Forward by Wallace Colly:

Journey to the Hejaz: Wahba Crater and Beyond - Part I
The two families that were on this camping trip. We are in front of an abandoned locomotive on the Hijaz Railway at Buwayr station in the Hijaz mountains. From left to right are: Steven Colly, Pam Colly, Carol and Wally Colly, Celeste and Ron Zbitowsky, and in the locomotive cab their daughters Britanny and Holly.
Journey to the Hejaz: Wahba Crater and Beyond - Part I
Two Suburbans crossing a wadi on the Hijaz Railway near Hadiyah (ours is in the lead).

When we first came to Saudi Arabia in 1981, we had little idea of what kind of adventure it was going to be for our family. Our first months were spent with Carol and our two small children coping with life in Mansour Camp just outside the gates of Abqaiq while Wally commuted to work daily on buses for 2 hours each way to and from Udhailiayah. Thankfully that changed when we were assigned housing in Udhailiyah. There we made many friends and became very active in the community. It wasn’t long before we were camping and exploring various parts of Saudi Arabia. Our kids grew up with an appreciation of the beauty and culture of the country. The opportunity to tour parts of the world that we would otherwise never have seen was a special part of our lives. That adventure came to an end in 1986 when we went back to the USA. We didn’t think we would ever be going back.

Life is full of surprises and not long after Carol completed her much-delayed degree program at Georgia State University in 1988, Wally was invited to return to Aramco. It was a tough decision for the family. We decided to go back. This time we knew what we were getting into. It was Carol that insisted we get a good 4-wheel drive vehicle for our desert adventures. Carol didn’t get to pursue her archaeological training professionally, but we visited plenty of ancient sites when camping all over the kingdom. We were in Dhahran from 1988 to 1991 and got to be there for the duration of Desert Shield / Desert Storm. Carol baked a lot of cookies for the soldiers manning the Patriot missile batteries nearby.

We moved back to Udhailiyah in 1991 and became very involved in community life there again. Among other things, Carol taught piano in her spare time. Our daughter and son went off to boarding school and then college in the 1990’s. Wally and Carol were “empty-nesters” for a number of years before finally retiring in 2004. By that time both our kids were living in our house in Georgia. It’s somewhat ironic that we moved in with them in retirement (instead of the other way around). Our daughter is married now and living with her husband in South Carolina. Our son is still with us sharing our adventures in the USA.

Journey to the Hejaz - Wahba Crater and Beyond​ by Carol Colly

The object of this trip was to visit the Wahba Crater and the Mahad ad Dahab Gold Mine. Our returning-student children, Pam and Steven, were with Wally and I. We traveled with Ron, Celeste, Britanny, and Holly Zbitowsky of Udhailiyah. Lewis and Kathy Bell and Lloyd from Ras Tanura were supposed to travel with us also, but left the group early.

Journey to the Hejaz
Image for illustrative purposes only.

Tuesday, December 26, 2000:

We left Udhailiyah at 6:12 A.M. It was cloudy and dark. The flares at the Gas Plant looked like smudges in the haze that surrounded them. As we passed through the village, the gas station was already busy as everyone prepared for the first day of the Eid. We traveled down the Al Hasa/Riyadh highway in very windy conditions. The suburban was rocking due to the force of some of the gusts of wind. We passed several herds of camels and the bushes were very green with grass sprouts covering the ground. A dog was running by the road in one place. The clouds overhead were in two distinct layers, the bottom layer moving very fast. We traveled over a flat plain at first and the sky began to show blue patches.

The next area had rolling hills and larger jebels. Mugwort bushes and lots of green sprouts were covering the ground here. At 6:58 A.M. the sun finally broke through the clouds. We passed a hajji bus and a man riding a camel. There were several babies in his herd. The clouds looked like big cotton balls scattered across the sky. By 7:16 A.M., the sky was clear.

We soon reached the Riyadh highway, passing farms surrounded by Tamarisk trees. The terrain was rolling hills and sand. There were pools of water by the sides of the road and salt deposits where other pools had dried up. We could see Turkey Rock in the distance. At one place, cables were stretched across the highway indicating that the "Thumper Trucks" were somewhere in the area. We passed a gas station with acacia and eucalyptus trees. Traffic began to get heavier. We passed another man on a camel and drove onto a flat plain with brown sand and white rocks. A painted truck with water scenes and a truck loaded with large pipes passed us. The wind was still blowing strongly.

We passed through a checkpoint and the terrain became more rolling and the sand became reddish. We went by a large pump station for the water pipeline and came to the dunes of the Ad Dahna.

Journey to the Hejaz
Image for illustrative purposes only.

We arrived at the Wasia Gas Station and discovered that Lewis along with Kathy and Lloyd had already arrived. In front of the buildings of the station were a conglomerate of things - studded wooden boxes, overcoats, pillows, cooking pots of all sizes, kids' bikes, bouncing horses, and huge bags of onions. Sparrows were hopping around the acacia trees and making a lot of noise. We made a quick pit stop and left with three cars.

We soon lost the Bells and Lloyd. We turned around and began to drive the wrong way down the shoulder of the road. At one point we had to actually get back onto the road going the wrong way. We soon found the lost vehicle with Lloyd changing a flat tire. As he only had one spare, we decided to return to a large gas station and see if they had a replacement tire. We drove back the way we had come and stopped at a large station. A suitable tire was found, but the man placing it on the rim blew it up as he filled it with air. He was knocked to the ground and we thought that he was hurt badly. It destroyed Lloyd's tire rim as well. We finally got someone from the station to come to see about the man and he was not hurt badly, just stunned. Lloyd decided that he would have to return to Ras Tanura with the Bells since he did not have a spare. So they went back and we turned toward Riyadh again. It was now 10:20 A.M.

We returned to our trip traveling along a plain with small jebels scattered around the area. The ground was covered with brown sand and dark rocks. We passed through a checkpoint with no one in it. A large puddle by the road had a stand of tall grass in it. Soon we came to the earth ears outside of Riyadh. We passed the shantytown with camel pens and came to a median filled with date palms and bushes. The camel market was busy and there were a lot of baby camels with their mothers.

We now drove through Riyadh. The traffic was light and we soon reached the cut off for the Makkah road. We passed two tall towers under construction and medians with fountain grass and camel vines. We drove over the high bridge, over the Wadi Hanifah with a beautiful view of the date groves at the bottom of the wadi.

We started down the escarpment going over another large bridge with more date groves visible. Several of the gas stations by the road had Eid "trees" made of lights on their sunshades or roofs. We passed a truck full of cattle and a large bird soared overhead. We were waved through another checkpoint and passed by an open market by the side of the road. As we drove farther downward, we passed large pointed jebels and several hogback ridges.

At the bottom of the escarpment were large farms and mud-brick ruins. At Muzahimiyah there were many small farms and date groves. Several greenhouses were on the farms, as well as large circular irrigation machines in some of the fields. In the background were large angular jebels.

We now came to an area of large red dunes. Small farms were tucked in between the dunes and the green contrasted with the red. Camels were wandering over the dunes in several places. We continued along through dunes and scattered jebels. Doves and swifts flew overhead and camel gourds were growing by the roadside.

We soon exited to find a place for lunch. The first place we stopped was already occupied by a wild Saluki and her pups. We drove on until we came to the end of the asphalt road, past a small village and on the edge of a farm. We had lunch just upwind from a dead camel. There were many flies and different kinds of doves in the area. We stayed here for about forty minutes.

We continued on past more small farms. Once we passed a mosque with twin minarets. The terrain was rolling, ringed with jebels. A green "fuzz" covered the ground in many places as the new growth was coming through. We soon came to an area of more large dunes. This was followed by a brown flat plain with scattered scrub. We passed a large chicken farm just before the village of Elijahuh.

Small date palms were planted in the median of the road as it went through the village. As we left the village, we came to an area of rocky jebels near to the road. Acacia trees were scattered about and small rocky wadis ran down the sides of the jebels. In some of these wadis were date palms and in others were more acacia trees. At one place we saw a small earth dam and a vineyard. Red plants were blooming near puddles alongside the road in some places.

Soon the jebels became piles of large, loose boulders in places. Splashes of color were provided by dandelions growing between the rocks. Next, we came to large dark jebels and another large chicken farm. More puddles were by the road as were flocks of sheep and goats. At one place a streak of white rocks ran through the darker rock in the road cut.

Journey to the Hejaz
Image for illustrative purposes only.

We now passed through small rolling rocky jebels, and then into a wide valley with large isolated jebels. Large boulders were scattered throughout the valley as well. We passed fields of cabbage, alfalfa and date groves. On the side of one jebel was a large granite quarry. Soon the valley became ringed with jebels. Wadis with acacia and Apple of Sodom bushes were scattered about. A donkey was peacefully grazing near one of these.

We passed a gas station that had the front half of a truck sticking out of its upper story. Pigeons were sitting all over it. Large jebels dominated the terrain with more wadis with acacia trees. Next came small rolling jebels covered with dark rocks and gravel plains. We stopped at a large gas station for gas and snacks. A man asked for money. His car had broken down and he needed to have it repaired so he could return to Jordan with his family. Nearby was a natural "pyramid" shaped jebel. We soon came to more dark jebels with a salt flat between them.

We drove through a road cut that had green and pink rocks exposed. Soon there was a rolling open plain with isolated jebels. We passed an accident in which a car was smashed underneath a large truck. We went through an empty checkpoint and passed by Howitat. Alongside the road, new power lines were being strung, and a lot of new grass was springing up near the poles.

We now entered a flat black plain. Green bushes, acacia trees and grass were growing in wadis that cut through it. This soon changed to a flat brown plain with jebels in the distance. We passed another pair of radar ears and a lit-up gas station. The sun was now a big ball of red with a bar of clouds going across it. A flock of ravens flew by on their way to roost for the night. At 5:40 P.M. the sun set and people were pulling off the side of the road to pray and to eat. We kept going and passed through Muwayr.

By now Venus was very bright in the sky and pink clouds were floating on the horizon. Camels were drinking out of puddles by the sides of the road. We exited the highway at Umm a Doom and made a pit stop.

As we traveled on a mouse hopped across the road in front of the car. We soon came to Dagahbah where a house had lights all over it for the Eid. One gas station was closed for prayer, but another one was just opening so we stopped. A box of potatoes was sitting near it that read "about 10 kg.". There was a barbershop here doing a lot of business. Several hay trucks were parked by the side of the road, and we could see fireworks and tracer bullets in the distant sky.

We drove on past a spooky landscape of acacia trees and cinder cones. At one place a cat ran across the road in front of us. We were now on a dirt track and were trying to find the road that went around the crater to the camping area. We finally found it and drove around the edge of the crater and past several Bedouin camps. Huge fires were in front of each of the tents. After a short search, we found a place to set up our camp. It was very windy and cold, but the stars were magnificent. We had hamburgers for dinner and went to bed very tired.

Part 2