18-Jan-2001 -- Later that day at 25N 48E...
We drove to the Confluence directly from 26N 49E. We had returned to the Riyāḍ highway after our successful visit and continued West to the Khurayṣ cutoff. This road turns south and runs down through the Dahnā’ Sands. These sands are incredibly red and form a narrow strip of maybe 30 kilometres wide. The sand migrates, like a river, down this strip from the Nafūd desert in the North all the way to the Rub` al-Khāliy in the far South (see 18N 46E). There is very little vegetation here because the sand is constantly moving and when you reach Khurayṣ, it looks like nothing less than a Mars colony sitting on an undulating red plain.
Khurayṣ is about a tankful of gas away from al-Ẓahrān so we both filled up at the "Khurayṣ First Petrol Pump". The entire town consists of the gas station, a mosque, a grocery store and some piles of dead tires. Believe me, there is not much around here in any direction. The east-west road through town used to be the main highway from Hufūf to Riyāḍ until the big six-laner was built about 30 miles (50 km) to the north. Nowadays it seems to be a place for Bedouin camel herders to get gas, water and cartons of Marlboros.
Having filled the vehicles, we crossed the street to the grocery store and bought some water and some fantastic, still-warm-from-the-oven Arabic bread. I also threw in a Bedouin camel prod. This is a piece of bamboo that is used to "convince" the camel that conformity is preferable to individuality. The prods come in various sizes. I passed on the five-foot long 12-gauge monster and settled for the 3-foot, 410-gauge "trainer" model that is probably intended for use by (or on) women and children. This rod would be used to mark the spot of the Confluence and differentiate it from the surrounding sand.
We drove out of town to the east a short distance and then turned south on the first paved road. The road runs directly up to a natural gas gathering plant that seems very out of place in this setting. The road then makes an abrupt turn to the right to jog around the plant boundary. We followed the road south waiting for the Course to Steer arrow to point 90 degrees to the right indicating that it was time to get off the road. There were several large herds of camels in the area. They must be able to eat sand because there didn’t seem to be much else out there. When we reached the 90 degree deflection point, we motored off into the sands.
From prior experience, the sand here is usually very soft and if you are to get more than 10 feet (3 m) from the road, you should drop the tire pressure into the mid-teens. However, we recently had the first significant rainfall in almost 3 years and the sand seemed firm enough to ride a 10-speed bicycle on. We fanned out, two abreast, and bounded straight ahead for the confluence. We were a couple of hundred meters apart when I drove over some scalloped sand just a little too fast and the vehicle died completely. For the first time ever, the Nissan refused to start and despite our whimpering calls for assistance on the TalkAbout, our good buddy Ken motored straight on over the dunes. At the time I was convinced that Ken was suffering from target fixation and therefore oblivious to all outside stimuli and would remain so until all those zeros popped up on his GPS. I opened the hood and found that a wire to the ignition coil had jumped out of it's connector probably about the time when we were trying to stay out of the headliner as we crossed that choppy bit of sand. The engine fired up immediately and with my faith in Nissan restored, we motored on towards the Confluence. When we found Ken's vehicle making little circles like a dog getting ready to lie down, we knew we were close. I got out and walked until the spot was pinpointed and then I planted the camel prod.
Overcome by the solemnity of the moment I made a short speech: "Here on this day, men (and women) from the colony in al-Ẓahrān first set foot (knowingly) on the Confluence 25 degrees North, 48 degrees East. We came in peace for all mankind." Nobody seemed to care, they were already wheeling the coolers from the car and setting up the chairs for lunch.
So, another one bites the dust.
- A camelburst feature which we found about 200 meters from the confluence. We are unsure what caused this mishap but we have ruled out two possibilities: a) overeating and, b) a skydiving accident.
- Your choices are: Someplace, or, no place at all. When it comes to Khurayṣ, there’s not really much difference between the two.
- The "Khurayṣ First Petrol Pump." What is not mentioned is that there is no "Khurayṣ Second Petrol Pump" and therefore, this is the "Khurayṣ Only Petrol Pump". Gas prices have recently shot up to about a dollar a gallon. For years they had been fixed at 30 some cents per gallon.
- The Summit Team holds a tactical planning meeting in downtown Khurayṣ while they finish off the fresh Arabic bread.
- Are we there yet? Proof of 25N 48E shortly before the big party began. The camel prod is a symbolic marker to remind us of the importance of this spot and the sacrifices(?) we all made to get there.
- It must be Miller time, but the nearest Miller’s is in Baḥrayn, about 400 km away.