20-Mar-2004 -- We were on another trip to the greater Ḥā'il area - one of our favorites. The plan was to further explore the various volcanoes in the Sumayrā' - Fayd area and then look at some more petroglyphs further north. Pam - Fen's daughter - was visiting, so it was a good time to show her the diversity of the geology.
We had hiked into and around various craters and jabals in the previous two days and had reached the historic town of Fayd. We decided we had time to try for the confluence point 27N 43E, as on the map it was not too far away in a southeast direction and it looked quite easy, although the normal shorter approach would have been from the north from al-Kahfa. We were wrong - this was not easy.
The first part was straightforward as we took the paved roads NE of Fayd and then turned southeast which then turned south into a direction we did not want to go. The problem was we could not get off the road because of the huge wheat and alfalfa farms, which had expanded into the area. At the end of the pavement we had lunch under some tall tamarisk trees which they had planted as windbreaks, then we turned back a few km and tried to follow the power pylons which were heading in the general easterly direction, but they soon started to cut across private territory.
After quite a few attempts, we found a main track heading between the farms and it looked as though our next problem was going to be the sand dunes behind the farms. But as we got onto more minor tracks it became much rockier rather than sand. As we got nearer the confluence point, the tracks got progressively worse and we were being bounced all over the place even at a very low speed. What had looked like sand dunes in the distance was in fact quite an unusual feature of light sandstone, which had not decomposed. The rocks and clumps of tough grass were making this quite a challenge. Leaving the faint tracks we bumped our way across the rocks and finally stopped 100 meters from the confluence point and walked the rest of the way.
This point was in a small depression, so in all directions it looked nearly the same. It was Pam's first confluence point - we hope the next ones are not so rough. As we walked back to our vehicles a local Bedouin in an old truck appeared following our tracks. He may have been watching us from a distance with his binoculars, which they use for seeing their goats and camels. We did the normal Arabic greetings but he was very suspiciously asking us why we were there. We tried to explain that we were having a general look on our way from Fayd to al-Kahfa and pointed in the correct direction to show we knew where we were going, even though we had not yet seen the town. That didn't satisfy him as it really must have been an unusual sight - westerners in an area where no one goes, who have left the paved roads, left the main tracks, left the faint tracks and driven off across rocks and then walked for a short distance. As we left we saw him following our footprints to the confluence point trying to figure out why we stopped there.
In a straight line it is probably only 4 km to al-Kahfa. The fact that it took us 50 minutes to follow the snaking track through the rocky sand stone shows it was unfriendly and rough. It was a relief to come over the top of the sandstone shelf and see below the white buildings of al-Kahfa and the surrounding green of the well-watered farms. This was a surprisingly neat Saudi town with well-kept new buildings and three roundabouts with flowers and hedges - not what we expected. Back on the smooth newly paved roads we headed out for 20 minutes to the main Ḥā'il - Burayda road and went north.
Next morning we were up early and on top of a darker and redder sandstone jabal watching the glorious equinox sunrise line up with the old petroglyph sundials and various markings made nearly 6,000 years ago.