Journey to the Hejaz

Wednesday, December 27, 2000:

We got up at 8:00 A.M. It was still windy, but the sky was clear. While climbing on the lava, Ron saw a long, skinny, brown snake. A herd of goats and sheep came through the camp and everyone took pictures of them. The Zbitowskys followed them over the lava while we fixed breakfast. After breakfast, we drove our car over to the crater rim. We all climbed down into the crater as far as the palm grove. The Zbitowskys decided to climb down to the bottom while we waited at the grove. Wally gave them instructions on how to go with the small two-way radios we had. We looked at all of the plants and animals in the area. The small springs had reeds and dragonflies in them. A large bird kept circling overhead and a pair of Arabian babblers was in one of the acacia trees in the grove. We saw several kinds of butterflies and beetles as well as honeybees. Finally, Pam, Steven and I decided to go back up to the top. We took a wrong turn at the lower rim, but found Wally as he was coming up and returned to the top.

We all sat down for a while and picked up small pieces of peridot. These were lime green in color and scattered all over the ground. The Zbitowskys came up a while later and we returned to the camp for lunch. After resting we decided to go to the lake on the other side of the lava flow.

We drove past the Bedouin camps again. A lot of small lambs and kids were in a group with their mothers in a "nursery' area in one camp. There were many bigger lambs and kids everywhere else. The ride was very bumpy but we soon reached where we were going. The flat area close to the lake had water in it the last time we were here. It was now dry. The lake itself had shrunk to a smaller size, but there was still quite a lot of water in it. We saw a group of birds' nests in an acacia tree near the bank of the river.

We returned to camp and rested for a while before fixing dinner. We had tacos this night. After dinner, we made a campfire and sat around it talking for a while before going to bed at 10:30 P.M.

Journey to the Hejaz
Our campsite in the lava field a little less than a kilometer from the Al Wahba Crater, a volcanic crater about 250 kilometers north of Taif.
Journey to the Hejaz
Wally Colly at an overlook for the Al Wahba Crater. The crater is about 250 meters deep and 2 kilometers across with a large salt flat in the bottom.
Journey to the Hejaz
A group of young Saudi boys that we encountered at the Al Wahba Crater. They asked me to take their photo.
Journey to the Hejaz
The “lake” near Al Wahba crater.

Thursday, December 28, 2000:

We got up at 7:00 A.M. It was windy all night and still was blowing some at this time. The sky was clear and a wagtail came bobbing by our camp. As we were having breakfast, the herd of sheep and goats came through camp again. This time no one followed them. We broke camp at 8:56 A.M. We drove out past the Bedouin camps and saw the pens of baby sheep and goats again. We followed a bladed track around the lava and headed north. We could see several underground caves in the distance to the east. We also saw a large group of Bedouin tents scattered around the area. At one place there was a group of sheep and goats on the road.

The road was slightly sandy and we passed many wadis with acacia trees and bushes. We passed more lava plains and could see cinder cones in the distance. At one point there were graves in a wadi, covered with black stones. We passed a group of sheared sheep. We soon came to a small village that had a large mosque in the middle. There were wells in the wadi nearby that had walls of concrete built around them. A large modem school was on the edge of the village, as well as a phone tower.

From here we crossed still more lave plains and could see a lake in the distance. A shrike sat on a bush at one place surveying the area for hunting possibilities. We passed more wells and acacias, and large areas of sand with tamarisk bushes and other scrub. We stopped one place where the ground was covered with white quartz.

We now drove onto a sandy plain with reddish jebels. Some of these were in the form of hogback ridges. We drove around more sheep in the road and passed a date grove on the edge of a large wadi filled with acacia trees. We stopped for a bush break and Pam's door almost fell off when she opened it to get out. One of the hinge pins had fallen out, but we managed to find it and replace it. While we were working on the door, we observed several large dragonflies flying around the bushes in the wadi. Before we got back onto the track, a truck with small children in the back roared past.

We drove into another village by our usual route, the garbage dump. We drove on over a sandy plain ringed by black jebels and filled with acacias. We then entered a rocky valley between jebels. We saw a camel grazing on top of one of the jebels. The valley narrowed and was covered with lots of rocks. This opened out onto the trash dump of Mahad ad Dahab. We soon were on asphalt road again.

We drove around the town of Mahad ad Dahab and had a good view of the front of the entrance to the gold mine. We stopped for lunch in a rocky wadi at the edge of town, sitting in the shade of a large acacia tree. We saw a huge golden eagle sitting on the ground eating something. We saw another one soaring overhead. We also got some pictures of a brown spotted lizard.

After lunch, we drove to the entrance to the gold mine complex. After talking to the guard at the gate, we were directed to go to the living area and see if we could find the man we were looking for. The little town was full of flowers, nice houses, and cats. However, no one with any authority was there. We left the complex and drove around the fence so the Zbitowskys could see as much as possible of the ancient workings and the cyanide ponds. We saw a green bee-eater as well. We then headed toward the road to Madinah and the Hejaz Railway.

Steven drove for a while. We could see the higher mountains around Madinah in the distance. A camel was scratching his neck on a signpost at one place and dust devils danced across the flat plain that we were driving on. There were puddles scattered around between the acacia trees and jebels covered with rocks. At one point another camel ran across the road in front of us.

We entered the area of Harrat Rahat. At one place we could see a huge dust devil in the distance. Between the lava flows were small fields and date groves. Large eucalyptus trees and greenhouses were on some of the larger farms. There were also more sheep on the road. At one place we saw three eagles by the side of the road sitting on lava rocks. We could see the high mountains in the haze and fields of green plants as we reached the main road to Madinah.

The six-lane highway was very busy with cars, trucks and buses of all sorts. Fields of wild purple flowers were boarding the side of the road in places, and a yellow butterfly plastered itself on the windshield. We passed a rocky wadi with water and acacias. Donkeys were eating grass at the side on the road as we drove on an open rocky plain with mountains in the distance. Hajji buses were everywhere. Cinder cones began to appear close to the road as we drove into the mountains.

We drove past a gas station with a palm-thatched roof. Big road cuts were decorated with red, black, green, and yellow rocks. Tall grass grew in pools of water near the road and we passed date and pomegranate groves. We stopped briefly for Wally to take over the driving and saw a sign for the "Maken Food Restuaunt'.

The jebels near the road were red in color now and we came to another lava field. Water was in pools between the rocks in places. We went through the checkpoint and headed to the "Non-Muslim' ring road. We drove around the city, but missed our turn to the north and had to make a U-turn and go back to the right road. We passed the beautiful mosque and the palace on the hill as we got onto the Tabuk road. By the side of the road, men were selling heavy brown overcoats from the back of their trucks. Silver grass covered the black sides of the mountains in places. A truck full of palm branches drove past us and we stopped at the checkpoint at the edge of town.

We soon were on our way through the valley with small farms on all sides. There was quite a bit of water in the wadi on one side of the road. We could soon see Hafirah station in the distance. We drove a short distance and turned off onto the rocky track that led to the Hafirah Dam. We stopped here for a short while and took pictures of the dam and petroglyphs.

We passed more farms, mud-brick ruins, and date groves. We turned off the main road and headed to the side road that follows the railway. We crossed over Wadi Hamid and saw two trucks full of alfalfa. We then stopped at Buwayr station and took photos with the old locomotive. We left just as the sun was setting at 5:30.

We passed more farms, some with rails and ties for fences. We could see Jebel Antar in the distance. We stopped for bread at our favorite bakery and headed off to find a place to camp. The moon was a small sickle in the sky with Venus shining brightly near it.

We pulled off-road across from Jebel Antar and found a place to camp near a large jebel. We had pizza for dinner and set up the shower tent afterward and had showers. We then went to bed.

Journey to the Hejaz
Petroglyphs at Hafirah
Journey to the Hejaz
Ruins of an ancient dam at Hafirah
Journey to the Hejaz
Our 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
Our campsite at Jebal Antar

Friday, December 29, 2000:

We got up at 8:00 A.M. We had heard a lot of shuffling around and giggling during the night. When we got up we realized that the Zbitowsky's tent had blown down during the night and they were all asleep in their suburban. We had breakfast and broke camp at 11:21.

We drove on past Antar Station and followed the new asphalt road north. We saw what looked like part of a rail car near the embankment in one place. We passed scattered farms and a gas station with only one pump. We could see Abu an Na'am station in the distance but continued to follow the asphalt. The area was rocky and sandy with large jebels. Acacias and scrub were scattered about as well. We passed a very large flat-topped jebel at one point and a field of grain with railway ties around it for a fence.

We now entered a very sandy area with more flat-topped jebels. Some of these had dunes against them. Then the area became more flat and sandy. Wash out areas were built into the roadway to keep it from washing away when there are rainstorms and flash floods. We finally turned off of the asphalt onto a bladed road heading east toward Hadiyah station.

We soon turned onto another bladed track and went through a very sandy area and passed a field of black boulders. There were a few bushes scattered around. We went through sand and over several small jebels. We passed several dum-dum palms in a wadi and came to a small village with a date grove and mud-brick ruins. We swung between more dunes and small jebels and finally came to the railway bridge just north of Hadiyah station.

We drove to the station and got out for a while. A Saudi family was there as well and the man had dug up a silver watch from among the buildings. We stayed here for almost an hour and started to drive toward Qal'at Hadiyah. We passed more dum-dum palms and came to the Wadi Kheybar. It was dry where two years ago we had seen running water and fish. We followed it around and stopped at the qal'at.

The wadi in front of Qal'at Hadiyah was dried up with the exception of one small deep pool, which still had fish in it. We walked around the fence and went into the qal'at itself. The inside showed some signs of having the mud plastering repaired at some time since the original construction. It was very interesting.

We drove across the dry wadi and ate lunch in a grove of acacia trees. Several camels were grazing on the trees and stared at us the whole time. We also found an empty Jack Daniel's Whiskey bottle lying around.

We drove back to the bridge for more photos. Celeste managed to get their vehicle stuck for a while. I walked around and took a picture of the nameplate on the bridge and an old well next to the pump house. We left at 3:45 P.M. On the way back to the asphalt, we passed a section of track and ties lying in a dune. At one point, we noticed that Pam's door was rattling very badly. We stopped and realized the hinge pin had fallen out completely this time and was lost. Wally found a bolt in his toolbox and repaired it. We finally made it back to the asphalt.

We headed south on the road and drove to a track leading to Abu an Na'am station. We passed a herd of camels as we drove there. We stopped at the station and looked around for a while and then headed back toward Madinah. It was now 5:00 P.M. As we drove back toward Jebel Antar we saw several Egyptian vultures circling overhead. We also saw a man in a truck herding a group of camels.

We drove on toward Buwayr station and passed a group of young men playing soccer. At 5:30 the sun disappeared behind the mountains. The clouds became gold and were arranged in a very interesting pattern of layers. We went back through the valley with farms and villages and soon could see the moon and Venus again. The clouds around them were a very deep purple color. We soon reached the checkpoint and had our papers checked again. We asked the Zbitowskys if they would like to spend the night at the Madinah Sheraton and they agreed. So we headed toward the hotel.

By now it was getting dark and the shops all had their lights on. Some of them were decorated with "Eid" lights. The palace on the hill was lit up as well. We crossed over the bridge and turned into the hotel's drive. Soon we were dragging our stuff into our room.

Pam and Steven had a room and Wally and I had a room. We ordered room service for all of us in our room. Everyone's meal came but mine, which came after everyone else had eaten. We finally got to bed at 9:45 P.M.

Journey to the Hejaz
Our two Suburbans crossing a wadi on the Hijaz Railway near Hadiyah.
Journey to the Hejaz
Hadiyah Station with Celeste, Carol, and Pam.
Journey to the Hejaz
A view of the Hadiyah station complex.
Journey to the Hejaz
Qal’at Hadiyah (an old pilgrim route fort pre-dating the Hejaz Railway).
Journey to the Hejaz
Abu an Na’am station

Saturday, December 30, 2000:

We had got up and Wally and Steven went to the restaurant for breakfast. Pam and I ordered room service, which finally came ten minutes before we planned to leave. We finally got away at 7:46 A.M. It was clear and a very nice day. We missed our road again because there was not a sign in English. We finally got to the ring road by going a roundabout way. There was little traffic and the shops were just beginning to open. We saw a building with four gold domes and several that had miniature Eiffel towers on top of them. We saw a building with the Boy Scout symbol on it and passed by the slaughterhouse. We saw a statue of water pots and bowls just as we got to the turnoff for the Riyadh road.

Just past the airport, we stopped to check Ron's tires because he heard a strange sound. Next to where we stopped was an old shanty with several birdhouses in front of it. We drove on past the lave flow. There were many puddles here and even a small lake. Between the lava flows were small farming plots. Soon the jebels were near to the roadside. We now came to the checkpoint, but no one was there to check our papers so we drove on.

We saw a herd of camels drinking out of one of the puddles near the road. The mountains soon became very rugged and wadis with acacias ran down their sides and between them. We drove through Suwaydrah and saw a fountain shaped like a chest. There were stone gates with round towers and a dry wadi with dum-dum palms in it. In the main part of town, new date palms had been planted in the median of the road. On a hillside was a statue of crossed swords and a palm tree.

As we drove on we saw two baby camels nursing. We were now on a plain with small isolated jebels and scrub. In the distance, we could see mountains. We passed a radar by the road at one point and a small village. A large wadi near here was full of dum-dum palms. We then came onto a wide sandy plain with scattered bushes and mountains still in the distance. There were more radar stations on a small hill here.

We drove into Hanakiyah and saw dead date palms in the median. The open shops were very busy with people going to and fro everywhere. We passed a large date grove and more dum-dum palms in a wadi that also had several wells in it. We drove by a truck with "don't kiss me" on its back bumper. There was an area of more lava outside of town.

We drove along and heard a strange sound coming out of the back tire on my side of the car. Wally pulled off just as it went flat. We managed to get off onto a track that went under a bridge over a large wadi, and stopped to change the tire. We had to unload several things to get out the jack and spare tire. Then the electric air pump would not work and we had to pump the tire up with a hand pump. In all, it took an hour to change the tire and get back on the road.

We soon came to another checkpoint, but were waved through by a very chubby Saudi policeman. Then we had to wait for a herd of camels to get out of the road. We were now on a large plateau that was covered with gravel and had few trees. We passed a wreck where a truck had tipped over and lost a load of sheep. There were puddles of water beside the road in places and at one place we passed a group of dogs eating a dead sheep.

We came to Audiyah and found the gas stations closed. We went on and passed tucks selling hay and firewood out of their backs. We saw more Egyptian vultures overhead. The road was going through a group of jebels, some of which were hogback ridges. On one side of the road, they were black in color. We finally found an open gas station and stopped. Next to the building was a can of "Happyman" paint. Next to us at the pump was a truck with several goats and an old man in it. As we drove away and were waiting for Ron, the Bedouin truck pulled next to us and the old man told us that our gas cap was still open. We thanked him and Wally closed the cap.

We now drove onto a sandy plain with jebels in the distance. There was grass and scrub scattered along here and a herd of sheep. We could also see a large Bedouin camp. Next, we came to large granite jebels scattered about the plain. There were sheep in the road at one place and more granite jebels. We drove past the road that goes to the other gold mine.

The terrain that we came to next was a wide rolling gravel plain. We were waved through another checkpoint and passed more puddles of water. We drove through Uqlat as Suqur where the highway was four-lane with acacia trees in the median. The shops were all closed for prayer and there was a park with a large rock covered fountain. A large wadi with a rock wall by it ran nearby. We went through another checkpoint and by another park with trees and picnic tables.

We now drove onto a wide sandy plain with grass and a few bushes but no trees. We passed another wreck with two cars in it, and still more puddles. The shoulders of the highway were being worked on in places here, and we saw where a new road was under construction. We passed farms and small villages and a camel with a saddle on it. There were now large jebels on one side of the road. We went through another checkpoint and come into Batra.

We drove through Batra and stopped for lunch in the granite jebels just past town. We went through fields of boulders and down a track that someone had planted small trees beside. We ate next to the side of a jebel while the others explored the area. It was 2:30 P.M. when we left.

We decided to go a different way this time and turned onto a road that was marked Unazyah. We passed many small farms and date groves. We came to As Nabhaniyah where they were paving the new part of a four-lane road. They were also building a median between the two road sections. We were on a wide scrubby plain ringed with jebels. We then came to a traffic light that was in the middle of nowhere!

We now reached Qsar ibn Uqayyal where they were also working on a median separating the four lanes of traffic. At Ar Rass the road became six lanes. We got there just as the prayer call for afternoon prayer was being given. There were several fountains in town and a large bicycle used as a sign. We passed a large field of boulders and into the village of Qasm Torery. We then drove onto an open plain covered with bushes. We could see farms with irrigation machines in the distance.

We now entered the edges of Buraydah and passed a soccer stadium and a fountain of vases. We had our papers checked at the checkpoint and drove into a hilly area with farms and silos. We drove along the connecter to the Riyadh highway through a sandy area with bushes. The new highway went through large farms and sandy areas. We went on an older section of the road past trees and traffic lights. We crossed over a large wadi with dunes on either side. Then we went past limestone jebels. This brought us to a high rocky plateau with large pools of water on it. There were several areas of subkah along here. These had dunes at their edges. Between some of the dunes were farms.

The terrain changed to rolling hills just before another checkpoint. Then we came to a flat plain where we saw a man riding a camel. Next were more dunes that were glowing red with the afternoon sun shining on them. We came to the Valley at Ghat with its large farms.

We drove up the escarpment that was also glowing in the late afternoon sun. On top of it were sculptures of the phases of the moon. At the very top was a large statue of a coffee pot. The plateau on top of the escarpment was rolling hills cut with deep wadis. We pulled off at Zilfi to take a bush stop and discovered that there were tents and cars everywhere. We finally found an empty space and carried on. At sundown, we began to see people praying by the side of the road. We passed a large pond with a date grove next to it.

At 6:30 P.M. we stopped at a large, very crowded gas station. There were several restaurants and other stores here as well. We saw a goat in a truck and several Hajji buses. Wally and Ron went to one of the restaurants and got roasted chicken, bread, and Arab salad for us to eat. It tasted great. We left here around 7:30 P.M. and made a short bush stop close by. The stars were beautiful overhead.

We went through another checkpoint and by a gas station covered with lights. We came to the outskirts of Riyadh just as Venus set behind some jebels. In Riyadh the traffic was heavy. The shops were all open and doing a lot of business. As we passed the radar ears we discovered that they too were lit up.

We went through another checkpoint near a new power station. We drove on to the Urai'irah junction and exited the highway. We took a short break and headed down the road. Soon we could see the flares of the gas plant. The village was already closed up for the night as we passed through. A man was standing next to his car on the road and we nearly hit him. We came into Udhailiyah and drove into our driveway at 12:27 A.M.


We did not get to go in the gold mine at Mahad ad Dahab, but we did achieve our goal of getting to Wahba Crater. We also got to go to the Hejaz Railway, which was a nice alternative to the mine. It was a nice trip and we enjoyed having Pam and Steven with us camping again.

Part 1