Side-by-Side Top-Bottom
Actual Image

The Gates of Timbuctu (36)
Jamesp Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1369 W: 9 N: 6334] (18906)
OK - the strain of staying in the UK for 5 consecutive postings proved to much, so here is one from a new country! :)

I took this shot enroute to Timbuktu. Most of the journey from Mopti had been rather boring, but suddenly a serrated mass of buttes appeared on the horizon, As we neared them we swung north passing by them. This is not the name of these buttes, but the name appealed to me.

I have included notes on buttes, desert varnish (the black on the face of the rock) and Timbuktu.

The light was very white. As you can see there was high cloud and intense UV light which tends to wash-out the colour in the landscape. I have altered the saturation and contrast to try to improve this shot.


A butte is an isolated hill with steep sides and a small flat top, smaller than mesas and plateaus. Buttes are prevalent in the western United States and on the Hawaiian Islands, especially around Honolulu. The word "butte" comes from a French word meaning "small hill".


Desert varnish forms only on physically stable rock surfaces that are no longer subject to frequent precipitation, fracturing or sandblasting. The varnish is primarily composed of particles of clay along with iron and manganese oxides. There is also a host of trace elements and almost always some organic matter. The color of the varnish varies from shades of brown to black.

Originally scientists thought that the varnish was made from substances drawn out of the rocks it coats. Microscopic and microchemical observations, however, show that a major part of varnish is clay (which could only arrive by wind). Clay, then, acts as a substrate to catch additional substances that chemically react together when the rock reaches high temperatures in the desert sun. Wetting by dew is also important in the process.

Another important characteristic of desert varnish is that it has an unusually high concentration of manganese. Manganese is relatively rare in the earth's crust, making up only 0.12% of its weight. In desert varnish, however, manganese is 50 to 60 times more abundant. This significant enrichment is thought to be caused by biochemical processes (many species of bacteria use manganese).


Timbuktu (Archaic English: Timbuctoo; Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu; French: Tombouctou) is a city in Tombouctou Region, Mali. Timbuktu was established by the nomadic Tuareg perhaps as early as the 10th century.

According to a popular etymology its name is made up of: tin which means « place » and buktu, the name of an old Malian woman known for her honesty and who once upon a time lived in the region. Tuareg and other travelers would entrust this woman with any belongings for which they had no use on their return trip to the north. Thus, when a Tuareg, upon returning to his home, was asked where he had left his belongings, he would answer: «I left them at Tin Buktu », meaning the place where dame Buktu lived. The two terms ended up fusing into one word, thus giving the city the name of Tinbuktu which later became Timbuktu. However, the French orientalist René Basset forwarded a more plausible translation: in the Berber languages "buqt" means ""far away", so "Tin-Buqt" means a place almost at the other end of the world, resp. the Sahara.

It is home to the prestigious Qur'anic Sankore University and other madrasas, and was an intellectual and spiritual capital and centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahya, recall Timbuktu's golden age. Although continuously restored, these monuments are today under threat from desertification.

Timbuktu is populated by Songhay, Tuareg, Fulani, and Mandé people, and is about 15 km north of the River Niger. It is also at the intersection of an east–west and a north–south Trans-Saharan trade across the Sahara to Araouane. It was important historically (and still is today) as an entrepot for rock-salt from Taoudenni.

Its geographical setting made it a natural meeting point for nearby African populations and nomadic Berber and Arab peoples from the north. Its long history as a trading outpost that linked west Africa with Berber, Arab, and Jewish traders throughout north Africa, and thereby indirectly with traders from Europe, has given it a fabled status, and in the West it was for long a metaphor for exotic, distant lands: "from here to Timbuktu."

Timbuktu's long-lasting contribution to Islamic and world civilization is scholarship. By the fourteenth century, important books were written and copied in Timbuktu, establishing the city as the centre of a significant written tradition in Africa.

Altered Image #1

Jamesp Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1369 W: 9 N: 6334] (18906)
PhotoShop Elements
Edited by:Evelynn Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2025 W: 741 N: 3285] (14454)

I wanted to reveal a bit more color and detail in the buttes. I used an adjustment layer and used a touch of levels and saturation only on the butte area.