12-Mar-2004 -- This visit happened by chance. I was compelled to perform an extraction from the desert and the trip took us right over the Confluence. So we stopped, took some photographs, and wrote the story.
It all started more than a year and a half ago, in October 2002. I was in a very pretty area about three hours south of Riyāḍ. It was so pretty, and the area so interesting, that I decided to place a geocache there. Not only that, but I included a hitchhiker (travel bug) in the geocache. As all "geocachers" (who are marginally more sad than "confluencers") know, a hitchhiker travels from one geocache to another, in an effort to see the world. This hitchhiker, which I had recently found in another geocache, was called Gandalf.
However, because of reasons that I shall not go into here, I was unable to register the geocache as a new site. So the predicament was that I had left Gandalf in the middle of the desert three hours from Riyāḍ, with no chance of anyone ever finding him, and my employment contract expiry date was rapidly approaching. An anxious e-mail from Gandalf's father elicited a promise from me that I would retrieve Gandalf during the next camping season. Hence, this trip was known as the "Gandalf Extraction".
We left Riyāḍ at 9 am and drove for two and a half hours southwest along the Makka road. We left the main highway and headed eastwards along the dirt tracks that led to the granite mountain called Jabal Sabḥa. We lunched under the shade of a large acacia tree whose foliage had been thickened by the recent rains.
Nearing Jabal Sabḥa, a line of red sand dunes interrupted the green (for Sadia Arabia) plains leading to the mountain. We skirted the dunes and circumnavigated the mountain base to search for known graves. We managed to find some tumuli (bronze age graves) and some modern graves. We also stumbled upon a well containing crystal clear water that must have percolated down through the mountain rock.
With the day waning, we sought out a secluded campsite and duly found a sheltered spot beneath a high granite mountain near Jabal Sabḥa. As we still had two hours of daylight left, we decided that the summit had to be conquered ("because it’s there"). So, off we set. It was not long, before all conversation was replaced by deep, rasping breathing. Many stops, and a thousand feet later, we stumbled on to the top and were rewarded with the most magnificent, panoramic view of the area. After a short spell of serenity, we reluctantly started our descent, knowing that it would be foolish to attempt it in the dark.
The following morning we packed up and made our way along the sandy valleys to a narrow valley where we thought we may find petroglyphs (rock etchings). We were well rewarded by finding many petroglyph friezes near a large rock pool (which, unusually for Saudi Arabia, had water in it!). We explored further and found less spectacular examples, before we made for the valley in which we would perform the "extraction".
Guided only by my memories of the high, narrow valley, I managed to locate the small cave where we had hidden the geocache box. With some relief I discovered the box was still there, although it was very dusty. The tight plastic box had sealed very well and the contents were intact. Gandalf was very relieved that his sabbatical was finally over.
With our mission completed, we headed further east. We located a very steep, narrow pass through the hills, which took us into a delightfully green (for Saudi Arabia) valley. We meandered along the sandy valley floor before emerging at its mouth to be confronted by views of sand dunes and the large granite mountain of Ibn Ḥuwayl in the distance. We encountered and explored some more tumuli on some hill ridges, but then had to make for the tar road on route back home.
It was near the tar road (about 1 km) that we encountered the confluence point. It was in an area where flat sandy plains are interrupted by contrasting islands of granite hills and dunes. It is a very beautiful area, however the photographs from the confluence point do not do the area justice.