Sunrise Over the Dunes

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

I wasn’t sure if the alarm had gone off or if I had just dreamt it. No one was stirring outside and the warmth under the heavy mound of blankets convinced me not to find out for sure.

A few minutes later, I had my answer. Pete rolled over, nudged me and whispered: “Do we get up?

We both groaned in protest but forced ourselves to rise from our slumber. Still no movement from the other tents as we crept around the campsite, piling on layers of clothes and washing up. We stood outside Mohammed The Original‘s tent and gently beckoned him out. We could tell that he wasn’t pleased with this early rise, but we were determined to reach the top of the biggest dune to watch the sunrise.

Cozy bed in the desert

Our cozy bed.

Just beyond that dun, the midnight blue was fading to royal as the sun’s rays began to reach the horizon. We started the easy trek with gentle rises and falls in loose peaks of sand, Mohammed lead us along a specific path with only a gradual incline.

It started to get steeper. Some hills were such that we needed to run up them in order to make any headway and save from slipping too quickly down into the soft sand.

I tired and stopped to catch my breath. Pete and Mohammed kept going onward, determined to make it in time, and the gap between us widened. The brighter blues were beginning to reach more of the vast sky, and I worried I’d be caught on the wrong side of the big dune and miss the brilliant sunrise entirely.

I figured I wouldn’t make it. I reached a flat spot with a great view over the expansive desert behind me and sat down. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a brief meditation, and soaked in the absolute, ear-ringing silence and the dreamlike moment.

I was in the magnificent, other-worldly Sahara desert (an essential stop on any good Morocco itinerary). Pinch me.

I opened my eyes and saw the pinks and yellows starting to color the sky, and for a brief second, the tallest dunes in my view sparkled as the dawn’s early light reached the peaks. I sat perfectly still and watched the light creep slowly down the dunes and wake up the world below me. Camp stirred with the others lumbering from their tents. Still, I could hear nothing, and savored my quiet view from above.

Pete made his way back down the dune and joined me a few minutes later, gushing: “That was one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen!” I believed him, but could hardly be disappointed in my own experience enjoying the first dazzling moments of this day alone. We were both giddy, and I commemorated the momentous occasion like any person would when in a giant expanse of fluffy, inviting sand…

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a brief meditation, and soaked in the absolute, ear-ringing silence and the dreamlike moment.

Although I expect others would have been able to celebrate more gracefully.

And these are Pete’s awesome photos of his memorable morning!

Sahara Pre Sunrise

Sahara Sunrise

How We Did It

Our visit to the Sahara Desert was a part of our wonderful tour with Merzouga Journeys. For a full review and the itinerary for our entire tour, please click here.
39 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • January 30 2012

    Oh man that would be a sight to see! Great pics! Love the “dune roll”!!!

    • January 31 2012

      Thanks Bri! I need to work on my dune roll for our next visit. I was too scared of going over the next dune too! 🙂

  • January 30 2012

    What a stunning sunrise- worth the early morning trek, I’m sure. Great photos.
    jenny@atasteoftravel recently posted..Postcard from………Sicily

    • January 31 2012

      Thanks Jenny! It was a pretty surreal experience.

  • January 30 2012

    That’s close to the view I have every morning on my drive to work on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, except that if I look in the rearview mirror, I see massive, sparkly skyscrapers!

    • January 31 2012

      Well that ain’t so bad either Cindy (although I personally would prefer sand dunes – haha!)

  • January 30 2012

    Wow. Just … wow.

  • January 30 2012

    That is stunning! I had a similar experience (including finding a comfortable spot half way up ;)) in the Sossusvlei sand dunes of Namibia. Watching the sun rise over the desert is one of life’s great wonders 🙂
    Laurence recently posted..Sex when travelling: location, location, location

    • January 31 2012

      Thanks Laurence, now I don’t feel so bad for not making it all the way (I’m not the only one!) It is definitely one of the big wonders. 🙂

  • Caro from Passport and a Toothbrush
    January 30 2012

    That is IT! My whole life I’ve dreamed of sleeping in the desert and somehow, we haven’t put in the Middle-East really in our RTW itinerary. We were looking at a side-trip to Jordan from Israel but THAT’S IT! I’m now convincing Matt to spend a while in the area – won’t be too hard haha. A sunrise over sand dunes?? Magical!

    • January 31 2012

      How could you leave the Middle East out if that is your dream?! Pure silliness! 🙂 Although Morocco is not in the Middle East, but you can do that in Jordan too I am sure. It is a must. After traveling for 2.5 years, that was definitely a lifetime highlight.

  • jan
    January 30 2012

    Amazing – and how about those great tents!

    • January 31 2012

      Love those tents. It was such a great experience to sleep in one of them.

  • January 31 2012

    It’s worth getting up early for something that beautiful
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Top Three Things to Do in Arizona

  • January 31 2012

    i have never thought sleeping in the desert would be so rewarding. I am going to try it out
    Zablon Mukuba recently posted..Things To Do in 2012

  • Brooke vs. the World
    January 30 2012

    I love sunrises and this one looks magical 🙂 I’m also a fan of the bed – looks super cozy 😉

    • January 31 2012

      I think we had about 10 blankets on top of us and they must have weighed 20 pounds! And with our wool hats and mitts on, it was pretty cozy! 🙂

  • January 31 2012

    When I saw those dunes in your previous posts, I totally thought of rolling down them.

    Great minds think alike! 😉
    Teri Hartman recently posted..Mutt Metaphor Monday #2

    • January 31 2012

      Which is why I guess we still aren’t allowed to be Pictionary partners! 🙂

  • Gary
    January 31 2012

    It just gets better and better….look forward to seeing next post…learning lots 🙂

    • February 1 2012

      You’re sweet Gary! Thank you! 🙂

  • February 1 2012

    hahahaha love the video! How much sand did you have your mouth after that? 🙂
    cailin recently posted..Food Bloggers have pull

    • February 1 2012

      No sand in my mouth, but I am still finding sand in my clothes and backpack. I hate to get rid of it though, it’s such a pretty orange color!

  • February 1 2012

    Those photos are amazing. I would love to see the sunrise over the desert.
    James Cook recently posted..5 Things To Do In Edinburgh

  • February 1 2012

    “Pinch me” indeed! My night in the Sahara likewise is among my top travel memories. But unlike your cozy bed, I opted to sleep out under the (zillions and zillions!) of stars.

    • February 2 2012

      Aw, that would be VERY cool too! But damn cold! It was sooo cold!

  • I love those special moments where you get to see something so beautiful and different and just enjoy it in peace. Although I’m not sure if I could have gotten my ass up and out of that tent so early 🙂
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Photo Essay: Defeated by the Winds of Patagonia at Pliegue Tumbado

    • February 2 2012

      It was a challenge, I tell you. If it was me on my own, I’m not sure I would have gotten up either! 🙂

  • February 2 2012

    Wow, the trip sounds amazing! Beautiful photos, too!
    A Lady in London recently posted..Lady Goes to Leeds Castle, Dover, Canterbury, and Greenwich

  • February 4 2012

    This is definitely one of the tours I’m looking forward to when we finally make it that way.


    REAL STARS! I almost flipped out when I saw the Milky Way for the first time.
    Erica recently posted..Episode 17 – White Water Adventure in Banos, Ecuador

    • Pete
      February 4 2012

      yes, the stars are incredible when there is no light around you except for the moon. You will no doubt love this tour if you take it…

  • February 5 2012

    Amazing! How did you find the cold of the desert?
    Jade – recently posted..5 Reasons To Discover Laos

    • Pete
      February 5 2012

      Thanks Jade, it really wasn’t that cold. It wasn’t warm enough to sleep under the stars, but the winds were very calm so it was quite pleasant.

  • February 8 2012

    Lovely photos and what a view! And so cute you rolled down the hill. I may have done the same! 🙂

    • February 8 2012

      I am STILL finding sand in clothing and my backpack from that little roll. Totally worth it though!

  • Wow, what an amazing experience! Dalene, I would have done the exact same thing, cherished the silence in my own space and then done the roll- well done!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..EASY ECOTOURISM: 10 Simple Steps To More Sustainable Travel

    • Pete
      April 18 2012

      Hi Mary, it was such a surreal experience. Me and our guide laughed pretty hard at her rolling down the hill. She had sand in her boots and jacket pockets for weeks!

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