So, I like interesting things, and one of the most interesting geographical wonders in Oman is the Rock Garden located in Duqm. What is so interesting about the Rock Garden? Well, for starters it is like visiting another planet and it all starts with the journey to reach it.
Update March, 2018 – I received a report the garden is not open to tourists at the moment and construction all around. I’ll try to report when more details come to light. Don’t make any special trips for now. :(
The Rock Garden is located about 550 km from Muscat and to reach it you will need to take route 33 to route 32, through the town of Sinaw. Sinaw is the interior hub for the regional villages, the place bedouin and villagers purchase all their supplies; everything from clothing to goats can be found here, especially on a Friday when the souq gets most of its shoppers and sellers. Sinaw is also the place you realize Oman is more than just what can be found in Muscat; it’s dusty, it’s lively, it’s raw, and it’s undeniably beyond the tourist route. A place more real and exciting than the polished facade of Nizwa, but I digress.
When leaving Sinaw you leave behind modern Oman, stepping back maybe 20 years. The road narrows, roughens, and the landscape flattens. That mountainous, vibrant, arab country you think is Oman grows smaller in your rear view mirror. Ahead of you is one of the straightest, flattest, most boring, and most dangerous roads you have ever driven on.
I know this road well, unfortunately. In September 2015, my “magic carpeted ride” (my 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser) decided to quit giving me spark to combust my dinosaur juice, leaving me, and my mate Sarah, stopped on the side of the road, 130 km away from anybody who turns a wrench for a living. Anxiously, I hopped out, and popped the hood hoping to find a missing belt that I could replace from my onboard spares. Luck was not on my side. But fortunately, not more than 3 minutes after coming to a complete stop (basically the very next passing car), in true Omani hospitality, Mahmoud pulled over in his slightly newer white Land Cruiser to give me a lift back to Sinaw. I rode in the front with Mahmoud trying hard the remember my Arabic and keep the conversation going. Sarah rode in the back with Mahmoud’s .30 caliber rifle, trying not to get accidentally fire the gun. Everybody living in the desolate regions knows the dangers that exists when traveling throughout Oman and will undoubtedly stop to help if needed, thankfully.
About two and a half hours later (depending on how fast you dare to press the pedal, and assuming you didn’t fall asleep) you will arrive in Duqm, Oman’s newest project city. Duqm is home to a new port, dry dock, and special economic zone with grand plans to challenge Dubai as the GCC dominate trading hub. It’s still a bit sleepy but the infrastructure is going in rapidly. Contrasting this future Oman, right smack in the middle of it all, lies the Rock Garden and its millions-of-years-old rocks.
This place is so interesting; sure a geologist can tell you exactly how the limestone and sandstone rocks were formed, but I sometimes prefer to wonder and just enjoy. Covering an area of hundreds of football fields, every rock formation offers you something new and exciting like an embedded fossil, wind eroded feature, or amusing shape. I can (and have) spend hours here cruising around and taking it all in. This place truly is worth the drive it takes to get here; it is magic.
I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to only take pictures, leaving behind any interesting rocks you fancy. Part of being a respectful traveler includes preserving places you visit for others to enjoy in the future. If too many travelers take something for themselves the government might just close the Rock Garden off to independent travelers altogether. Recently the government put up a fence around the site including signs and a car park at the gate. It isn’t clear what the intention of this infrastructure is, but it’s possible some future restriction of access will be implemented, let’s not give the government a good reason to do so.
As Duqm creeps closer and closer to the Rock Garden’s borders, camping here becomes less attractive. At the moment one can still find a private, secluded spot that is suitable for camping. You will just have to accept the added noise and lights from the nearby burgeoning port and city. It is certainly worth the trade off.
Tips for Visiting the Rock Garden
- Arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat and view in the best light.
- Wear a hat.
- Carry with you plenty of water.
- Entertain yourself on the long drive by downloading the Sultanate podcast.
- Download the GPS files below and load them into your favorite GPS unit.
- View the images in the gallery at the top of the page.
Update June 2018: There is a giant road under construction directly in front of the entrance gate to the rock garden. Unfortunately, you will not have direct access to the rock garden gate. However, I was able to gain access by approaching the construction entrance located about fifteen meters south of where the red line track starts in the map above. You can’t miss it, as it’s the only gate. Just tell them you are here to visit the Rock Garden. The guard noted my registration plate number and asked me to sign the visitors log. That’s it! Khalid bin Ahmed and Sons, the construction company, even posted signs to help us navigate.
So, what do you think of them rocks? Leave me a comment below:
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