Air Mountains
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Among the most striking natural features of the Sahara Desert are the Aïr Mountains, rising from the sands of central Niger. These mountains, which extend over an area of 72,000 sq km — about the size of Sierra Leone — have some of the most spectacular scenery in West Africa. They evolved from a long volcanic history, with impressive peaks, the highest being Mount Bagzane (2,022 m). Most of the massif is underlain by Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks, characteristic of other major massifs found in North Africa (Lowman, 1968). Note the prominent round mountain masses, some over 45 km wide, seen in the Landsat image mosaic. Massive sand dunes from the Ténéré Desert east of the Aïr pile up against the outcrops and escarpments of the eastern side of the Mountains, juxtaposing two extraordinarily beautiful landscapes. Humans have lived among its rocks and valleys for thousands of years. The Aïr contain a treasure trove of Neolithic art, with paintings that capture a lush savanna, replete with many of the large mammals that would rival today’s national parks. Deep valleys and natural springs support oasis life in the midst of these desert mountains. The village of Timia is a green gem of date palms and verdant gardens. For centuries, the Aïr have been inhabited by the Tuareg people — traditionally nomadic pastoralists who live in a vast area of the central and western Sahara. Many have settled in small towns like Timia and Iferouane, or in Agadez, the gateway to northern Niger.