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The cardinal rule of desert exploration is never go into the desert alone. Single vehicles expeditions are strictly off limits unless you have a strong desire to die.

The single vehicle rule is almost always true. Nevertheless, if you know what you are doing, every rule has times when you can safely stretch it, bend it, or break it if you have good reasons for doing so. If you have an unprepared vehicle without a good contingency plan, then you should not venture alone off road into the desert.

We decided that we wanted to visit the white volcanoes of the Arabian shield just north of Medina. The volcanoes are in a no man's land with lava fields stretching for hundreds of miles. We would be foolish to make a solo trip to this area in the heat of summer. But if it's the cold month of December, if we have two spare tires and enough water to survive for a couple of weeks, and if we are willing to burn one of our spare tires to make a smoke signal in an emergency, then a solo trip is not crazy. It may be pushing the limits a bit, and it might result in significant inconvenience if things go wrong, but the odds are in our favor that we will not die in the desert as long as we stay with the vehicle. The worst thing that would happen is we might spend a week in the desert awaiting rescue by a curious Bedouin who saw our smoke signal and came over to have a look. A plume of black smoke rising from volcanoes in a lava field usually generates lots of interest.

Land Rover Defender

The patch of desert we want to explore is not that large. We will be off road for no more than 100 kilometers, so fuel will not be a problem. Our biggest challenge is to discover a Bedouin track that takes us where we want to go. There are not any road signs that tell us how to reach the white volcanoes of Khybar Harrat. When we drive in lava fields, there are lots of dead end tracks that do not cross the lava fields. We must be prepared to turn around and select another track that heads in the direction we want to travel. Maybe this time, it will not peter out, and it will take us to our destination.

The most difficult navigational challenge in this trip is locating the elusive track that actually carries us to the white volcanoes. There are dozens of tracks from which to choose.

We came from Riyadh, and when we arrived at the approximate latitude of the volcanoes, we left the asphalt, and turned in the direction of the white volcanoes.

This navigational problem starts with a line (road) in the east and ends with a line (road) in the west. The starting and ending point of the trip are easy. Reaching the white volcanoes is the hard part.

Land Rover Defender

Lava fields are called harrat in Arabic. Transiting lava fields can be easy or hard, or anything in between. In thin lava flows, usually there are good tracks that are not too hard on our tires. The further we are from the volcanoes, the flatter the terrain, and the easier it is to make good time.

The closer we get to the volcanoes, the more dissected the terrain becomes, and the more challenging the driving. Lots of volcanic cones dot the countryside, and lava flows pile up on top of each other from many eruptions that happened over thousands of years. In some areas we can see three or more layers of lava all with different colors. Each volcano has its distinctive color of lava, and over time many lava flows overlap.

Closely spaced volcanic cones create heavily dissected terrain, and navigation is never in a straight line. We zig zag through lava flows as we ascend and descend Lavaland. It's easy to get lost in lava fields because we don't travel in straight lines. A track may dead end in a wall of lava, and we have to turn around and retrace our steps. When we drive in the severely dissected terrain, we spend as much time driving up and down as we do zig zagging to the right and left.

Driving in lava fields has so many dead ends that I made a cookie crumb trail with my GPS so I could figure out how to easily retrace my steps when I hit a dead end. More than once I was happy that I had the cookie crumb trail because it stopped me from erratically driving in circles among the volcanoes. Without the GPS, I would have been a Demented Defender Driver discovering that I was truly lost. I didn't need my GPS to tell me where I was. I needed the GPS to make it easy to retrace my steps.

We came from the east, and located a major track that took us west. Except for dead ends, the navigation is simply drive west until you come to the white volcanoes, and when it's time to leave, continue west until we come to the asphalt that takes us south to Medina.

Land Rover Defender

The two largest white volcanoes on the Khybar Harrat bear the names Jebel Bayda and Jebel Abyad. Both names mean the color white. Bayda is the feminine word for white in Arabic, and Abyad is the masculine word for white in Arabic. The word Bayda can also mean egg, and I presume it is referring primarily to egg white.

Jebel Abyad is the highest volcano in the area with an altitude of nearly 6800 feet. Just north of the white volcanoes is a black shield volcano called Jebel Qidr with an altitude of almost 6600 feet. Black lava from Jebel Qidr flowed south and covered the white lava from Jebel Bayda and Jebel Abyad. We set up camp at the end of the lava flow that comes south from Jebel Qidr.

Land Rover Defender

After leaving the highway, it requires a couple of hours to find a major track heading west toward the white volcanoes. These two tracks are good candidates. Tracks this large are going somewhere significant, and as long as they head west, there is a decent chance that they will quickly get our Defender well to the west.

The presence of the power lines suggests we are on a major track heading toward a town, and that means the track won't suddenly disappear into a dead end taking us to Nowhere Land.

David sits on top of the Defender securing a box of firewood. We are traveling on large corrugations that are extremely effective at shaking things loose and moving them around on the roof rack. David climbs up and uses additional bungee straps to put things in order.

Land Rover Defender

After we passed through a small village, we followed a track that dead-ended in an area with small farms and lots of volcanic rocks. We had no choice but to turn around and retrace our steps until we located a different track that headed west. Since we don't have a road map, it is pure trial and error finding a track that will take us to the land of the white volcanoes.

When we don't know how to get where we are going, it's always good to have long range fuel tanks and jerry cans. We can do miles of backtracking without worrying about running out of fuel.


Eventually, we locate a well-developed track heading west that looks promising. A sandstone outcrop in the distance looks interesting and is worth exploring as it may be a good location to set up camp for the night.

Although Wendy cannot drive on the highway in Saudi Arabia, once she is off road, she can drive anywhere she wants. It is not uncommon to see Bedouin women driving in the desert, and it is perfectly legal.

Wendy and David both learned how to drive in the Arabian desert. It doesn't matter whether they are in rocky desert or in the sand dunes, they drive the Defender like pros.


The sandstone outcrop turns out to be better than we had hoped. It's more than an outcrop. It's an enclosed canyon with a relatively narrow entrance. Tracks lead in and out of the canyon, so we are not the first people to be here. There is no trash or bottles lying around on the ground which means not many people come here and set up camp.

We decide to tuck in behind a large rock toward the back of the canyon. We place our vehicle and tents behind the rock to achieve some degree of shelter and privacy in an otherwise exposed location.

As an added bonus, our campsite is in sand which is a world better than on rocky ground. Fate has been kind to us in this campsite. Camping on rocky terrain is a good argument for a roof top tent, because it doesn't matter if you set up camp in the rocks. We are sand people. We are willing to search high and low to discover an elusive patch of sand on which we can erect our tents.

If we are too close to rocky outcrops, it's sometimes impossible to drive tent stakes into the ground. Rock is just a few inches below the sand, and tent stakes will not penetrate the rock. If that happens, we go without the stakes. We put lots of gear in the tents to anchor them in position so they will not blow away if a sandstorm happens.


This is what our campsite looks like from the entrance of the canyon. Tucked in behind that rock are three tents and one Defender. The sun is setting, and our tents and vehicle hide in the shadow of the high canyon walls.

If I had to order a perfect campsite for a single vehicle expedition, this would be what I would want. It doesn't get any better than this.


This is what our camp looks like from behind the rock. Wendy and David each have their own tent, and Donna and I use the green tent attached to the side of our Defender. Camp chairs are set up, the windscreen keeps the fire from blowing out, and the table is ready to prepare food for the next meal.

Off in the distance numerous sand stone outcrops come into view. Sandstone outcrops containing flat panels make awesome tablets on which to scribble rock graffiti otherwise know as petroglyphs.


Petroglyphs decorate the rock panel just above the roof of the red tent. It's not often that we set up our tent next to a rock, and when we look up we discover a trove of ancient petroglyphs.

Land Rover Defender

A few meters from our tents, a flat rock bears petroglyphs from edge to edge. For thousands of years, people have been pecking their drawings onto these sandstone faces.

Anyplace else in the world, this petroglyph bonanza would be a national park.

Land Rover Defender

In another area of our campsite, David stands next to some antelope petroglyphs. I had David stand next to the antelope heads to give a sense of the large size of the heads and horns on these beasts.

The easiest way to identify the number of antelopes on this panel is to count the curved horns. I count at least six sets of horns immediately to David's right. Seeing antelope glyphs of such a large size and in such great numbers is uncommon in Arabia.

It blows my mind to think that artists created these petroglyphs thousands of years ago.

Land Rover Defender

A close up reveals an antelope-like creature with a large head and shoulders. The head even appears to be sporting a set of ears. The horns all appear curved reminiscent of long horn cattle. The horns appear quite narrow, and I suspect that if the horns were actually thick, the artist would have rendered them such. I believe the narrow horns accurately depict the narrow horns on the mysterious antelopes of the Arabian shield.

Land Rover Defender

A leopard, cougar, or lion occupies the center of this panel. A long feline tail curves to the right side of the rock face. Stick figures of men are above and below the feline tail. The figure above the tail appears to be carrying a bow and arrow or perhaps a shield.

In the upper left corner, the curved horns of an antelope can be seen, and there is a suggestion of a head under the horns. It makes me wonder if the panel shows a leopard attacking an antelope while humans pursue the cat. A human stick figure resides beneath the feline petroglyph.


Wendy gives perspective to the petroglyphs in this panel. Camels and antelopes with curved horns are in abundance. Tribal markings called wusum occupy other sections of the panel.


Camels, antelopes, and anthropomorphic figures decorate this panel. On the right side of the rock face are a large number of ancient tribal markings called wusum. Wusum is a plural Arabic word for these tribal markings. Wasm is singular Arabic word that indicates a single specific tribal mark. These panels illustrate many different wasms.


Although a few antelope grace this panel, most of the petroglyphs consist of tribal wusum. Lines, crosses, circles, and geometric patterns tatoo the rock in an awesome display of tribal markings.

A small amount of Arabic graffiti decorates the upper right corner of the panel.

For thousands of years, hundreds of tribes have been living in the Arabian Peninsula, and the tribes used wusum to transmit information about land and animal ownership and tribal identity. They branded their camels with wusum that can still be seen today on camels in the desert.

I call rock art by the name, "The Rock Wall Journal" because it records events, stories, and identities of people who lived in Arabia for thousands of years. Some sites contain rock art that is 7000-9000 years old.

An article on Wusum from the Ministry of Antquities and Museums in Saudi Arabia shows the importance of Wusum in the ancient cultures of the Arabian Peninsula. Ancient people protected their property by placing the tribal symbol of the owner on the ground, on objects themselves, or on a nearby rock. No one finding marked property will take it even if it appears to be abandoned in the desert without anyone standing guard. If someone dies in the desert, his personal effects are taken by the person who buries him, and the wasm of the dead person is placed on the grave stone. The personal effects and the person's camel can be recovered by the heirs if they find the grave with the identifying wasum. That is Bedouin law.


If you want to read about Wusum and petroglyphs in Saudi Arabia, this link takes you to a monograph that explains the significance of the wusum and their distribution in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Wusum - Tribal Symbols of Saudi Arabia.


These illustrations of wusum come from the linked monograph.

Wusum are a window on the recent and distant past. In the American southwest, petroglyphs abound on sandstone outcrops, but their meanings have been lost for eternity.

Land Rover Defender

In Arabia, wusum give a totally different perspective to rock art. Some of the symbols are still in use today all over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Paleolithic and neolithic rock art remain a mystery, but the wusum give us a keyhole through which we can peer into ancient prehistory.

Land Rover Defender

People who love petroglyphs should read the monograph on wusum. It will give you an entire different way of looking at rock art panels in other areas of the world.

This panel contains a mixture of antelopes, wusum, and Arabic graffiti.

Some wusum bear a striking resemblance to the alphabet of the different languages used over the millennia on the Arabian Peninsula. Thamudic, Lihyanite, and Aramaic writings preceded the development of modern Arabic, and similarities exist between the wusum and the alphabets of these ancient languages.

Land Rover Defender

In the foreground, a panel of sandstone petroglyphs are like an ancient billboard on the way to the volcanoes far off in the distance. I wonder what these petroglyphs mean. They didn't have GPS 5000 years ago. Perhaps the message says something like, "Head west toward the setting sun for the next twenty miles. When you reach a big black lava tube, turn left until you come to a white volcano. Select a nice place to camp, and after the sun goes down, look up into the night sky as you sit around the campfire. And don't forget, life is good."

I suspect the Rock Wall Journal and petroglyph billboards had a completely different message.

Land Rover Defender

We deciper one last set of petroglyphs on the Rock Wall Journal and then head off in our Defender on our solo expedition into the land of the white volcanoes.

This expedition was supposed to be all about white volcanoes, and the Saudi desert was kind enough to bestow hundreds of petroglyphs on our journey. It's a special bonus for those who are willing to leave Riyadh and have an adventure on the Arabian shield.

Land Rover Defender

Meandering tracks pass through lava fields a short distance from the sandstone outcrops.

The word for lava in Arabic is harrat. We are entering the Khaybar Harrat that occupies hundreds of square miles on this area of the Arabian shield.

We look back at the sandstone outcrop and wonder how tough the lava is going to be on our tires as we drive through Lavaland. We are carrying two spare tires just in case the lava takes out a couple of tires.


A short distance into the Khybar Harrat, a bedouin stops for a chat in his FJ-40 pick up truck. This Toyota has been ridden hard and put up wet. The front bumper is missing on the left side of the vehicle and is bent on the right. The license plate dangles at an odd angle, and there is no rear view mirror on the door. I guess Bedouins don't need a rear view mirror out in the lava fields.

In this sort of terrain, we encounter Bedouin tents about every twenty kilometers. I like having Bedouins around because this is a solo expedition. If there are problems, they would give us a hand. They are friendly and surprised to see us driving through the desert. They wonder what we are doing, and ask us if we are lost.

I speak passable Arabic, and I tell the Bedouins that I am Dr. Abbott from King Khalid Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh. That brings a smile to their face because we have operated on many people from all regions of Arabia. I may have even operated on one of his relatives. I have always received a friendly welcome from Bedouins that I meet in the desert. They are good mates.


Driving in lava long term is hard on tires. The wear in this tire is beyond smooth. The polyester plies show though in silver dollar size circles, and you wonder how much longer this tire can last. He will probably test this tire to total destruction. I hope I never meet him driving on the highway. When this tire blows, his truck could take out lots of oncoming traffic.

Lava eats tires. When driving though lava fields, it's critical to keep your tires centered in the track if you want your tires to survive.

I ran Michelin XS tires on my Defender. These tires are good for mud and sand, but they tend to have soft sidewalls. It's hard to know what level of pressure to run in your tires when you drive on lava. If you inflate the tires to make them firm and protect the sidewalls, you have an uncomfortable ride that is hard on your suspension. If you run the tires soft, you get a more comfortable ride, but your sidewalls take a beating.

One of our friends made a trip through the lava fields accompanied by another vehicle. He was lucky another vehicle was along because the lava destroyed four of his tires. He put on all his spares and had to send the other vehicle out of the lava fields to get new tires so that he could complete the trip. I am not sure why he lost four tires on a single trip. Maybe he wasn't paying attention to keeping his wheels centered in the track, or perhaps the tires were past their use by date. Four new tires made his trip to the white volcanoes into an expensive adventure.


David and Wendy pose for a photograph with their new Bedouin friend.

Although fuel is cheap in Arabia, tires are expensive. Beouins pay for tires and other items by raising camels, sheep, and goats. Out in the Harrat, you won't see many livestock because there is little water and nothing for them to eat. They have to transport water in trucks to their camps to keep their animals alive. They also load up bales of hay and bags of feed in the trucks to keep their livestock well nourished. There aren't any groceries stores in the harrat, and if they want to eat meat, they will have to raise it themselves. Most of their sheep and goats are not for sale. They are for feeding their own family.


Toyota now sells sophisticated vehicles in the western world in which you push a button to start the vehicle. They probably got their idea from Bedouins like this man. Keys are inconvenient in the desert. If you drop your key in the sand, you are in deep trouble because you will never find the key in the sand. If you don't have a second key with you, you can't start your vehicle.

Getting rid of the key altogether means you aren't in trouble if you lose the key. Simply get out the screw driver, turn the ignition switch, and away you go. Of course you should keep a couple of screw drivers handy just in case you misplace one. If you drop your ignition screwdriver in the sand, it's much easier to find it than a key.


The white volcanoes of Khybar come into view far off in the distance. The Bedouin track veers to the left through the lava field, and it's a sure bet you won't be driving in a straight line to the white volcanoes. You are in the land of the zig zagging track.

Land Rover Defender

Lava gets progressively thicker the closer we get to the dissected terrain surrounding the actual volcanoes. A large lava tube is on the right side of our Defender, and it's immediately clear why we must stick on Bedouin tracks. Heading off the track would destroy our Michelin tires in just a few hours.

Land Rover Defender

Hiking on this lava flow is nearly impossible. If you fall down while walking on the lava, it will be time for a trip to the emergency room. There is no upside to hiking in lava like this.

Land Rover Defender

We gain altitude as we drive west. The track becomes smoother with volcanic spindle bombs littering the landscape.


Multiple lava tubes extend onto this volcanic plateau. Spindle bombs blown out of volcanoes extend beyond the lava flows. Exploration in this area is only on foot.

There aren't any park rangers to tell you what you can and cannot do. But the lava speaks louder than any park ranger could. If you value your tires, you will remain on the track. Feel free to hike wherever you please.

Land Rover Defender

On top of the volcanic plateau, a Bedouin camp comes into view, and Jebel Abyad pokes up its head in the distance.

The Bedouin family lives in a traditional dark camel hair tent with secondary quarters in a heavy white canvas tent. Bedouins use giant rebar stakes a couple of feet long to anchor their tents in ground. Without the giant stakes, their tents would blow away when the wind whips up to fifty knots.

Livestock live in a white pen on the left side of the photograph, and food for the livestock is stored in the same location.

A large Mercedes water truck is mandatory in this remote location. Without water, survival in the volcano fields is impossible. The family has a subsistence existence, and needs just enough cash to maintain their camp, to keep their livestock watered and fed, and to refuel their water truck.

We drove in the direction of the camp, and a Bedouin man quickly came out to greet us. He was all smiles and looking to make a sale. He brought a small lamb with him that was hopping around merrily in the lava, and he offered to cook a meal of lamb or goat for us. If we had wanted to experience a Bedouin "goat grab" eating with our fingers, this was the perfect opportunity. But when we saw the little lamb hopping around the countryside, we were afraid they would dispatch the lamb for our small feast, and we declined. We could not bear the thought of the little lamb being killed to feed us. The Bedouin wanted to make some cash by feeding us, and when we said no, he brought out some trading articles to sell.

Most of the stuff he had was of no use to us, but we wanted to purchase something to help him out. He had a bag of large dried mushrooms he had collected in the lava fields. I didn't particularly want the mushrooms, but I gave him $35 for the mushrooms as a gesture of goodwill. He was happy, and we were happy. I took the mushrooms back to Riyadh and showed them to people who know about mushrooms, and they recommended that we not eat them. They could have sent us on a different kind of trip, and it wouldn't be in a Defender.

Land Rover Defender

Lava comes in many different colors around the white volcanoes. White, tan, light brown, dark brown and black colors differentiate the lava flows from each other.

Land Rover Defender

Dark pahoehoe lava flows seem more common in the black lava coming from Jebel Qidr


Lava collapsed into this lava tube revealing a small lava cave.


Ropy pahoehoe lava fractures and collapses into the small underlying lava tubes.


Wendy and David strike a cool (if not cold) pose while standing on top of dark lava spewed from Jebel Qidr.

Land Rover Defender

Dark lava from Jebel Qidr stands out in stark contrast with lighter lava from the white volcano, Jebel Abyad.

Land Rover Defender

Long shadows signal the end of the day at Jebel Abyad. Depending on the quality of light, Jebel Abyad can look very white or appear a tint of tan.

Land Rover Defender

Black lava fingers from Jebel Qidr reach out toward Jebel Abyad, but they lack the power encompass the great white volcano. Jebel Abyad reigns supreme, the highest point in the Khaybar Harrrat.

The evening shadows send a chilly signal across the terrain. In the middle of winter at 6000 feet things get very cold.


Clouds descend on the white volcanoes, and we select a place to set up camp. Moisture is in the air. We feel a fine mist and occasionally small drops of rain give us pause for thought. Our camp is at the base of a lava flow that extends for miles to the north. Immediately to our east is Jebel Abyad, and to our west is Jebel Bayda. Our camp is in a basin on the confluence of three great lava fields. If it rains hard, the run off from Jebel Qidr and the two white volcanoes could create a flash flood or immerse us in a pool of water. We scout the area, and it doesn't look like there are any dried up river beds (wadis) near our campsite, and that gives us courage. In a worst case scenario, if it rains really hard, we won't get washed away. We will only get submerged.

David takes some firewood in a box off the roof rack so we can get warmed up in the near freezing temperatures.

Land Rover Defender

Before we go on an expedition, we go dumpster diving in Riyadh. There is a wood souk in Riyadh where furniture craftsman make cabinets and furniture for the very rich. Their fine furniture graces the palaces of the rich and powerful.

The craftsmen work in an area that is at least five or six city blocks long and a couple of blocks wide. They throw their wood scraps into dumpsters outside their workplace. Inside the dumpsters is an awesome collection of short pieces of hard and soft wood. When it's time to head into the desert, we pack boxes with a mixture of hard and soft wood. The box becomes the starter for the fire. The soft wood ignites to get the fire going really well, and then the hard wood keeps the fire burning providing lots of heat for several hours into the night. There is nothing better than sitting around the campfire at night telling lies about all the adventures that you have had only in your mind.

David is in the early stages of constructing a fire with a piece of cardboard and some soft pine kindling in the ready.

We are encouraged in our selection of this campsite because near our fire are rusty tin cans from someone who preceded us in this location. It's too bad they didn't clean up their trash when they left. They should have picked up their rubbish or at least buried it in a hole.

Land Rover Defender

We only pitch one tent because we are bit unsure about this campsite during unstable weather. If it turns into a downpour, and we need to get out fast, we don't want to have to deal with three tents. We will just pull the stakes on the green tent and roll it up on the side of the Defender, and away we will go. Highly motivated campers can pull out six rebar stakes from the sand and roll up the tent in the twinkle of an eye. It's a bit cramped in the tent, but all that body heat keeps everyone inside warm. We left a basin of water outside during the night, and next morning it was frozen solid. That was a cold night.

Land Rover Defender

We drove through the dissected terrain exploring different parts of the Khaybar Harrat around the white volcanoes. The dissected terrain makes it easy to get lost as we drive up and down lava flows. Tracks meander this way and that without apparent direction or purpose. We feel like we are driving to Nowhere Land. We have no way of telling where any particular track is going, and we quickly discover that the tracks look very much alike. Getting back to where we started is a real puzzle in this lava maze.

In all my years in Arabia, this is the only time I turned on the cookie crumb feature on my GPS so I could follow my own track out of the dissected lava terrain. Without the GPS, we could have wandered for hours and arrived at dozens of dead ends in Nowhere Land, because there are no signs that tell us where we are or how to get where we want to go. If you have lots of fuel and good tires, it's ok to spend a day wandering in the lava maze, but if you have places to go and things to do, it might not be your first choice.

If you want to explore the lava tubes and caves, you can hire the bedouin family to act as your guide. We chose to take the road less traveled, and we went wherever we wanted without assistance. If you want to spend a week exploring the harrat, then it would be smart to hire a guide because there are Neolithic sites and even an ancient dam that you can visit if you have someone show you how to get there. Neolithic ancestors mined obsidian quarries in the lava fields to create obsidian knives and arrowheads. There's lots to see around the white volcanoes if you are willing to spend the time.


We follow a track out of the lava maze and head in the direction of Jebel Bayda. The black lava from Jebel Qidr blocks our way, and we will have to detour south around the lava flow to arrive at the slopes of Jebel Bayda. The sand and scoria tracks are relatively firm, and we don't need to worry about getting stuck.

Land Rover Defender

I don't like cold weather. Near freezing temperatures mean that I wear my winter coat with hood, gloves, and scarf around my neck as I hike to the top of Jebel Bayda. The soft scoria makes climbing into a major challenge. With every step up, my foot sinks backward in the scoria, and progress toward the top is slower than I would like.

Land Rover Defender

David stands on the rim of Jebel Bayda with the central crater exposed behind him. Climbing to the top of a white volcano in a remote part of Saudi Arabia is an awesome adventure.

Land Rover Defender

Looking down from the rim, I see the outlines of dozens of volcanoes all around. The highest volcanic cone to the north is Jebel Qidr that sent lava flows down to slopes of the white volcanoes. Jebel Qidr is called the Black Widow volcano, but I am not sure exactly why. We camped on the edge of the lava flows from Jebel Qidr.

When it's time to get underway and head further west, we have to drive around Jebel Bayda. The dissected terrain at the base of Jebel Bayda prevents us from driving close to the foot of the mountain. Instead, we follow a track next to the black lava flow from Jebel Qidr. That track is far enough away from the white volcano that it is easy to make the trip around the mountain.


We didn't realize how highly elevated the volcanoes are from the surrounding countryside until we drove down the backside of Jebel Bayda. It's downhill for a long way as we descend to the lower lava fields of the Khybar Harrat.

Our Defender cruises through the scoria and ash in low gear. It's an easy and fun ride that would definitely be a bigger challenge if we were heading in the opposite direction.


Green Defender poses next to a wall of white ash. Spots like this reveal how much ash spewed from the white volcano during periods of activity.

The Defender's wheels sink a couple of inches in the ash and scoria. Two wheel drive vehicles can drive up the track to the volcanic plateau if they have reasonable ground clearance. A four wheel drive vehicle makes the trip much easier when you approach from the west.


Jebel Qidr sends fingers of lava in all directions on top of the Khybar Harrat. The lava fingers create massive lava tubes and lava caves that you can explore as you travel west.

Land Rover Defender

David and I hike on a lava tube that extends for miles. Lava tubes are like the arms of a giant black octopus, and the head of the octopus is Jebel Qidr.

Land Rover Defender

Lava tubes frequently collapse under their own weight. I wish I had a time machine so I could watch the lava tubes form as they extended across the countryside thousands of years ago. I would hang around long enough to watch them collapse before I moved on to my next adventure. Of course, I would want my time machine to be shaped like a Land Rover Defender.

Come to think of it, my Defender is a time machine. On this trip I traveled back in time thousands of years to see petroglyphs, volcanoes, and lava tubes frozen in time.

Land Rover Defender

Lava tubes create giant caves. If you are into exploring caves, plenty of them can be found in the lava tubes of the Khybar Harrat.

This cave looks like the mouth of an evil black monster ready to consume unwary travelers. David and I sit on the monster's upper lip, and the lower teeth just inside the lower lip send a menacing message to those foolish enough to venture within.

I can hear the monster speak. "Don't be afraid. Come inside my mouth. Nothing bad will happen to you. I would never hurt you." And if you believe that, I have a white volcano that I would like to sell you.


As we head further to the west, our desert track takes us past a rock bearing petroglyphs and tribal wasms. Obviously someone in the past thought volcanoes where awesome places to live and placed their wusum on this rock to lay their claim. I'm glad they weren't around to chase claim jumpers in Defenders off their land.

Land Rover Defender

Before we leave the tracks of the Khybar Harrat, we pass the tents of a Bedouin family who choose to live in the lava fields. Like the family living next to the white volcanoes, they have a dark camel hair tent, a white canvas tent, an enclosure for their animals, and a water truck to keep the dream alive.

Time travel is great when you do it in a Defender.

Life is good.

Meet Team Maxing Out

Captain Dave - David J. Abbott M.D.





Exit Only

See what it's like for a family to sail around the world on a small catamaran

Captain Save Our Souls

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.

Red Sea Blues

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.

Red Sea Chronicles Trailer

If you like drum beats, and you like adventure, then have a listen to the Red Sea Chronicles Trailer.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 1 - When Flying Fish Attack

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.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 2 - Pirate Alley

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.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 3 - Aden, Yemen

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.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 4- Gate of Sorrows and Sandstorms

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.


    Team Maxing Out Sails Around The World On Their 39 Foot Catamaran

    Join Team Maxingout as they sail through Pirate Alley and up the Red Sea


    Give your dream machine a shot in the arm

    See what it's like to cruise on a catamaran before you spend a bazillion dollars purchasing one


    View the storm management video to learn how Captain Dave dealt with storms at sea

    After watching the Red Sea Chronicles you will be able to see yourself sailing on the ocean of your dreams


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