Monday, November 7, 2011

Rub' al Khali

"The heat was hot, and the ground was dry,
But the air was full of sound." - America

For the Eid holiday, we went camping with some friends to the Rub'al Khali or the Empty Quarter.  We packed up the kids and some gear and drove south for about 4 hours until we were close to the border of Saudi Arabia.  The Empty Quarter is one of the largest sand deserts in the world with rolling red sand dunes up to 1000 ft. tall.  It covers most of Saudi Arabia, but also extends into Oman, Yemen, and the UAE.  It is impressive and we only saw some of the edge of it.  I mean, it is literally hundreds of miles of HUGE sand dunes in every direction.  I'm tempted to tell you all of the cool facts about the largest sea of sand in the world.... Instead, if you want to be educated, you can use wikipedia, and I'll just focus on our experience.

The drive wasn't too bad.  The scenery is beautifully brown and tan.  We were pleased that the kids had all fallen asleep for an afternoon nap when the first of several snags happened.  We were following our small caravan of friends (Palmers and Ziegelbauers) when all of the sudden a large black object flew off of the car we were following and slammed into the pavement breaking into a hundred pieces.  Our friends (whose car it came from) put on their hazard lights and pulled over.  We followed suit to make sure they were ok.  After a short inspection, we found that a large piece of the trim around the windshield had come loose and broken off.  Inconvenient, and unfortunate, but nothing dangerous or trip-stopping.  I walked back to the car to continue our journey.  We felt bad for our friends and the repair that they would have to make on their car, but were actually more selfishly concerned with the state in our own vehicle.  The kids had awakened after 10 minutes from what we had hoped would be a 2-3 hour nap.  We now had to make the rest of the drive with kids that were awake.

The next snag came came as we left the comfort of the paved road to find a good secluded camping spot.  We travel a couple hundred yards across the empty fields of sand.  The driving was a little tricky, but I was feeling pretty good about our progress.  No sooner did I start to feel some confidence with our vehicle's abilities, when we realized we were sinking lower in the sand and feeling a lot of bumps and thumps on undercarriage of our car.  We were third in the procession of vehicles and I was quickly realizing that the ruts the other vehicles were making in the sand was NOT a good place to be.  As the sand and ruts got deeper, we were getting trapped.  We couldn't get out of the ruts and they quickly became so deep that we did not have any clearance and were "pushing" sand with our front bumper.  As I panicked a little mentally, I made the fatal error of slowing down.... dumb move.  We  were now high centered and stuck.  Fortunately, one of our friends was driving a Land Rover and had a tow rope.  It took a little digging and some pushing, but without too much worry (Yvonne might disagree), we were back on our way to a new (closer) campsite.

Our campsite was a cool little place that was literally surrounded by sand dunes. The kids were out of the vehicle for a matter of seconds before they were climbing dunes and exploring the new surroundings... and covered head to toe in sand with big smiles on their faces.

We tried body-boarding down the dunes.  We chased some shiny silvery lizards.  We built a campfire and ate the traditional camping food of hot dogs and marshmallows. The kids had a blast and were only a little worried when they had to go to the bathroom without a toilet out in the desert.  They were worried that something was going to crawl over and sting them while they had their pants down.  I guess maybe we had overly warned them about the dangers of scorpions in the desert and it took some convincing (and some show and tell examples) before they would actually "go potty."  Overall we had an enjoyable experience even if we didn't get a lot of sleep.

The biggest snag of our trip happened the next morning.  We broke camp in the morning and decided to take a little different route back to the paved road to avoid getting stuck.  Additionally, we switched our position in the caravan from third place to second so that if we were following in any ruts they wouldn't be quite as deep for our lower ground clearance vehicle.  We took off a minute or so after the first car and rounded the corner to the straight-away only to see the Palmers stuck pretty deep out in the middle of the flats where it appeared to be wet.  Determined not to meet the same fate, I floored it and chose a different route.  In my determination not to get stuck, I stayed close to the dryer sand near the dunes instead of the flats.  I realized at the last minute that I was actually on one of the dunes and it was suddenly dropping off in front of us.  I knew I couldn't stop, or else we'd get stuck, so I just plowed ahead as Yvonne let out a little yelp of surprised fear and we slammed into the flat sand at the bottom of the dune.  We hit pretty hard and despite the worry of permanent damage to our car, I sped on across the sand to safety near the paved road.

Unfortunately, the Palmers were not so lucky.  I walked back from the road to find them stuck up to their doorjambs in swampy, sludgy sand.  Who would've thought in the flats of this huge sea of sand dunes would be nasty swamps of sludge.  It appeared hopeless.  We were afraid that even Joe's Land Rover would get stuck in the swamp if he got close enough to attach the tow rope.  Luckily some friendly blokes with longer ropes saw the mess we were in and stopped to share their tow ropes.  We connected a few of the ropes together and Joe was able to stay on the high ground to pull the Palmer's car out.

There could be a lot of morals to the snags in this camping trip.  I'll save them for later (or a lesson/talk in church ;).  In the end, we all made it out fine.  We had fun and were glad we have good friends to help out in times of need. We even got to visit some fish farms on the way home.  And, as an added bonus, the kids did sleep for some of the ride back.


  1. A little different then Hawaiian camping huh. We're lame we haven't been camping in forever! Love that all the kids have their own camp chairs.

  2. Awesome post! It was great being with you guys.

  3. It was fun to see your adventure and the sand hills. Wow! We thought we had some pretty big sand hills here. We miss you and love you all. We're glad you made it home safely with lots of good memories. Can't wait to hear the "church" talk.

    mom and dad

  4. That is an experience for the scrapbook for sure! And definitely you'll be drawing on that experience for years to come - like you said in talks, lessons and when the kids get older and you say things like "Remember when..."