atlas and Anti-Atlas (Morocco).
• Saharan Atlas (Algeria).
• Tell Atlas (Algeria, Tunisia).
• Aurès Mountains (Algeria, Tunisia).
The Middle Atlas is a portion of the Atlas mountain range lying completely in Morocco. It possesses the most luxuriant vegetation in the Atlas system, with extensive stands of fir and cedar at higher elevations.
The most impressive range within the Atlas system is the High Atlas, which extends for some 560 kilometers (350 miles) through the center of Morocco and has an average elevation of around 3,050 meters (10,000 feet). Many High Atlas peaks are snow-clad for much of the year.
The Anti-Atlas range lies between a large plateau and an extensive plain. This section of the Atlas mountain range is the most extreme western border, reaching all the way to the Moroccan shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Tell Atlas range runs along the northernmost edge of the African continent, bordering the Mediterranean Sea to the north and a series of salt water lakes to the south.
The Saharan Atlas of Algeria is the eastern portion of the Atlas mountain range. While its average height is no where near the imposing altitude of the High Atlas, it stands in stark contrast to its neighbors, the relatively low lying Tell Range.
The Aurès Mountains of Algeria and Tunisia are the farthest eastern portion of the Atlas mountain range. While distinguished by extremely rough cliffs on the northern side of the range, it is a hospitable place for agricultural development.
Most of the populations around the Atlas are small villages, rather than cities. The most famous and numerous of the Atlas populations is the Berber People, a North African culture which traces its roots back thousands of years.
The mountains are home to a number of plant and animal species unique in Africa, often more like those of Europe; many of them are endangered and some have already gone extinct.
The North African Elephant was an inhabitant of the Atlas Mountains until becoming extinct in ancient roman times.
The mountains were home to the Atlas Bear which is now extinct. It was the only bear native to Africa. It was hunted extensively. It is believed the last one was killed or died in the late 1800’s.
The Barbary lion also known as the Atlas lion is an African lion subspecies, formerly native to North Africa, including the Atlas Mountains, that is now considered extinct in the wild.
The endangered Barbary Leopard lives in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria.
Other animals that inhabit the Atlas mountains include Barbary Sheep, Cuvier’s gazelle, Barbary Macaque, Barbary stag, Atlas mountain viper, and the Atlas Mountain Badger.
The Atlas are rich in natural resources. There are deposits of iron ore, lead ore, copper, silver, mercury, rock salt, phosphate, marble, anthracite coal and natural gas among other resources.
The beginnings of the Atlas range can be traced to three distinct stages:
• Over 80 million years ago, the first phase of Atlas Mountain formation began. This stage consisted of a series of continental collisions between African and Eurasian plates.
• In the second stage of geological development the Earth‘s crust significantly expanded, resulting in a separation of many previous continental formations. When the continents broke apart, many sedimentary basins were formed, including the Atlas Mountain Range.
• The last stage of geological development was marked by a massive continental collision between the southern end of the Iberian peninsula and the European plate.