24-Feb-2002 -- During the second week of the Ḥajj religious holiday a group of expatriates working in Riyāḍ set off on a five-day, off-road camping trip. The route entailed driving south of Riyāḍ on tar roads to Sulayyil, then heading into the Rub` al-Khāliy desert across the gravel plains of Wādī Dawasir to the sand dunes, then north-west across sand/gravel plains, and finally north along the tar road from Laylā to Riyāḍ. The distance was made up of nearly a thousand kilometres of tar road and over six hundred kilometres of off-road driving. Having contracted the degree confluence bug, we managed to visit four Confluence sites during this journey. This was our fourth and final Confluence. See 23N 47E, 21N 46E & 21N 47E.
We raced back from the featureless landscape of the previous confluence point in the hope that we could find a sheltered campsite before sundown. We managed to find three small hills and we nestled in between them for protection against the wind. The night provided another clear sky to gaze at the stars from my camp bed.
The camp stirred at dawn with the noises of beverages being brewed and camp being broken. We drove back to the gravel beds of Wādī Dawasir and explored the area before heading north. We located a known petrified forest area. In this large area, whole trees lay in the sand, pretending to be rocks. It was amazing to see the solidified bark, tree rings and perfect wood grain in these petrified specimens.
We wanted to head north-east towards the last confluence point, but the rocky terrain convinced us to stay on the rough Bedouin track until we found a track that went that way. Having substituted camels for pick-up trucks, the Bedouin tribesmen leave a network of tracks across the desert. Driving off-road in these areas normally means following one of these tracks until the direction is wrong, and then finding another track to follow. Quite often the tracks die out leaving no option apart from driving across the virgin desert.
The wādī (valley) that we followed, was an area which has been cultivated for hundreds of years. Natural artesian waters provide an opportunity to drill boreholes and set up large pivot irrigation schemes. As the water dries up, these boreholes are being drilled further and further away from the populated areas.
The confluence point was in a featureless location (surprise, surprise) in the middle of a gently sloping sand plain. This Confluence had nothing to offer the sightseer.
As the day was coming to its end, we headed for some hills about ten kilometres away so that we could camp. We found a good spot and settled down for the last night under the stars. Our morning walk up to the summit of the hills paid off when we revealed tumuli (Bronze Age graves) and a Palaeolithic Stone Age flint site.
The 60 kilometre drive to the tar road took us across more sand plains, around numerous circular pivot irrigation fields, and through an old Arabic village. Only the last 300 kilometres back to Riyāḍ remained of our five-day trip. This was sad, but we had had an enjoyable time and would certainly use the Degree Confluence Project as an excuse to explore other parts of the country.