We were wakened at 5:00 and taken by two guides in blue robes to our camels. It's amazing how high off the ground you feel when they suddenly get up off their knees! We were taken to the edge of the dune -- probably about a half-hour camel ride -- and then led on foot up the dune. And I mean up. A very steep slope, in slippery sand, and my guide was helping me -- "hauling me" would be more accurate. I'm in reasonable shape, but I thought I was going to faint and had to stop to catch my breath.
Anyway, we made it, and sat on a high dune to watch the sunrise. There were a few people on a dune behind us, and one of them started jumping up and down because we were going to be in his picture. I guess it didn't occur to him that he could actually move his two feet and walk a bit -- I think he thought he had rented the desert for the morning. Anyway, the sunrise was lovely and our guides were charming as we made stunted conversation in our limited French.
After the sun came up we had the fun of sliding down the dune, which was great (the only time on the trip I wore pants instead of a long skirt and it was a good choice). Then our guides sat down in the sand and brought out their fossils, which we hadn't quite been expecting. But it was all very good natured, and we took part in the time-honoured tradition of bargaining by writing and erasing numbers in the sand.
Back to the camels, another half hour back to the hotel for breakfast, and my rear end was sore for three days. Maybe a narrower camel...
This was a small thing but quite annoying. We were in Rissani looking for the turnoff to Merzouga. Both our map and our guide book were printed before the road between the two towns was paved, so we were a bit unsure of our bearings.
We came to a major right turn, and the "straight-ahead" indication on the sign had the English version of the town blacked out. We turned right and at the next stop sign were accosted by several people wanting to give us directions by getting in the car and driving with us to Merzouga. We realized from their body language that we should have gone straight, so we just said "no thanks" to them and headed off on the correct road. But it was obvious that the whole thing was a set-up. We later noticed that another direction sign around that same spot had been bashed down so that it was unreadable.
It was the only time we encountered anything quite like that.
There are a few places in Morocco that cater to tourists wishing to go into the deserts by camel and possibly camp in the Berber style tents.
The sand dunes outside of Merzouga, near the Algerian border, may be about as far from the main cities as you can get, but the quality of the dunes is also about as good as you can get.
There are closer dunes, but their size is smaller, the sand is more course (lots of gravel) and I've been led to believe that the trash and pollution in those areas is also getting worse.