The Rub’ al Khali (الربع الخالي) literally means Empty Quarter in Arabic, and is the world’s largest contiguous sand desert covering about 650,000 square km of land. To put that into perspective, the Rub’ al Khali covers most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula with potions existing in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and of course, Oman.
During the winter my mates Jonty and David joined me on the most epic off-road journey I have every embarked on. Destination: The Rub’ al Khali. It’s not the off-road conditions that make this journey epic, although they were challenging. But by no means extreme. It was the amazing views that stratified this journey for me. Pictures, words, or sounds cannot describe the feelings during this trip, but I’ll try my best.
We started off our Rub’ al Khali journey in Muscat and drove all morning to petrol station one in Shib al Muqayrida where we filled up our tanks, grabbed some cool drinks, and started the GPS track recording. From here to the dunes is Oman’s main oil area. The town of Fahud is the main camp, and it’s clear you are in oil country. Oil operations began here in 1954, but commercial quantities didn’t get discovered until 1964. I believe Fahud contributes to a majority of Oman’s output, but I struggle to find current data in the open source. But anyway, this place is super important for Oman.
Out last interaction with parties outside our group was at our second petrol stop at Jibal. I carry about 130 liters of petrol onboard my magic carpeted ride, between the main and sub-tank. So, this stop isn’t 100% necessary, but the jeeps don’t carry as much, so we topped off as a precaution. The Jibal station is on private oil company land, and operates limited hours, closing for the typical early afternoon siesta, so don’t rely on this station 100%.
From here we go off-road and cross the salt plain basin of Umm as Samim (Mother of Poisons). The tracks are well used by the army and oil companies, so as long as you stay on the tracks you should avoid sinking below the dangerous crust. Take care if there is standing water after any rains. This place is a huge drainage basin where water collects from the Hajar Mountains. Makes you wonder if this is the reason why so much oil and gas is found below your feet. Satellite images illustrate the geography well.
The sand dunes of the Rub’ al Khali start just south of here, of which the largest are located just a few kilometers from the Saudi-Omani border. The third highest dune in Oman is located in this area, and is the focus of our journey. Our GPS measured it as 130m tall!
On its own 130m doesn’t sound very tall, but when you think about the fact that it’s created by sand and wind alone, 130m truly comes into focus.
This episode of the Sultanate covers our journey through the Rub’ al Khali. The GPS track and important waypoints are located below. We did this journey over the course of three days, and two nights. There aren’t any campsites listed because this is the Empty Quarter after all, there’s nobody around to bother you. Just pick what you like.
Rub’ al Khali Precautions and Safety Rules
- Bring a 4×4 in good working order.
- Bring safety and recovery equipment (shovel, kinetic rope, shackles first aid kit, fire extinguisher).
- Bring tools.
- Be clear on your route and navigation (GPS).
- Never go alone, minimum two vehicles.
- File your plan with a friend.
- Pack enough water (5 liters/person/day) + emergency water.
Finally I’d like to add that the two nights spent in the Rub’ al Khali were some of the darkest, most light pollution free nights I have ever had. Stargazing was off the charts! This Rub’ al Khali journey is definitely beyond the route.
What is the most empty place you have visited? Leave me a comment below:
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