18-Jan-2001 -- 26N 49E -- Yep, I've been there. What can I tell you? It's in the middle of the desert near five rusty barrels. This was a whim visit. Ken and I decided Wednesday evening that we could make a dash to two Confluences in a single day and get back home in time for the evening news. This was to be no mean feat. For us to have any chance of success, we needed to enlist Phyllis and Kaye to pop the tops of the soft drinks while Ken and I struggled to exert the necessary 2-3 ounces of pressure on the accelerator all
the way out the Riyāḍ Highway. I have to admit that I sometimes succumb to feelings of confluencial inadequacy. You know, I read on the web site about all these people finding Confluences while hanging from ropes, clawing their way through manzanita or cross-country skiing for 50 miles one way. I personally haven't visited a site that I couldn't park my vehicle on. This trip didn't do anything to address this shortfall of self image, but by God, this time we had chairs and coolers, so we could savor the experience.
I noticed one day while I was browsing Tactical Pilotage Chart TPC H-6C that a pair of Confluences here in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia was particularly convenient to roads that I had already travelled on. The points are 26N 49E and 25N 48E. The first one seemed to be within five miles (8 km) of the Riyāḍ-Dammām highway about 70 miles (110 km) west of al-Ẓahrān, sort of near a small town called Judda. The second one is just south of Khurayṣ and promised to be quite interesting as it lies in a narrow band of bright red sand called the Dahnā'.
Our weekend here is Thursday-Friday so early, (08:30 is early for us) on Thursday, or logical Saturday as we insist on calling it, we were up and on the road. The Riyāḍ highway is 6 lanes of boring, straight-line driving punctuated with unpredictable mayhem. It might take the form of a narcoleptic truck driver careening through the flimsy central median fence or it might be a full blown herd of camels that have somehow found a breach in the highway's defenses and are streaming across the highway. Streaming is a poor choice of words to describe the camel's ambulation. It suggests too much speed. You do NOT want to experience either of these hazards at night, but if I had to choose, I think I would take my chances with the truck. Unlike deer, camels will never leap. I don't think they can. More insidiously, they lack eyeshine, so you are not afforded that warning green flash as when a deer tries to figure out what your headlights are. The combination of camel morphology and automotive freeway velocities produces results too gruesome to describe. Let your imagination run wild. This is prime camel country and prime camel season as many herds are moving into this area for grazing. The entire length of the Riyāḍ-Dammām highway is lined with camel fences on both sides. Before this was installed it was like a war zone.
Our navigation consists of the proven technique of putting the Confluence waypoint into the GOTO, driving on the highway until we get a 90-degree deflection on the CTS arrow at which time we initiate the terminal homing sequence by getting off the road and driving straight to the confluence. We are spoiled.
Our approach had to be modified in this instance because there was no way through the camel fence. We drove a couple of miles past the 90-degree deflection point before we found a hole. We were then able to follow some tracks in the general direction of the Confluence through some low jabals until we were within a kilometre or so of the point. The type of terrain is in this area is called dhakaka, which is a collection of low sand mounds with some grass on top. When the mounds are close together, it can be uncomfortable driving. These ones were easy. The final few feet were covered, ironically, on foot. An "X" was scrawled in the sand at the all zeros point and we began unloading the chairs for a brief party. No time to waste though. We had to move on to 25N 48E. Check it out and especially, compare the sand color at the two sites which are only about 150 km apart.
- Some curious locals stopped by to see what all the laughing was about. The baby camel had been born that day.
- Crosschecking the GPS with known location. (The GPS was right)
- Welcome to our Confluence. MawMaw and PawPaw celebrate at the site of many barrels. At their feet, the trusty navigator.
- Canada Dry rehydration therapy. Kaye contemplates the uniqueness of this spot in a sea of spots.
- They didn't hang around long when they saw we didn't have any feed bags.
- Proof of 26N 49E. Not just a can opener, Phyllis shows she is also an accomplished GPS holder-upper.