ROCK WALL JOURNAL, EMPTY QUARTER SAND RAMPS, PETROGLYPHS OF SOUTHERN ARABIA
The Empty Quarter is one of the largest sand boxes in the world.
Every time I think about playing in the sand, I want to go to the Empty
Quarter of Saudi Arabia.
Big sand and endless dunes are a giant magnet for my Defender 110
Land Rover. I don't mind driving in wadis, and exploring in the
mountains has its rewards, but driving in sand feels good all the way
to the bone. A week-long expedition to the Empty Quarter is an
instant cure for depression. The moment I drive in sand, the
bad stuff goes out of my mind, and in comes the good. I don't
know why sand makes me feel so good, but it does. It's an undeniable
fact of my life.
Pristine sand dunes take me back to a biodegradable era where everything
is natural. In deep desert, plastic bags blowing in the wind and
piles of rubbish do not exist. And best of all, the white noise of
civilization is nowhere to be found. The sand dunes of the Empty Quarter are the only place on
planet earth where I have experienced total silence. If I hold my
breath and do not pollute the environment with the sound of my breathing,
I am in total silence. I feel like I am standing on holy ground.
Some of our expeditions into the Empty Quarter last a full nine days,
but on this trip we spend only three or four. This expedition is special
because we plan to visit the petroglyphs of the Rock Wall Journal in
southern Arabia after we regain our sanity in the Empty Quarter.
Packages of food carry printed labels that list the
nutritional value of each ingredient found in a packet of food. The labels
state the minimum daily requirement for each ingredient inside the
package. Some people consume supplements to insure that they get
their minimum daily requirements to maintain robust health.
As far as I am concerned, a couple of days in sand is the absolute
minimum requirement for any trip into deep desert. If I don't get
several days of sand, I feel like I am missing out on my minimum daily
requirement for sand. Sand clears the mind and puts things in perspective. It's the best
spa on planet earth.
A satellite photo from a couple of hundred miles in space focuses on
our playground. What's our plan? We will drive and camp in the endless
dunes. Where are we going? Wherever we want. How long
are we going to stay? For as long as we want.
The truth is that we are going to stay for as long as it takes to get our
minimum daily requirement of sand. Then we will turn west toward the
Tuwayq escarpment, ride a sand ramp down to the desert floor, and travel
to the Rock Wall Journal where we can study petroglyphs of southern
We enter the southern half of the Empty Quarter though a convenient
break in the Tuwayq escarpment and head southeast until we arrive in big
sand. Rolling mountains of sand give way to broad valleys separating
each line of dunes from the next.
Rolling sandy vista remind me of the massive ocean swells of the
Pacific Ocean. Our catamaran rode those swells for months as we
sailed from Panama to New Zealand. The difference between the Empty
Quarter sand and the Pacific Ocean is that on the ocean, the swells and
waves are moving. In the dunes, the swells and waves of sand are
frozen in time. It's as if God told the sand dunes to stop, and then
set us free to cruise on his ocean of sand.
Our three vehicles tuck in behind a frozen wave of sand to spend the
Our Defender 110 is anchored in the lee of a twenty foot wave of sand.
The tent is up, and after an evening around the campfire, we will sleep
soundly in the total silence of the Empty Quarter.
Since we will be in deep desert for a short time, we are carrying
only four jerry
cans of fuel on the roof rack rather than the usual eight. Five more
cans of fuel are stored in a box inside the vehicle. Three boxes of
firewood are on the back of the roof rack.
On trips into the Empty
Quarter where there is no fuel available for a campfire, each vehicle is
responsible for bringing enough wood for two or three campfires. We will
supply fuel for three campfires on this trip.
When we have transfused enough sand into our veins, and it's time of
leave, we turn west to escape the Empty Quarter. This is not the
usual exit from the Empty Quarter, because there is a 500 foot tall escarpment that stands in our way.
Sand dunes run up to the Tuwayq escarpment, and sand spills over its edge to the desert floor below.
You can't exit the dunes anywhere
you want. You have to locate a sand ramp that takes you over the
edge of the escarpment and down to the desert floor.
We don't know the exact location of a sand ramp that will do the job
for us, but the desert knows, and without much prodding gives up its
navigational secrets. We simply locate a bedouin track that
heads west, and follow it to the escarpment. If it's a big
track, there is a good chance it will lead to a place where we can
descend the escarpment. It's a chance that we have to take unless we
want to drive in the dunes for a couple of hundreds kilometers further to
the south where the escarpment finally ends.
Not all sand ramps are up to the task of getting us down from the
limestone Tuwayq. Only a few of them rise all
the way to the top of the escarpment and provide a safe way to descend.
As we head further south and west in search for a good track, the
valleys between the dunes flatten and reveal the limestone bedrock on
which the massive dunes reside. The closer we come to the edge of
the escarpment, the wider the valleys become.
Close to the edge of the Tuwayq escarpment, the dunes diminish in size
and the limestone of the Tuwayq is covered by patches and sheets of sand.
Sand spills over the edge of the escarpment creating irregular sand ramps
most of which never reach the top of the escarpment. If you are
unlucky, you may have to inspect four or five sand ramps before you locate
one that lets you descend to the desert below.
In the foreground, an agricultural pivot makes the desert bloom. A
big green pivot puts a smile on the face of a thousand camels.
A Bedouin track leads us to a sand ramp that we hope will take us down
from the top of the escarpment.
Satellite photos are awesome. The arrow points to the place
where we can descend 500 feet to the desert floor below.
The satellite photo is spot on. The groove in the escarpment seen on
the satellite photo translates into a real world photo of our sand ramp.
The large rocks on the right side of the sand ramp show up nicely on the
Bedouin tire tracks heading down the sand ramp confirm that it will take
us to the bottom of the Tuwayq.
Through binoculars we can see tire tracks at the bottom of the
sand ramp. The lower half of the ramp has firmly packed gravel and
sheet sand. The upper half of the ramp is soft sand.
We definitely can drive down the ramp, but there is serious doubt about
whether we could ever turn around and drive back up to the top. This
could easily be a one way trip.
We line up our vehicles at the top of the ramp ready to make our
descent. The white limestone of the escarpment is actually a massive
reef that extends more than 900 kilometers to the north. Fossilized
sea shells and coral are found in abundance on the top of the escarpment.
The track that we take down the escarpment is straight forward.
Put the vehicle in second gear and stay north of the sand dune as you
descend. It's a piece of cake.
Red Defender sinks in the soft sand near the top, but there is no
danger of getting stuck while heading downhill.
The sand becomes progressively more firm as you travel down the ramp.
Two vehicles far in the distance look like toys parked at the bottom
of the ramp. The hood of green Defender points in the direction of
our next adventure as we prepare to descend.
We are sorry to say good-bye to the Empty Quarter, but we will be
In fact, we came back sooner than anticipated. We decided that
we would test the ramp to see if we could drive back up to the top of the
escarpment. Someday we might want to enter the big dunes using this
ramp if it is technically possible.
Two of our vehicles attempt the ascent. The lower half is
easy. The upper half of the ramp is soft sand, and the outcome is in doubt.
The white Nissan did not make it all the way to the top. More speed
is in order, and now is the time to put the accelerator all the way to the
Our V8 Defender 110 does really well ascending dunes as long as the
accelerator is all the way to the floor. If you let up on the
accelerator for even a second, you will not make it. We hit the lower part of the sand
ramp in third gear at full throttle and continued up until our speed began
to falter, and then in a nanosecond we dropped into second gear with the
accelerator all the way to the floor. I was not sure that we were
going to make it, but the Defender never stopped moving until we parked it
on the top of the escarpment. I love the guts in a Defender 110.
As we drive away from the escarpment, we see how non-descript this
ascent appears from a distance. We put the GPS coordinates in our
log book for future reference. You never know when you might need to
make an emergency ascent up a sand ramp into the Empty Quarter to get your
minimum daily requirements of sand.
Read a positive eBook today and save a tree.
This isn't hotel California, and you can leave any time you want.
Before we visit the Rock Wall Journal at Hema, we stop at a restaurant out in
the boondocks to get some rice and chicken.
Chicken on a rotisserie is the safest food to eat on planet earth.
You can be starving in an armpit of the world looking for something to
eat, and if you find roti chicken, you have an instant feast. It's
impossible to get sick eating roti chicken. Everywhere I travel in
remote locations, I look for chicken on a rotisserie. I have never
gotten sick from eating it in more than fifty countries. The chicken
is so well done that the meat falls off the bone. Every time I eat
roti chicken, I instantly get a flash back to my Arabian adventures.
A chicken and rice feast is incomplete without Arabic flat bread.
Arabic bread fresh out of the oven is always safe, and the taste and smell
of freshly baked bread is awesome.
With a belly full of chicken and fresh bread, we head south west to an
area called Hema. The desert sand gradually gives way rocky
We choose to camp in a sheltered wadi that offers privacy and
protection just in case the wind comes up. Blowing sand is a hassle in a
campsite, and it's good to have protection from the elements on three
sides. The sandy wadi is dry, and from it's appearance, it's been a
long time since a flash flood threatened this campsite.
We only camp in wadis if there is no sign of rain in the sky.
Flash flooding is a serious threat in the Arabian desert. The rock
above our campsite displays the effects of a million years of flash floods
eroding the rock before spilling in a waterfall down into our campsite.
One of our friends camped in a wadi in western Arabia, and a flash flood
carried away his vehicle never to be seen again. The campers lost
everything and spent three days hiking back to the highway to be rescued.
We were not camping in rainy season, and there was hardly a cloud in the
sky, so the risk of flash floods at our campsite was zero.
After breaking camp, we explore wadis in search of petroglyphs.
There aren't any road signs that tell you where you are or where you can
find petroglyphs. We are on a scavenger hunt. This is an expedition for those who like
driving around in Land Rovers scanning the countryside for panels of
Lots of sandstone covered with desert varnish make this prime
petroglyph country. If we follow the winding desert tracks, we will almost
certainly discover the Rock Wall Journal - the petroglyphs of Hema.
Persistence pays off. I call petroglyphs the Rock Wall Journal. Petroglyphs are a window on the past that tells the story of ancient
people and of things they hold dear. They are a communal journal
embedded in rock just as securely as the ten commandments were written on
tablets of stone at Mount Sinai.
The Rock Wall Journal tells tales of valor and values, and victories and
defeats. They are web pages from the past frozen in time with a
timeless message that reveals how much we are like them.
The ancient people who created the Rock Wall Journal
were not simple-minded cavemen waiting to evolve
into real human beings. These highly intelligent people had an
appreciation for the natural world in which they were immersed. They
displayed their focus on the natural world with stylized drawings
that are still pleasing to modern eyes. Although they had a limited palate
and only a few tools with which to work, they created unforgettable panels
of rock art.
Dull-minded people struggling to survive don't sit around pecking rock art
on canyon walls. Bright individuals create rock art to transmit a
message to their peers and to future generations. They knew what
they were doing when they took a tool in hand and made their mark.
They were pecking an article for the Rock Wall Journal, and for the next
thousand years, everyone who came that way would see their work.
They created something that will endure longer than the non-biodegradable
technological trash of the twenty-first century. Those who wrote in
the Rock Wall Journal made their mark, and that mark endures. They
did something significant.
The Rock Wall Journal reveals that the ancients loved their animals,
and they demonstrated a strong attachment to the natural world. They
also had an eternal problem with war.
They respected power and appreciated the beauty found in nature. They
displayed a well-developed sense of fashion adorning themselves with
necklaces, and even displayed special hairdos in their rock art.
It's not surprising that ostriches show up on Rock
Wall Journal because the ostrich was abundant on the Arabian Peninsula.
Ostrich eggs are an excellent food source, and it's likely they were an ancient delicacy. Ostrich meat must have
graced many a table during times of plenty. The ostrich egg shell
makes an excellent canteen in which to carry water when traveling away
from camp. Even if you drop the egg, and the shell shatters into a
thousand pieces, all is not lost. Ostrich shell fragments create
awesome beads to hang around your neck. As you travel in the desert,
you often discover hundreds of pieces of ostrich shell lying in the sand.
When you cruise across the desert sands in your Land Rover, if you see a white glistening
reflection in the sand, chances are that you are looking at the broken
fragments of an ancient ostrich shell.
The Ostrich was hunted to near extinction with the advent of rifles on the
Arabian peninsula. Now the ostrich are a protected species and are
being slowly reintroduced into the desert from reserves in Saudi Arabia.
Antelopes are popular figures on many panels of rock art.
This half pipe of rock art displays an abundance of camels, antelopes,
and Arabian horses as well as fighting figures.
More than a few fighting figures on Arabian horses decorate this
panel. Nobody knows whether this panel represents the work of one artist
or dozens of artists, and it's not clear whether the panel was created
over a thousand years, or over a shorter span of time.
The Arabian peninsula has been inhabited for tens of thousands of
years, and before the development of Arabic script, people wrote on
the Rock Wall Journal in languages that have long since died out.
In some locations, the inscriptions have been deciphered by scholars
knowledgeable in ancient scripts. Sometimes the message tells of the
conquests of invaders with the names of leaders memorialized forever in
stone. Politicians and generals have always wanted to have their
exploits and accomplishments carved into stone. Ancient egos are
just as big as modern ones.
Ferreting out petroglyphs requires an eagle eye. As you drive
through the wadis, you scan the flat sandstone walls hoping to discover a
petroglyph that stirs your imagination and that connects you with someone
who lived five thousand years ago.
Binoculars make it easier to pick out rock art at higher elevations.
If you spot something interesting, you park your Defender and climb up the
rock walls to examine your discovery up close. Sandstone is easy to
climb with excellent traction underfoot. It's all feet and eyes as
you explore the Rock Wall Journal.
This panel has a special treat for those willing to ascend the rock
face. An antelope runs for his life with four predators ambushing
him on the rock. One has him by the tail, another attacks one of his
front legs, and a third and fourth attack from the opposite direction.
The predators all look different. Two of them may have feline tails,
two have solid colors, and one has stripes on his body. The striped
predator could represent a hyena.
The Arabian Peninsula was connected to Africa in the past, and there are
are even rhinoceros bones found in the Empty Quarter. Today, two
species of gazelles, as well as oryx live in the Empty Quarter on a
national preserve at Bani Maarid.
Scenes like this are right out of Africa with predators working as a team
to bring down an antelope. It's obvious that the artist lived in a
place and time where the struggles between predator and prey were a part
of daily life.
Some authorities state that the camel was domesticated around 3500
B.C., and horses came to Arabia around 2500 B.C. Although nobody
knows for sure when camels and horses were commonplace on the Arabian
peninsula, there is no doubt that Bedouins loved their camels and horses.
Mounted warriors used Arabian horses on the field of battle.
Warriors project their power with swords and spears as they charge across
the rock face.
A beautiful woman emerges in splendor from a field of chaotic petroglyphs. Her fancy hairdo points skyward, and her thin fingers
hold mysterious objects in the air. This is no ordinary lady of the
rocks. Around her neck and on the front of her chest is a large
necklace or breastplate. A second woman with similar hairdoo resides
beneath her right arm.
Although petroglyphs easily endure the ravages of mother nature for a
thousand years, they cannot stand up to the assault of men with their high
powered weapons. The camel at the top of the petroglyph is the
victim of target practice with a high powered rifle. A round of ammo
grazes the top of the woman's right shoulder, and there is a direct hit in
her lower abdomen and left leg. Four rounds of ammo scar the rock
above and beside her right arm.
Whenever we meet Bedouins in the desert, we usually find that they are
well-armed. Occasionally they have a low powered 22 caliber rifle,
but more often, there is a Kalishnakov or AK-47 lying on the floor of
their truck. I don't know who used these petroglyphs for target
practice, but I know that it was not expatriates, because we are not
allowed to own or carry firearms.
This warrior sports a long sword at his waist, and there is a
suggestion of a shield or large knife in his left hand.
The Rock Wall Journal is heavy into texting. When ancient
people did texting, it was meant to last for all time. It's a lot of
work to text in rock, but if your ego is big enough, and your message
important enough, rock texting gets the job done just fine.
The person writing this text didn't have much to say. I suspect
it was something like, "I would walk a mile for a camel."
In ancient times, the main competitor to the Rock Wall Journal was the
Rock News Network which was also called RNN. I suspect that the Rock
Wall Journal was the bastion of prehistoric conservative opinion, whereas
the Rock News Network was the earliest expression of liberal media bias.
This petroglyph probably told everyone to be afraid and do what they were
told, because if the didn't, a Big Guy was going to come and kick
their buns all the way to Kuwait. That is my translation, but the
translation is probably a little rough around the edges, and there is a
chance it could be slightly off.
Nevertheless, I don't think petroglyphs like this are poems about tip
toeing through the tulips. When a Big Guy commissions a message on a
rock, he isn't fooling around, and you better listen. I don't see
any place for comments under the message from the Big Guy.
After we leave the wadi, we head out on a sandy plain in search of
sandstone faces on which we can discover more petroglyphs. This
bullet riddled rock contains messages from the Big Guy. Apparently,
present day Bedouins don't care that much about messages from the Big Guy.
An AK-47 trumps messages from the Big Guy seven days a week.
This panel depicts a chaotic battle between competing warriors on
Arabian horses with lots of camels mixed in the fray. The fog of war
is thousands of years old. It's hard to tell who is fighting who,
and probably more than one warrior dies from friendly fire.
The writing on the right side of this panel may describe the name the
battle. It might say something like "Operation Desert Storm 2000
B.C." The animal on the lower right portion of the panel appears to
have been added at a much later date, because it covers some of the
original rock art.
Unfriendly fire takes it toll on ancient warriors locked in eternal
combat. Opposing warriors are the victims of the AK-47s and Kalishnakovs of the
twentieth century as multiple bullet holes riddle their galloping steeds.
Psychological warfare is thousands of years old. Why else would
they show warriors throwing lances that are twenty feet long sporting
giant blades on the business end of their spears. Large swords hang
from their waists, and massive horses with tiny heads charge into battle.
These Bad Boys of war could give anyone a serious dose of post traumatic
A special surprise awaits as we travel south in search of more
petroglyphs. Off in the distance, we spot an isolated rock arch that
begs for exploration. The arch is made of sandstone, and the odds
are in our favor that petroglyphs will be found somewhere near the arch.
The sandstone arch provides good protection for our Defenders in the
noonday sun. It's a great place to fix lunch and scout the area for
We check out the top of the arch, but there are no petroglyphs in
sight. We didn't think there would be any petroglyphs up there, so
we aren't disappointed. The good part is that we enjoyed climbing
the rocks and walking across the sandstone bridge.
On the far side of the bridge we discover a large panel of rock art.
There's no doubt about it, the Rock Wall Journal extended it's domain for
a long distance into southern Arabia. The artists creating this
panel have graduated from stick figures into stunning and complicated
representations of animals and humans.
The Arabian horse displays its trademark elevated tail. The
horse's mouth is open as he neighs in the heat of battle. His large
hoofs and thick legs show that this is no ordinary steed.
I am sure there was lots of competition among ancient movers and
shakers as to who would be featured on the cover of the Rock Wall Journal.
The man of the year did not originate with Time Magazine. After
searching the Rock Wall Journal for more than a decade, I believe that I
have discovered the Original Man of the Year sporting the Six Pack of the
This remarkable cover to the Rock Wall Journal reveals the true state of
ancient muscle builders before the advent of steroids and other banned
substances. Anyone can get a six pack today by injecting anabolic
steroids and working out for a grueling fifteen minutes a day. But
in ancient times, things were different, and a six pack really meant
something. The Six Pack Man of the Year has broad shoulders and huge
hands. In his left hand, he has a whip or a snake - it doesn't matter
which - because both of them are manly things right up there with stuff
like our present day lifted
trucks and automatic weapons with extra large ammo magazines. The Six
Pack Man of the Year sports headgear appropriate for such an
important person, and his thick legs are pure muscle. He is a man's
man for sure.
The ostrich standing next to the Man of the Year is no slouch either.
It sports fancy tail feathers and sculpted body with a small head which it
is not hiding in the sand.
I wonder how much the artist got for this front cover on the Rock Wall
Just to the left of the sandstone arch are prehistoric groves cut into
rock. Each groove is four to six inches wide and more than six feet
long. The purpose of the grooves remains a mystery. The how of
making groves like this is easy. Simply take large smooth rocks in
the palm of your hand and run them up and down the inclined sandstone face
to create the parallel grooves. The grooves could be ceremonial or
associated with food preparation. The proximity of these grooves to
the rock arch makes me believe that the grooves had a ceremonial
significance that we will never know.
Our days spent reading the Rock Wall Journal have been enlightening as we
travel though this mysterious land. Voices from the past project a
modern message. The Rock Wall Journal leaves us with three
points worthy of consideration.
1. War is as old as humankind, and don't expect it to go away
anytime soon. The only difference between ancient and modern warfare
is the weapons.
2. Image is everything when you are on the cover of the Rock Wall
Journal, and it's possible to have a real six pack without anabolic
3. Big Guys like to post scary messages on rock walls that keep the
fearful masses in line. Be afraid, be very afraid!
And that's the way it is 2011 B.C. and 2011 A.D.
you listen to makes you into a different person. You need to turn on the
positive mind pump and fill your mind with positive things. Listen to over
200 positive podcasts by Dr. Dave on six different websites. Visit
Positive Thinking Podcasts.com
Positive Thinking Radio has powerful positive podcasts that will
supercharge your life. Visit
Positive Thinking Radio.com
Say good-bye to depression and hello to a positive mind. Visit
Zero Tolerance To Negative Thinking.com
You must know what to say
when your mind talks to you, and what to say when you talk to your mind.
You have a lot of things to discuss with your mind. Visit
Maximum Strength Positive Thinking.com
Team Maxing Out sailed around the world on their catamaran Exit Only.
Now they have created the Positive Thinking Network, and you can cruise
the positive world wide web with them. Visit