08-Apr-2004 -- We were on a 9-day trip to the northern area of the Kingdom. We had already visited seven other confluence points, the last having been 30N 39E.
After seeing all the interesting points in the historic area of Dawmat al-Jandal and Sakākā, we started our long journey back to Riyāḍ. Unfortunately, we could not do 30N 40E just out of Sakākā, as we had government minders - i.e. security police - following us all day right from the hotel in the morning until we were well out of the area in the afternoon - for our protection they said; good young lads but they were not letting us out of their sight. There is no way we could try and do something they wouldn't understand - visiting old ruins is OK, but confluence points is something I couldn't explain to them in my limited Arabic.
The Great Nafūd is a huge sand desert stretching north from Ḥā'il with no paved roads through it. This means that from the al-Jawf area first you have to go northeast to `Ar`ar. This town surprised us by being a lot bigger and modern than we had expected, with planted trees on the entrance, big mosques and a lot of traffic. `Ar`ar is not far from the Iraq border and the border crossing was expected to be reopening at this time after being closed since the 1st Gulf war. This will help trade develop between the two countries.
From `Ar`ar southeast to Rafḥā' to Ḥafar al-Bāṭin is known as the pipeline road, as the road was built right alongside the Saudi Aramco oil pipeline. It is a straight road, but extremely dangerous, as it is a narrow 2-lane highway with thousands of big trucks a day using it, and some cars passing at speeds up to 180 km/h on the narrow bumpy surface. Road works now being done to make it a divided highway will in future make this a safer and more pleasant trip. We pulled off the road before sunset and drove a few km back and camped in a small dip - this is real flat country - there are no hills. Not far away there were some Bedouin camps and the goat bells ringing all night as the goats grazed was an unusual Saudi sound - reminded us of the cows in Switzerland. It was a brilliant clear night and the stars were spectacular. In the morning, we had a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and fruit, and enjoyed our view of wide-open spaces and braced ourselves for the next section of the dangerous road.
The confluence point was 8 km from where we left the road north towards the Iraq border, which was only approximately 50 km away, so we were pleased that no officials saw us leave the road. The area was relatively flat with gravel plains with a few small hills. The confluence point was on a slight incline at the edge of a big plain. There had been some recent rain here and grass was shooting up adding a green tinge to the normal sandy coloured landscape. There were a few camps in the distance, and in the past there had been a camp near the confluence point, as can be seen from the remains of the wrecked cab of an old pickup just a few metres to the west. This was a relatively easy confluence point to bag as the tracks lead very close; there was no difficult terrain to cross and no interruption from locals.
Back on the paved road it was only a short time before we were in Rafḥā', which had also made quite an effort to plant trees and beautify the main entrance. Rafḥā' is probably best known in the Middle East for the huge refugee camp for displaced refugees from the Gulf war. It is now being wound down, as those refugees were placed overseas and more recently the balance are being returned to Iraq following the change in Government. From Rafḥā' we spent the afternoon following the Darb Zubayda tracks south, looking at the various old wells and markers. We had a beautiful campsite in the sand dunes not far from Līna, before the long drive back to Riyāḍ the next day.