<< Previous Next >>

The Gates of Timbuctu

The Gates of Timbuctu
Photo Information
Copyright: James Parker (Jamesp) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1369 W: 9 N: 6334] (18906)
Genre: Landscapes
Medium: Color
Date Taken: 2004-03
Categories: Desert
Exposure: f/4, 1/1250 seconds
More Photo Info: [view]
Photo Version: Original Version, Workshop
Date Submitted: 2007-06-16 4:44
Viewed: 6968
Points: 36
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note
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.

ridvan, fartash, pvs, garyfudge, ramthakur, Alex99, gypsygirl58, Kathleen, SunToucher, Evelynn, delic, angybone, pilonm has marked this note useful
Only registered TrekNature members may rate photo notes.
Add Critique [Critiquing Guidelines] 
Only registered TrekNature members may write critiques.
ThreadThread Starter Messages Updated
To Evelynn: WorkshopJamesp 1 06-17 17:49
You must be logged in to start a discussion.

Critiques [Translate]

  • Great 
  • joey Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1739 W: 224 N: 6872] (24909)
  • [2007-06-16 5:29]

Hi James,
an amazing view!
Sharp and well composed.
Well done,

selam james; excellent shot of this landscape,good details presented ,nice BG and POV well captured with naturel colours TFS

Hello James
What wonderful scene you captured here,
Perfect composition and lighting,
Fantastic colors and POV,Superb shot,friend.

Good Luck

  • Great 
  • pvs Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1127 W: 254 N: 3161] (14464)
  • [2007-06-16 10:19]

Hi James,

An excellent landscape,I like the colorcombinations of the deep red FG and the softer colored mountains on the BG,well captured and tfs


ps Timbuktu always sounds so idyllic.

Aww James I was so enjoying your Farne shots!

This is very exotic.
The deep reds of the sands is super.


What a goldmine of information you have appended to your picture by way of a note, James! It is a very well written account of "Timbuktu" -- a place-name used in a derogatory sense, ironically. If one knew of its importance as the most significant centre of Islamic scholarship, one would look at it with greater respect, like I am doing just now!

This morning, I was almost idly flipping through the pages of the rather bulky Illustrated Oxford dictionary that lies on my office table for ready reference when I'm struck with doubts about a word or expression. It has absolutely fantastic illustrations, covering almost everything of importance in nature. In fact, I get quite a bit of information on the flora and fauna of the world from it.
So this morning my eyes fell on an illustration of buttes, plateaus and mesas in a desert and I studied it quite carefully, conscious for the first time that I have actually seen and even photographed these features in Saudi Arabia without knowing anything about them. The thought came to me that before I leave this country, I would edit a picture from my collection of desert shots and post it on TN.

So obviously, this fantastic picture of a group of buttes you shot on your way to Tibuktu has left me speechless with wonder at their massive sizes. They rise like gigantic columns, holding the sky up. Despite the harsh light obliterating the sky, the picture succeeds in casting a spell on the beholder.
Thanks for bringing yet another wonder to us from the world you have explored through your numerous journeys.

  • Great 
  • Mana Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1772 W: 36 N: 5597] (18598)
  • [2007-06-16 13:18]

Hi James,
Awesome shot of these mammoth buttes rising up. The view is just breath-taking and for you to have been there is such a glorious happening. The harsh sunlight is understandable but it doesn't take away the ambience and the beauty of mere its presence. You have presented another masterpiece from all your expeditions. Very nicely composed. Kudos.

  • Great 
  • Alex99 Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 4072 W: 133 N: 7096] (23735)
  • [2007-06-16 14:54]

Hi James.
What an impressive view and picture of it. Great perspective and amazing vertical cropping. I like two differently colored and sharpened part of the image. It is very nice art element. POV and DOF are really perfect as well as the sharpness and details of the whole image. Bravo and best wishes.

  • Great 
  • arfer Gold Star Critiquer [C: 2731 W: 0 N: 0] (0)
  • [2007-06-16 22:32]

Hello James

Wow that is very ominous and imposing looking.It would be incredible to see that jutting up from the landscape after miles of Sahara.Well composed with an excellent POV,the viewer can get a sense of the magnitude. Wonderful!


Hi James,
Wonderful landscape image! Those rocks really look impressive, I love the soft colurs contrasting well with the rich reddish tones of the foreground. Well done and TFS. Great notes too!
Cheers Tina :-)

Hello James,
Timbuctu... That place of mystery!
You capture here this amazing rock formation, I don't quite have the scaling here but apparently very large...
Image is well composed with the dirt road as a good lead-in, and the trees add depth!
Pity for the sky but you surely know so I don't mention that...
Pablo -

Wow, amazing James. What a sight to come upon.
Love the composition of lead in of the road giving perspective to how huge the Buttes are. Great notes to go with your image. Colour and detail are great.
Wonderful image

New Zealand

Hi James,
It looks like it is too difficult for you to stay in one place too long.
These massive pilars are really impressive in form and shape. I am sure that they can be seen from miles away on a clear day. It is a pitty about the white bright light, but I can understand that when traveling one needs to accept the light as it is.

This is an impressive sight to be sure. I do like your title. The composition is strong with nicely placed elements and nice lead in line of the road. It is unfortunate that the light was uncooperative. I attempted a workshop to see if more detail could be recovered without compromising the image.

Evelynn : )

  • Great 
  • delic Gold Star Critiquer [C: 440 W: 6 N: 310] (898)
  • [2007-06-18 18:18]

I've seen many photos from Mali but yours presents a rather interesting geology. Very appealing to someone like me. The contrast between the road and the hazy buttes is striking. Regards,

  • Great 
  • Bufo Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 404 W: 69 N: 951] (4247)
  • [2007-06-19 4:35]

Hello James,
it is a surprising picture. The proportions of the mountains are completely beyond what you aspect. That makes this an interesting image. The red colours give the object a fine turn. The misty atmosphere around the buttes give an idea about their height.
Compliments, Jacob

So that is Timbuktu - - - beautiful! Great desert colors and you really did well portraying the height of the buttes. Majestic!

  • Great 
  • pilonm Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 588 W: 90 N: 975] (3321)
  • [2007-06-28 12:26]

Hello James,

You did a wonderful composition here! I like the effect of having the foreground contrasting with the bg... Very well done and excellent note too!!!

I like it!



Calibration Check