06-Apr-2004 -- We were on a 9-day trip to the northern area of the Kingdom. We had already visited six other confluence points. We continued from our last confluence point 29N 38E up the main northeast road to Sakākā with nearly all the other traffic being the transit trucks. Truck carcasses littered the side of the road showing that some of the long distance drivers had fallen asleep or failed to make the few curves. The general area was flat and barren with a few small hills. After an hour or so the terrain changed and became sandier and the agriculture started. The big wheat farms are watered from the aquifer by circulating pivots creating a vibrant green geometry against the sandy background. As well, there were fields of olive trees, which the al-Jawf province has grown for thousands of years, and a lot of new plantings in straight lines over the sandy hills.
We refuelled at the small agricultural town of Mayqū`, which as the only town of any size for a long way is the centre for the local farms, Bedouin camel and goat herders, as well as the many long distance trucks. It was bustling with truck stops, cheap restaurants, mechanic shops, farm equipment dealers and general merchants. By the gas station we bought fruit from a merchant selling from the back of his truck, and Jordanian apricot jam and local olives from another truck from Jordan. Everyone seemed friendly and even the local policeman at the police checkpoint 100 metres out of town shook our hand and welcomed us to the area – western tourists from elsewhere in the Kingdom are not a common sight here even on the main highways. I asked him if he thought it was going to rain, as the storms clouds were brewing. He replied: "Maybe yes, maybe no." All the conversation was in Arabic, of course.
It looked from the map as though we should be able to go directly from behind the town. However, the town as usual had spread out and we wanted to avoid visibility as the locals are always curious why westerners are heading off road. So we continued on the main road for a short time and then selected our route. The sandy tracks were a bit soft, so to avoid letting down the tire pressure we kept up a good speed on well-used straight tracks for 12.3 km across the sandy plains with small hills. In fact, there were hundreds of tracks in all directions as the locals use this area as a shortcut from Mayqū` across the triangle to reach the main road to Abū Qaṣr, and there were also many camps in the triangle itself. The confluence point was on a sandy plain, but we didn't stay long as the wind was starting to howl, the sand was starting to fly, and we could hardly open the car doors. It was a time for a few quick photos as we held our hats and then it was a relief to hop back into the cars away from the sand.
We continued to speed north across the triangle, as it was the same distance to a paved road. It was noon as well as with sand blowing, so we had to be careful to drive safely as the visibility in the flat light makes it difficult to see small sand patches which can cause some air time if not seen in time.
Back on the paved road, we decided to drive northwest to have a look at the small town of al-Nabk Abū Qaṣr on the truck route to al-Qurayyāt and the Jordanian border. This town, and most of the fertile area in al-Jawf province, lies at the bottom end of Wādiy al-Sirḥan which is an extensive 20 km wide valley stretching 380 km down from Jordan, which was an important trade route during the Nabatean period at the end of the 1st century BC and for agriculture for thousands of years. Just out of the town we found a spot for lunch, which had tall tamarisk trees to give us protection from the wind.
Then it was back down the road and on to the very historic area of Dawmat al-Jandal and Sakākā. The highlight of this area is the standing stone pillars of al-Rajājīl ("The Men"), which are erected vertically in 50 groups of four or more pillars scattered in a large area and date back to third or 4th century BC – thought to be some communal gathering place to perform certain social or ethno-religious functions - a resemblance to the massive remains at Stonehenge in England. As we approached Sakākā in the late afternoon, a huge strong sandstorm started - the policeman at Mayqū` had been right - it did not rain but it blew. It was good timing as there is an excellent hotel in Sakākā and we needed a good shower after nearly a week of camping rough.
Continued at 30N 43E.