We left Riyadh and headed northwest into the Wahabi section of Arabia. Heading up to Majaama, Buraidah, and points further northwest takes you into the heart of Wahabi Land. Some expatriates are fearful of traveling in this conservative region of Arabia, but our experience has been uniformly good. We have found the people to be helpful and friendly in all our encounters.
A Land Rover Defender sticks out like a sore thumb in the land of the Toyota pick up truck. Bedouins prefer small Toyota pick ups that are big enough to transport a camel and light enough to be proficient off-road. Many of the pick ups have only two wheel drive, but they perform well even in the dunes. If you know what you are doing, you can go just about anywhere you want with a two wheel drive Toyota pick up.
A properly driven Defender can go amazing places with two wheel drive as well. We traveled in the company of a Defender that had a broken rear differential. The driver spent the morning removing the gears in the broken differential, and then he resumed his trip after disconnecting the rear prop shaft. He drove for an entire week in the large dunes of the Empty Quarter using only front wheel drive. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't listen to the naysayers and you give it a try.
Green Defender fills up with gas before heading out into the desert. Arabian gas stations may have up to twenty five gas pumps, and each station sells Bedouin camping gear. Bedouins don't go to REI to get their camping supplies. Their local gas station has it all. Everything you need to survive Bedouin style is for sale. Cookers, propane, tarps, clothing, water containers, fuel drums, knives, hardware - it's all there.
Filling up our jerry cans and long range fuel tanks is always an adventure. People stand around and watch us fill 13 jerry cans and ask us where are we are going. We often wonder where we are going as well.
When fueling is complete, we lock the car and check out the Bedouin camping gear at the gas station. It's tempting to buy some souvenirs, but our car is already too full. If we get any stuff, it will be on our way back to Riyadh after we have lightened our load by camping for a week in the desert.
After driving hundreds of kilometers northwest on the main highway, off in the distance we see granite batholiths rising out of the desert sand. They look interesting, and it's worth a detour to check out the granite. Camping in granite monoliths is high on our list of perfection. We turn off the highway and pick a track that takes us toward Granite Land.
Anytime we spot granite batholiths on the horizon, we turn off road to check them out. A ten kilometer detour on a two thousand kilometer trip is trivial. We might even discover a great adventure.
This particular patch of granite contains approximately sixty square miles of batholiths and outcrops. There is plenty of granite to go around. We won't run out of things to explore any time soon.
This satellite photo focuses on a patch of granite that is about two miles wide and six miles long as viewed from 37,000 feet. A smorgasbord of granite awaits Team Maxing Out.
In some areas, isolated small batholiths emerge from the Arabian Shield. Small outcrops make awesome places to have lunch and to make a quick climb to the top. Larger more complex batholiths involve more climbing, but the added altitude offers a much better view of the granite all around.
This patch of granite is about one mile wide and a couple of miles long as viewed from 7500 feet. In just a few minutes you could locate at least a dozen places to set up camp in the granite paradise. You get the best of both worlds in these campsites. You set up your tent in sand, and fifteen minutes later you are climbing on the granite. Places like this reinforce my belief that there is no limit to how good my life can become.
Our actual campsite is in a box canyon with a nice selection of boulders for privacy among the acacia trees. Although it doesn't rain often or long in the desert, the granite outcrop has prominent grooves worn in the rock created by running water. Flash flooding won't be a problem even if it rains during the night because we are upstream of any flooding.
Just for fun, I loaded Google Earth and moved the cursor to Saudi Arabia. I did not have the latitude and longitude of our campsite, but I knew that this particular granite field was about ten kilometers north of the highway about halfway to Medina. We had never been here before, and we knew nothing of this area.
I wondered if satellite photos could be used to locate our campsite. I could not imagine any reason why Google Earth would have satellite photos of this remote location. This would be a good test of how well Google Earth covers areas of little apparent importance to anyone in the world except a few Bedouins and a handful of curious campers.
I followed along Medina Road on the map, and I knew that the granite field was north of the highway. I checked out a few possibilities and within a couple of minutes, I located the granite field. Now the challenge was to see if I could locate the campsite using nothing more than the photographs that I took of the terrain.
There was a Bedouin village on the edge of the granite, and I used that to orient the satellite photos as I searched for my campsite. In less than ten minutes, I located our campsite. In this photograph, I pasted a picture of our Green Defender into the satellite photo at the exact location of our campsite. Comparison of the boulders in the satellite photo with the boulders in the actual campsite confirms that these are photographs of the same point on planet earth. The white grooves worn into the granite batholith next to the campsite match on both sets of photos.
The satellite photo shows the campsite from an altitude of 4100 feet. The actual photo of the campsite with Green Defender is taken at an altitude of 200 feet from the top of an adjacent batholith.
I have to admit that this freaks me out more than a little. I am sitting in Phoenix looking at my campsite using satellite imagery. It's amazing and creepy to know that detailed satellite images exist for every inch of planet earth. Using resources available to everyone, I can view the finger print of planet earth.
Imagine what governments and superpowers can do with their satellite imagery. Bad Boys don't have any place to hide. Of course, Good Boys don't have any place to hide as well. I hope that all of this technology is never turned against the good guys. Very scary.
There is a Big Eye in the Sky watching everyone every day, and the Big Eye is not God.
Top Secret Dudes all around the world are watching planet earth, and they all have agendas that are probably different than yours. These satellite photos are a potent reminder that all is not well on planet earth, and the technology is already in place to make the world a much different place than it is today.
If push ever comes to shove, and if you are on the wrong side of an evil global agenda, there will be no place to hide.
Late in the afternoon we hear the sound of the call to prayer from the minaret of a mosque in a nearby village. Sound travels a long way in the desert, and we hike up to a granite ledge to look down on the small village.
We are far enough away from the village, and we are tucked up in our box canyon far enough that we probably won't have any visitors from the village. It's rare that anyone approaches our campsites even when we are near populated areas.
When visitors show up at a campsite, they park off in the distance, and you go out to greet them. That lets you know that they are curious, but not aggressive. They are happy to meet you if you want to meet them. If you show no interest, they will probably drive away without connecting.
We were taught that when you go out in the desert, you never drive up to a Bedouin tent. You keep your distance and allow them to make contact. The traditional teaching is that if you are stranded in the desert, a Bedouin will take you in for three days to help you get organized, but after three days they have no moral obligation toward you. Although it's unlikely that they would allow you to perish in the desert, it is traditional for them to take you in for three days.
Some adventurers make it their business to meet and spend time with Bedouins in the desert. We always enjoyed our contact with the people of the desert, but we never sought them out.
Our tents are tucked in behind and beside some boulders. Unless someone drives up this blind canyon, they would never know that we are here.
The desert blooms green from recent rains, and acacia trees line all the watercourses. It's easy to tell where all the flash flooding will occur in heavy rains. All you have to do is follow the acacia trees that line the dried up wadis.
Our camp is on the south side of the granite field, and tomorrow we will drive north into the heart of the granite outcrops.
Pitching a tent in the sand next to granite batholiths requires that you scout out your proposed campsite with a rebar tent peg. We drive a rebar tent peg into the ground, and if it strikes granite, then we must move our camp further away from the edge of the batholith. The sand may only be two inches deep, and shallow sand will not hold our tent pegs in place. When we can drive a tent peg ten inches into the ground with our small sledge hammer, we have identified our campsite.
Our tent pegs are twelve inch long steel rebar like that used in reinforced concrete. Rebar is the standard tent peg for the desert. We camp mostly in the sand, and our ten pegs need to be at least 12 inches long so they go deep enough in the sand that our tents will not blow away in a sandstorm. Toy tent pegs used in America are a joke in Arabia. You would be chasing your tent across miles of sand dunes if you used western style tent pegs during a sandstorm.
A sheet of granite at the head of our box canyon forces us to camp near the opening of the canyon. You can't drive rebar tent pegs into granite. The little blue dot in the center of this picture is one of the tents in our campsite.
Our private canyon offers small granite outcrops that are easy to climb. Anyplace else on planet earth, this would be a national park. For us it is simply another campsite in the pristine desert.
The next morning we climb the granite overlooking our camp. A large patch of green desert occurs in a basin that collects water runoff from the outcrops. Green grass like this would warm the heart of any shepherd who must tend a flock of sheep and goats. A Bedouin herder will be able to park himself under an acacia tree, turn on his I-pad and visit OverlandUNI.com all day long while his critters eat to their heart's content.
As we explore the granite, I discover a special perch that I christen with the name "The Camel's Mouth". I am sitting on his lower lip as his upper lip gets ready to chomp on Landrover Man - leader of Team Maxing Out. To either side of his lip and nose are giant camel eyes.
I relax in the Camel's Mouth grateful that I am spared the challenge of camel breath. Wendy takes her turn in the mouth of the camel as well.
After we break camp and load up Green Defender, we pause to take a picture of Team Maxing Out. It should be a day of discovery and adventure. There aren't any park rangers and nobody to tell us what to do, so it's time to rock and roll. We are making up this adventure as we go along. I love it when a non-plan comes together.
Camels roam freely in the granite fields. These are not wild camels. They all bear a brand and everyone knows to whom they belong. It's unwise to steal somebody's camel.
An abundance of grass and fresh acacia growth means these are happy camels. They have a good size hump on their back and their fur looks great indicating healthy camels.
We venture into the granite outcrops stopping whenever we spot something interesting. It might be a place to climb a smooth batholith just for the joy of climbing, or maybe to scout out the countryside to see where we should explore next.
Acacia trees survive in the desert because they know the location of water. A row of acacia trees means that there is a wadi with flowing water in the line of trees. Water runoff from the granite creates hundreds of small unnamed wadis.
Water quickly filters down in porous sand recharging the aquifers of the granite fields. The visible granite is the tip of an igneous iceberg hiding beneath the desert sands. These outcrops all merge together beneath the desert floor creating valleys that filled in with blowing sand millions of years ago. The granite has been here for billions of years, and the sand is a Johnny-come-lately. The impermeable granite creates an underground reservoir - aquifer - covered by sand, and those who dig wells find an abundant supply of water. Wells don't dig themselves, and the rewards go to those who dig.
Granite aquifers aren't worth very much unless you have a way of getting the water to the surface. Bedouins have two ways of drawing water. The old bucket on a rope method works good if the well is only ten feet deep. But these wells go down eighty feet, and hauling up water in a bucket from such a great depth is hard work and is not practical when you want to fill up a water truck.
The Bedouin answer is a one cylinder thumper diesel engine connected to a pump by a flexible belt. You hand crank the engine to get it running, and before long your water truck is full to the brim.
Bedouins like clean water. They cover their wells with mesh to prevent birds from flying down into the well and polluting the water. They also don't want sheep or goats to fall into the well. Nobody wants to lose livestock to a well, and they especially don't want to poison their well with dead carcasses.
In ancient times, enemies sometimes poisoned the wells of their adversary. Fighting with spears and bows and arrows is dangerous, and can be completely avoided if you poison your enemy's well. Without water, your enemies have to flee or dig new wells.
David peeks over the edge into a very deep hole in the ground. If the water truck empties it's water into the hole, you get a very small Bedouin swimming hole. But that is not the case.
A Pakistani expatriate stands next to the pump that he uses to fill his water truck. He places a barrel of diesel fuel on cement blocks and feeds the diesel engine by gravity. No lift pump needed here.
He flicks the compression release lever on the single cylinder diesel engine, and then starts turning the heavy flywheels by hand. For about a minute he spins the flywheel faster and faster until he closes the compression release lever, and immediately the one lung diesel starts firing. This low RPM diesel will probably pump water for the next hundred years as long as somebody changes the oil every now and then.
One cylinder diesels are awesome. No computers or wiring complicate your life when it's time to pump water.
David and Wendy climb a large outcrop and survey the valley below. When you see how close the granite outcrops are to one another, it's easy to understand that we are looking at the peaks of granite mountains that pierce the desert floor.
Climbing granite is particularly easy in Arabia. The granite has a coarse grain, and a good pair of boots easily grip the surface as you ascend. You have plenty of traction for scrambling up the outcrops. The only thing you must watch out for is onion-skinning on the surface of the rock. Onion-skin granite can let go and take you for a ride. The bottom right of this picture has some typical onion-skinning.
I can't imagine any better place in the world to play air guitar than on the top of a granite batholith. Life is good.
On top of a collection of sloping batholiths, an elevated sand valley invites explorers to pitch their tents. Our Defender would have to drive up one side of the outcrop in order to camp here. We could easily spend a week camping in this granite paradise. Further to the north, the granite field abruptly ends in a sea of flat sand. It seems strange that these batholiths emerge from the desert sands in an area of otherwise flat terrain.
Looking off to the south, we see a Bedouin camp in the distance. We are not alone in the granite fields. His camp consists of several tents and pens for his animals. A solitary water truck is parked on the edge of his camp.
The dark black areas in his camp are created by sheep and camel manure. In some Bedouin camps, the animal pens may contain sheep manure several inches deep.
Wendy and David descend the coarse granite outcrop so we can get into Green Defender and explore another section of the granite field.
Wendy takes her turn at driving. You may notice that there is a smile on her face. Landrover Defenders are excellent smile generating machines. Every time I get behind the wheel of my Defender, I can feel a smile come across my face as well.
We pass a couple of well fed white camels enjoying a stroll in the granite. As you drive around the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, brown camels seem to be the dominant color. Here in the granite fields, the opposite is true as we have encountered quite a few white camels.
Camels have extremely tough lips, tongues, and faces. They love to nibble on acacia trees that are full of thorns. They crane their necks high in the tree to get the new growth that has occurred since the last rains.
Tracks come in small, medium, and large sizes. Small tracks make it easy to travel cross country, and if the track stays small, you end up in Nowhere Land. On the other hand, if the track is large, it is large for a reason. It will take you to a place of interest to many people. Since we have not been here before, we have no idea where this track will lead, but because the track is wide and well-used, the destination could be a pleasant surprise.
The track takes us through a choke point in the granite outcrops, and much to our surprise, the track leads to an abandoned village. Acacia trees line both sides of the track, and water runoff from the granite makes the desert bloom.
Granite is as hard as rock, because it is rock. But no matter how hard the rock, water always wins out. Water cuts rock. Although water erodes rock slowly, it is relentless.
If I ever got reincarnated and got to chose whether I would come back as rock or water, I would choose water. Water rules.
An abandoned well with crumbling walls greets visitors to the village. This well is relatively shallow, and there is no diesel pump to bring water up from great depth. When you come for water, it is rope and bucket time.
Small plastered water channels direct the flow of water to places where animals can drink from troughs. The village has irrigation channels to direct the flow of water that comes from the granite watershed.
Green Defender leaves the acacia trees behind and enters a group of date palms in an irrigated portion of the settlement. From our vantage point on the granite, it's clear that the village used the watershed from the granite to direct water into date orchards and to recharge their aquifers and wells. In the right side of the picture, a large earthen channel directs the water down into the village and fields.
Mother nature was kind to the people of this village. They are totally surrounded by granite with natural water channels cut into the rock that directs water into their community. A few dirt channels direct the flow of the water to where they want it to go. This is a great example of living in harmony with nature. The people who lived here chose a place where nature was working for them rather than against them.
When it rains hard in the desert, this ditch carries water to the village. The surface area of the granite surrounding the village insures that the water table will remain high, and the villagers will never run out of water. In rainy season they may have some flooding, but that is a small price to pay for a reliable source of water all year long.
Places like this can endure for as long as someone does not construct dozens of agricultural pivots and drill deep wells that suck the aquifer dry. This location can support subsistence farming and a reasonable number of camels, sheep, and goats. Big agriculture destroys small farms by stealing all the water.
Sand fills this water containment structure that formerly directed the flow of water in the village. In 100 years, the desert will swallow up and cover this ancient stone craft. In five hundred years, archeologists will come and dig it all back up and get their fancy PhD degrees writing about how clever the Bedouins were managing their water resources in ancient times.
Did you ever wonder what happened to a palm tree when it doesn't get enough water? Now you know. It deflates. Date palms are different than oak trees. I have never seen a deflated oak tree. If you deprive an oak tree of water, it may die, but it never deflates.
The first time I saw deflated palm trees was at the Iraqi embassy in Riyadh just before Gulf War One. In the build up to the gulf war, the Iraqi embassy was shut down in the diplomatic quarter in Riyadh. Apparently the utilities were cut off to the embassy, and that included the water. Outside the high embassy walls, the palm trees did not receive any irrigation, and those trees deflated like the tree in this picture. As they lost their water and dehydrated, the trees fell over.
Donna peeks out the door of an abandoned adobe structure. The door lintel is made from wood, and the top of the windows are wood as well. Walls are constructed from mud, stones, and straw - the same way houses have been made for thousands of years in the Middle East. Roofs are constructed from tree limbs, palm fronds, and mud.
These adobe structures are in a state of disrepair. You have to periodically plaster the walls and roofs of these buildings or they will gradually melt away in the rain. Rain rules granite, but it ravages adobe.
It's easy to identify the kitchen in an adobe structure. The location of the cooking fire and oven are obvious, and the smoke stains on the dark walls confirm that thousands of open fires have burned inside this kitchen.
Palm fronds hang down from the ceiling as this adobe structure slips into oblivion. The kitchen has excellent ventilation with lots of windows to bring in fresh air.
Bedouins don't bother installing a chimney in their kitchen. The simply cut a hole in the roof for the smoke to exit. Smoke stains the rafters and palm fronds on the ceiling.
A hole in the roof and well ventilated kitchens are simple things that saves lives. Cooking without them means death from carbon monoxide. Occasionally in Riyadh I read in the newspaper about Sudanese or Somali expatriates who set up a hibachi grill on their apartment floor and cooked meals in a fully enclosed room. They died from asphyxiation when they used up the oxygen in the room and filled it up with carbon monoxide.
One of the things I like about a Brownchurch style roof rack is that it makes an excellent platform for photography. Getting a camera twelve feet above ground level creates a completely different perspective on your adventure. We wanted to photograph the adobe structures from above. Wendy climbed up on the roof rack, and we maneuvered the Green Defender in position so she could take pictures with an elevated point of view.
I always put a ladder on the back of my Defenders because it makes it easy to get up on the roof rack to take pictures.
These adobe structures won't last much longer unless someone comes to their rescue. A thick coat of muddy plaster will keep the buildings alive. The roofs of some buildings have areas without any plaster, and gaping holes are starting to develop. Walls are rounding out along their tops, and the mud walls are thinning to the point that they crumbling.
Deflated palm trees frame an adobe structure that is melting away.
Like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, adobe structures melt when you throw water on them. On the other hand, palm trees deflate when you don't throw water on them. Sometimes it's hard to win.
The center of the ancient village features a large courtyard. This would be where people come to buy and sell their wares, and to meet up with the authorities in charge. A sheik would likely hold a majilis here to settle disputes and dispense favor.
It would also be the place of punishment for people who committed crimes. If you are going to get fifty lashes, this would be where it happens, right in front of everyone in the community.
Anyone who believes that punishment is not a deterrent to bad behavior has never lived in a place where public humiliation brings shame on yourself and on your entire family. I am not saying that I am in favor of public punishment, but in some cultures it is extremely effective at keeping everyone on the straight and narrow.
The roof is coming down on this passageway, and it won't be long before there is no roof at all. It's sad to see ancient structures dissolve into the desert. It is a potent reminder of the transitory nature of life, and it won't be long before we are all gone. It's important to not become slaves to stuff and things that will quickly erode away once we are gone.
Too often I work like I will be here forever, and I forget that relinquishment is the overlooked law of life. All of my accumulations and attachments are temporary, and I should spend my life doing the things that I love rather than accumulating mountains of cash and piles of stuff that are going to disappear faster than these adobe buildings.
Life is for living and loving, and if I accumulate a few things along the way, that's ok. But stuff is not the meaning of life. I am here to sail on the ocean of my dreams and to drive my dream machines around the world.
Team Maxing Out is what it's all about. We get in our dream machines and make memories that last a lifetime.
Life is good.
Awesome music video that captures the essence of what it's like to sail offshore in a catamaran around the world when conditions are less than perfect. David Abbott from Too Many Drummers sings the vocals, and he also edited the footage from our Red Sea adventures. This is the theme song from the Red Sea Chronicles.
Sailing up the Red Sea is not for the faint of heart. From the Bab al Mandeb to the Suez Canal, adventures and adversity are in abundance. If you take things too seriously, you just might get the Red Sea Blues.
If you like drum beats, and you like adventure, then have a listen to the Red Sea Chronicles Trailer.
Flying fish assault Exit Only in the middle of the night as we sail through the Arabian Gulf from the Maldives to Oman. And so begins our Red Sea adventures.
Sailing through Pirate Alley between Yemen and Somalia involves calculated risk. It may not be Russian Roulette, but it is a bit of a worry. Follow Team Maxing Out as they navigate through Pirate Alley.
Stopping in Yemen was just what the doctor ordered. We refueled, repaired our alternator, and we made friends with our gracious Yemeni hosts. We also went to Baskins Robbins as a reward for surviving Pirate Alley.
After you survive Pirate Alley, you must sail through the Gate of Sorrows (Bab Al Mandab) at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Gate of Sorrows lived up to its name with fifty knots of wind and a sandstorm that pummeled Exit Only for two days. Life is good.
Join Team Maxingout as they sail through Pirate Alley and up the Red Sea
See what it's like to cruise on a catamaran before you spend a bazillion dollars purchasing one
After watching the Red Sea Chronicles you will be able to see yourself sailing on the ocean of your dreams
Although I like the feel of a paper book in my hand, I love trees even more. When people purchase an eBook, they actually save trees and save money as well. Ebooks are less expensive and have no negative impact on the environment. All of Dr. Dave's books are available at Save A Tree Bookstore. Visit the bookstore today and start putting good things into your mind. It's easy to fill your mind with positive things using eBooks. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you can pull out your smart phone or tablet and start reading. You can even use electronic highlighters and make annotations in your eBooks just like paper books.