Friday, October 27, 2006

Journey to Nowhere Day 2, 14 November 2005 - Into the Dunes

The sun rose this morning to guys meandering off into the desert with shovels to take care of personal business...Everyone ate breakfast and packed up their trucks at a leisurely pace, and we finally got on the way at about 8:00 AM. We spent the morning looking for the screaming woman (and finding her in several places...frankly, we started to believe that she's something of a floozy...She really got around!!). Along the way, we found hundreds more pictures. Wherever there was a reasonably flat spot on the rock walls around us, you could be assured of finding rock art. One of the most impressive examples was of a battle between what looked like space aliens and guys on camels.

We also found what we took to be grave sites small cave-like clefts in or near the cliff faces that were blocked up by rocks. We didn�t poke around too much, each of us playing various scenes from the "Revenge of the Mummy" type movies in our heads. At one point, we did find the incongruous sight of a lonely teapot. And, on the same outcropping, petroglyphs that inspired us to call it "Party Rock."

While running around looking for our mysterious woman, we spied a far off Bedouin camp complete with camels returning home for a mid morning snack. Just beyond their small rock outcropping, another small herd was grazing on the sparse grass, and nursing their babies.

Finally, we started making our way to the next gas stop before driving off into the dunes in the center part of the triangle. From where we were, it took almost 45 minutes to get there, driving over alternating sandy and rocky terrain. We were sidetracked by a couple of blind canyons before we found the right way out of the rocky canyonlands and were able to track using our global positioning devices (GPS) over to our next petrol station. The Bangladeshi attendants were sort of surprised to see 8 white guys drive out of the desert. In fact, that seemed to be the usual reaction...But, they were friendly guys, and after we fueled up, bought a few Cokes and bottles of water and an �oblong cake� or two, we drove out of the station, and headed East.


The sand dunes came up rapidly, and before you knew it, we were deep in the heart of a huge dune field rolling for as far as the eye could see. We spent the next few hours driving up one side of the dunes and down the other. We stopped at several flint fields along the way to look for arrowheads and other stone tools. I was fortunate enough to find several during the stops, including one that was simply perfectly crafted. Black flint, about an inch and a half long, it looks like the quintessential arrowhead. I also found several larger, but broken points, and various scrapers and other tools, and a whole lot of chips that were just discarded. It was really an interesting experience to hold these beautifully crafted and very ancient tools, and try to imagine what it must have been like thousands of years before when they were originally made. Saudi Arabia was a fertile area, filled with trees, animals, people, and even inland seas. Quite different than now...


Every time we�d cross a field of rocks, we�d stop and look for arrowheads and stuff. Basically, the best way proved to orient yourself into the sun and walk slowly, scanning the ground ahead of you. Flint reflects light pretty well, and would shine. When you found something, you�d often find more in the immediate area. Most of the time it was just shards from the process, but occasionally you'd get lucky and actually find something worth picking up. We also found petrified ostrich shells out there, and fossilized coral and reeds. It got to the point where every time we stopped driving, we�d get out, and start picking up rocks. I found myself doing it again after I got home, even though all that is around my house is just gravel...not nearly as exciting.

As we drove around, up and down the dunes, a few of us got stuck in the sand, but we were all able to get recovered with minor effort by using one vehicle to tow us out. At times, watching the vehicle in front of us tip over the edge of a dune, and seeing more of its undercarriage than anything else until it disappears down the reverse slope was like seeing the desert swallow them whole. Later on that afternoon, the desert did its best to do it for real.

There�s a feeling you get when you�re standing there looking the huge dent in your formerly pristine, shiny bumper, and the now bashed-in hood that probably saved your windshield and face from being smushed in by the flying metal shackle... it�s sort of a feeling of, �Whoa...that was close...I need a drink.� Of course, this being Saudi Arabia, and being way out in the desert, you just have to settle for a tepid bottle of water instead of something stronger.

We�d been driving steadily for several hours when Don, our leader, got high centered on a sand ridge. This was fortunate, since the angle at which he was moving possibly would have caused him to roll his truck had he managed to actually get over the edge. We moved a vehicle close to his truck, and began the now familiar routine of hooking up two nylon tow straps together to attempt to pull him out of the softer sand to better purchase.

Don began to slowly spin his wheels in reverse as Gary, the driver of the towing truck, gathered up the slack of the tow strap and jerked Don�s truck. There was a bit of movement, and then the second truck also bogged down. Since the strap was at full stretch, the two straps couldn�t be removed. So, now we had to move another truck into position to try to jerk the first two out. George carefully maneuvered his truck in front of the two; we hooked up two more straps, arranged them so they would pay out without getting caught up in the axle, and George made his attempt. He too jerked hard, and abruptly stopped. Fortunately, he was able to back up a bit, to unhook, and was able to extricate himself from the sand before he got too badly bogged.

Next, it was my turn to pull. I drove up and stopped just in front of the second truck. We hooked the loop of the closest strap to one of the tow hooks on the frame of my truck. I then got back in, shifted into 4 Low, and radioed that I was ready. Upon �Ready� from the other guys, I started to move. I stomped on the accelerator, and took off across the sand. There was a hard jerk, and then I abruptly sped up. Looking over my shoulder, I saw that I was no longer connected to the other vehicles, but they were still stuck. As I tried to pull around again to the same place, I got bogged down wheel hub deep as well. I tried to rock it back and forth, but just dug myself in deeper. Unable to go any farther, I got out and checked things...I wasn�t going anywhere anytime soon. Plus, the strap had bent the tow hook to the point where it was unusable. In addition to the damage to the hook, the strap and shackle had flew back and smashed in the grill of the truck I was trying to pull out, just missing ruining the radiator.

With three trucks now immobile, and one that narrowly escaped getting mired, we moved the fifth and final truck into position...This time, the straps held, the hooks didn�t break, and the trucks lurched free from their sand traps.

Once on more solid (relatively speaking) ground, the trucks were unhooked; then, Don moved in front of my truck to begin the extrication process. Hooking up to one of the two front tow hooks, he radioed to make sure I was ready. I began to spin the tires, and braced for the jerk. With a huge jolt, the straps tightened, and then were towed wildly behind Don�s truck. He sped off, maintaining momentum to try not to get stuck again. He turned around, and got back into position while we figured out what happened. The cast metal hook on the front of the truck was snapped cleanly off. The next fifteen minutes or so were spent assessing the best way to get the truck out. Finally, a short tow strap was looped through part of the frame, and connected to the main series of straps (several were being used end to end to allow for stand-off distance from the soft sand). Then, we settled in to try again.

The engine revved, and I once again braced myself for the sudden jerk that hopefully this time would pull me out of my sandy grave. There was a mighty yank and forward movement out of hole I�d dug for myself, but also the loud �BANG - CRUNCH� sound of metal hitting metal...the tow strap had broken, and the steel shackle flew back and smashed the front of my truck.

It�s amazing how fast your body reacts to threats. I vaguely remember flinching, but it was a totally visceral response. There�s no way I could have consciously reacted that fast.

Once on some solid sand, I stopped the truck, and got out. Walking to the front, I noticed a big dent in the steel bumper, and another in the hood, where it was crumpled and gashed by the flying shackle. If it had been just two inches higher in its flight, it would have smashed through the windshield, and likely into my face. That would probably have put a damper on the trip...Nothing like a head wound when you�re hundreds of miles from a good hospital to spoil a good time. We did have a medical kit with us, and it actually got used for some minor burns later on, but there�s not much you can do for brain injuries...

Once we�d sort of collected and stowed all of the gear, and I�d put on a new pair of pants (not really), we mounted up, and headed on our way. We were rapidly running out of daylight to make our campsite, still several kilometers away beyond the dune fields.

We found the gap between two mesa-like hills, and drove into it. Don, expecting our campsite at its last known location was surprised to find it had been totally removed. Thousands of cubic meters of dirt was simply gone, removed for who knows what reason. And this way the heck out in the middle of nowhere.

We drove on for a few more minutes and finally found a campsite at the far end of a small, sandy defile. Surrounded on three sides by steep sand hills ascending to flat tops, we settled in for the night. The fire was lit, we all broke out our food, and cooked, ate and socialized. Guard shifts came and went quietly (other than the dogs barking at us when we changed guards) with no molestation by any Bedouins, MOI police, or gentlemen bearing orange jumpsuits as gifts.

Posted by djf on November 14, 2004 10:25 AM
Category: The Magical Kingdom

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