07-Jan-2005 -- The maps showed that there was a fort not far from Rābigh and we had not heard anyone mention it, so thought we would look for it as it was only 20 km away from the confluence point.
This Turkish fort turned out to be a significant building called Ḥiṣn al-Jafa, which was on a prominent position on the bank of Wādiy al-Ḥanaq. It was in relatively good condition with nice stonework and the eastern and southern sides still had the top of their arches. The nearby wells in the wādiy would have provided a good source of water, and previously at this point there was a Mīqāt mosque for entering the greater Makka area.
We continued up the new highway and soon were approaching the confluence point. But getting access was a bit of a challenge as there was a big continuous fence to stop camels coming onto the road, and therefore very few opportunities for us to get off. We turned off into a truck-parking place at the side of the road, and were only 4.6 km away, but the sand looked soft and there were no good tracks leading into the desert. So we continued back on the highway, soon seeing the GPS arrow pointing to the confluence point only 2.5 km away to the east from the highway. But we couldn't get off the road and the point looked to be on the top of an escarpment covered with volcanic boulders. The next exit was 15 km up the highway and we turned east to al-Tanḍabiyya where we filled up with gas. It was now 4:00 pm and as it looked that it may take some time, and it may be a challenge to reach the confluence point, we decide to leave it until the next day.
We continued up a winding paved road to Mazra`at al-Bustān where two major wādiys headed north and northeast. The NE gravel tracks wound up the wādiy beds and we camped in an open area with many acacia trees – great stars with no city lights. On Friday morning we explored further off-road towards Abū Ḍibā`, and then turned south down Wādiy Mujāḥ where there were remains of another fort with good views up and down the wādiy. We followed that wādiy southwest for nearby 30 km before joining the paved road we had been on the day before.
Back near al-Tanḍabiyya, we cut SW across the sandy plains with 12.5 km to go to the confluence point, but we were not sure how we were going to get up the escarpment and through the lava fields. As we got nearer we had to be careful as we were getting into some soft sand dunes. In the distance we could see some big power pylons, so we headed towards them and came across an oil pipeline maintenance road. This was very wide and graded and led exactly where we wanted to go up the escarpment. We followed this for 5 minutes and then took off on a smaller track under the power pylons, but we had to stop with 670 metres to go as it became too rocky. We walked across the volcanic rock on top of sand dunes and as we got closer, it looked as though we might have to go down over the ridge. However, the confluence point lay in a small hollow just before the edge. The view in 3 directions (N, E, W) looked the same, so we climbed up a few metres to get some better photos. In the SW direction the Rābigh refinery could be seen and the sea was shimmering to the West.
We found bits of fossilized ostrich eggshells in a few places that surprised us, as we wouldn't have thought it would have been their territory. Ostriches have been extinct in Saudi Arabia for over 50 years so these may have been quite old, and there were many rock tumuli (burial mounds) from probably 3-5,000 years ago on the edge of the escarpment, one with a 10 meter tail of rocks.
All in all a classic confluence point with a few challenges to get there, and lots of interesting things to see in the area.