26-Oct-2002 -- This Confluence was conquered during a four-day camping trip to the “Granite Fields”. We departed from Riyāḍ and our three vehicles headed towards Makka. On route we visited the ancient petroglyphs at Graffiti Rock 1 in the hope of finding a cache deposited by a Geocacher (see geocaching.com). Alas, we failed to find the booty.
Three hours from Riyāḍ, we filled our petrol cans, refuelled our vehicles, and headed off-road to do some exploring. Our first destination was Petroglyph Valley. This was supposed to be a whole valley of petroglyphs (ancient stone etchings on smooth surfaced rocks) similar in age to the ones at Graffiti Rock 1. The valley entrance was well camouflaged, and concealed a narrow valley overlooked by steep, high hills. We meandered along a track that was barely visible on the rocky valley floor. We were finally forced to stop when the track totally disappeared, so we decided to camp there. This gave us the opportunity to find the petroglyphs during our late afternoon and morning walks. The petroglyphs were in excellent condition and included very old works of art (ones that were weathered to the same colour as the surrounding rock) as well as more recent additions.
We also decided to hide a cache in the valley so that people would be enticed to come to this valley and enjoy its beauty.
We then set off towards the mountains of Ibn Huwayl. This took us past some tumuli (bronze-age graves) and through some innocuous sand dunes where we accidentally discovered a new tar road in the middle of nowhere. The relief from the teeth-chattering washboard tracks was short lived as the road was still under construction. We made our way around the base of Ibn Huwayl to a pleasant lunchtime stop where a small oasis of palm trees clung precariously to the cliffs high up the mountain slope. Their lure was too tempting, so two of us climbed to investigate whether they were watered by a spring. Whilst the climb produced breathtaking panoramic views, the water source was not obvious as the season was still too dry.
We pressed on towards the Confluence by skirting the mountains and then heading south. We sped across vast sand plains, which proved much easier driving than the previous tracks through granite country. We then came to more rocky outcrops of granite. Progress was reduced considerably as there were few main tracks. We threaded our way through the hills on faint secondary tracks until we ran out of daylight and had to find a campsite.
The next morning we discovered more petroglyphs, but these were etched in the hard dolerite rock rather than in the more common soft sandstone rock. We resumed our journey through the hills and luckily found a rocky track that took us within a few hundred meters of the confluence point. There, we made the customary cross out of rocks and took the required photographs.
Having had enough of the granite hills, we headed for the sand plains that were even further south. The smooth sandy tracks were a pleasant relief from the previous rocky tracks. As we were now in sand country, we stopped to deflate our tyres in order to give the sand less of a chance to foil our passage. We veered eastwards and soon found the large dunes that we were seeking. The sand rose high into waves of steep dunes formed by the prevailing wind. These enormous islands of dunes have slowly crept over the flat gravel plains for hundreds of years. Not wanting to tempt providence, we kept to the flat gravel where possible, or crossed the dune lines where the saddles were lower. We spent the last night peacefully nestled in between the dunes and experienced the slight chill in the air that told us that the summer was definitely over.
We were hoping to visit another unconquered confluence point during the trip but we ran out of time. We decided to not to return to Riyāḍ via the tar road, but instead to complete the four hundred kilometre journey off-road. We proceeded directly north by winding our way through the high dunes. These gradually grew smaller and turned into undulating sand plains, which hid vast lake-beds. During lunch, under the coolness of an acacia tree, we re-inflated our tyres and refuelled from the last of our cans.
The last stage of our journey took us through known territory and was only punctuated by two tyre bursts. Sadly, we passed by settlements that became more numerous as we approached Riyāḍ. Before long we were back on the tar roads having to deal with death defying driving standards which made our romp in the dunes seem very tame.
This was a very pleasant trip, which took us into remote areas that were new to all of us. Once again, the thirst to be the first to bag a confluence point provided the excuse to experience the solitude of the Saudi desert. During the 1000 km journey we passed within a few kilometres of three other conquered confluence points. However, we decided against visiting them as they were within easy reach of the tar road and posed no challenge to us.