Located conveniently just outside the city limits of Riyadh is a massive desert which extends for hundreds to thousands of miles in all directions, north into Iraq, south to Yemen, east across the Persian Gulf into Iran and Pakistan, and west across the Red Sea from Egypt and Sudan out to the Atlantic Ocean. On this page you will find a tiny sampling of what the desert to the west of Riyadh looks like as well as the escarpment on top of which the city is located.

Since the weather here in Riyadh usually goes from sunny to sunny to sunny, most weekends tend to be perfect for going on a little drive into town or a little drive out of town. The main factor in deciding which weekends are better than others is the temperature, and ever since the onset of autumn back in late October, most weekends have been perfect for little jaunts into the unknown!

Actually, I should qualify that by saying that it's all unknown for me and my new co-worker Everett (from Seattle), but not for my other co-worker Jeff who has lived in Riyadh for three years. Jeff knows the area so well, in fact, that Everett and I just let Jeff do all the driving as we sit back and secretly photograph it all. As I may have mentioned in previous webpages or emails, the Saudis are rather photo-averse (due to a literal interpretation of the Quran which stipulates that false representations of humans or the world (i.e., God's creation) are forbidden, including photographs, portraits, sculptures, art, poetry, etc.). Therefore, whenever I'm out-and-about photographing everything under the sun, I always have to keep an eye out for religious police, city security officers, possessive husbands, or anyone else for that matter who is either Saudi or receives his paycheck through the enforcement of strict Islamic Saudi law.

This is not to say that photography is illegal, per se, or that TV, or art or music or anything else of that matter is illegal, just that it is often frowned upon (depending upon the individual observing the act) and that if the wrong person gets offended, it can lead to various complications, a la my experience at the Riyadh City Museum several weeks ago. So as always, I'm constantly vigilant and on my toes keeping one eye in my view finder, and one eye on those around me!

Above: an ultra modern bridge spanning an empty rocky gorge just on the western outskirts of Riyadh. The lines you see are from the rear-window defroster in our Ford Crown Victoria.

Hmmm. . . maybe the rocky gorge isn't so rocky nor so empty after all? I imagine that down at the bottom is a date tree farm. In any case, what you see here is rather common on the western edge of Riyadh, specifically, just 20 minutes outside of downtown the land on which the city rests begins to drop in steep steps into the neighboring lower deserts. The bridge above connects two fingers of just such a step, separated by a small canyon. For a reference of size, note the faint white semi-truck crossing right half of the bridge in the center-left position of the right tower's span.

Above: as you drive westward out of Riyadh along the Jeddah-Mecca highway, the roadway begins its descent through the escarpment into the low lying desert via a series of massive gorges cut out from what appears to be layer after layer of sandstone. Somehow it all reminds me of the Raiders of the Lost Arc when Indiana Jones et al. are going through a similar crevasse on their way to the arc. (Or maybe I'm just on crack?!?)

As the highway continues, it exits the escarpment atop a massive, sloping ramp of dirt down into the desert, with the view above being seen to the right of the car. The above image is a mosaic composed of four different pictures.

As we descended the escarpment, the rest of the desert opened up before us. The jagged cliffs seen above stretch for hundreds of miles. Well, at least that's what I've been told, and I have no reason to doubt since the escarpment stretched as far as I could see!

Above: a rather spectacular view of the rock of Riyadh.

I wonder about the people who labored and cut out all that stone.

Above: the view out the left side of the car.

Eventually the highway lands on a relatively narrow basin clinging to the craggy edge of the escarpment bordered by yet more cracked topography, although, you're gonna have to wait to see it because just after taking this picture looking northward, we hooked a sharp left off the freeway and headed south along a two laned road circling around the cliffs back toward Riyadh.

Above: all along the roadsides here are littered small, abandoned villas made of mud. In their day (as recent as the 1960s) these places must have been rather impressive, especially in light of that fact that most Arabians at that time were still a migratory people following their camels moving around the country in tents. Since this structure (and others like in the area) are located at the base of the old Camel Trail leading up the escarpment to Riyadh, I imagine that these people somehow lived off the traffic passing through as they prepared their herds and their people for the long, strenuous ascent up into the city. Now, however, a massive highway lets you make the trip in 30 minutes so there's no need for stopping or regrouping, and the above mud structure has begun its slow return into the desert earth from which it came.

Here we are suddenly entering the south part of Riyadh, having ascended a different section of the escarpment. Along the way we passed through this massive date tree farm in the middle of which, nestled in a little crag of the escarpment was this giant radio telescope pointing strait up into the sky. I would have asked Jeff to stop the car so I could take a picture of it, had I not been afraid that black military helicopters would suddenly swoop down from the sky and swarm our vehicle like desert flies. And since I knew that we'd have to pass through a highway security/police checkpoint to get back into the city, I figured it would be best not to have a picture of the thing on my camera, even if it's nothing of any real importance!

Sidenote: there are permanent security/police checkpoints all over the country which allow the Royal Family to keep a tight grip on the movement of people around the country. As a foreinger I am required to get a visa-like document to travel anywhere farther than (about) 100 miles from my place of employment. Since I was within that distance on the day of our trip into the desert, travel papers were unnecessary. In practice though, the police just wave you through without even stopping your car. I suppose the system is rather effective when the police put out an A.P.B. for Criminal Suspect X.

Continuing with the image above, you can see a typical road in Riyadh: wide streets lined by date trees, white and beige buildings, and mosques. In the distance you can see the rest of the city.

Here we are driving into downtown Riyadh as we come up on the Ministry of the Interior, which in my humble opinion looks like a GIANT UFO!!! At any moment I expect the freaky thing to start making some high pitched whine, spin around in an ultra fast whirl, and then shoot straight up into space! Yes folks, the UFO has landed. . . and Fox Moulder and Dana Scully are on their way to investigate!

The truth is out there.

And lastly, a close up picture of the UFO and it's space-port cohort, the Al-Faisaliya Tower in the background.

There is one thing Riyadh is not: behind the times with ultra-modern architectural design!

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And that, my friends, is the end of this week's series of webpages. I hope you had a good time!


Links Megasite / Saudi Links