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Speleology in Saudi Arabian Sandstone

We arrived at the rock after 1 hr 3 mins of running and stopped for bottled spring water from a local shop.  We then went clambering over the Dali like rocks, with all their grotesque and weird shapes.  Many of the valleys gave strong reminiscences of vadose stream passages underground. We took several photographs and then strolled through the next village.

Out the other side and we were beginning to wonder if we had the right rock because there was no sign of the cave (which we were told was very conspicuous with a professional looking car park).  Still, the road appeared to be encircling the rock, just as described.  Finally, we came upon it, right round the other side. Yes, it was easy to find!

The features of the rock had changed.  On the south and south east, there were deep valleys, starting with sheer drops of about 50ft or more from the valley above, with very open tops (i.e. V - shaped or U - shaped) and some A - shaped holes.  In we went, on a tarmac path which soon disappeared once we were inside. There were a maze of passages, some interconnecting at different heights (i.e. surprise drops - splat! - of 20 to 30ft).   All the time you could either sense the daylight above, or actually see it,  some 80ft skywards.  The passage shape was nearly always vadose A - type and very straight.  Side passages were either perpendicular or parallel to the main passage (very much like OFD).  The blocks of sandstone were huge and rectangular. 

Sometimes you could see boulders exactly the same size as the cleft, jammed precariously above, waiting to drop.  The odd pebble was falling from time to time so it was no mean threat.

There was, generally, good electric lighting in the form of weak street lamps set high up.  Where there were none usually signified the end of the main passage where the amount of light from above indicated the main water entrance in times of heavy rain.  I must return to the dark side passages with a torch and check them all out.

There were several park benches inside~ available for people to picnic - not that I saw anyone doing so although others have.  If you did not wish to use a park bench there was plenty of sandy floor to sit on - real sand, not the usual cave mud.

We went outside and prepared to climb over the top of the rock.  Up we went, through one of the ascending valleys and came out on a completely different landscape - stones scattered everywhere, many small valleys and extremely lunar like, totally devoid of vegetation.  Off the rock to the north was desert with many green clumps scattered around it.  In all other directions, there were palm trees as far as the eye could see in the heavy heat haze.

We walked in a large arc, avoiding the areas where the cave was underneath as much as possible.  We could see several valleys joining together and obviously supplying the water in times of flood which created the cave in the first place.

We reached the northernmost portion of the rock on which a small TV receiving mast had been sited. From here we could see a third feature of the sides of this hill.  To the west the area was strewn with many giant boulders stacked higgledy-piggledy together.  The sandstone here was much firmer, not crumbly at all.  It was a real challenge getting off the hill here, and we made several attempt before finding a suitable route which did not require us to negotiate a 20ft drop.

We made a beeline for a small village which had a huge rock situated in the middle of it.  The rock had the appearance of a cottage loaf, round and bun-like with a half size bun on top.  The bottom "bun' had several caves hewn into it.  The roofs of these caves were black, indicating that many fires had been burnt here in the past, possibly for Kapsa banquets like the one I have already been to.  Here sheep and rice and fruit are eaten, by hand, around a large mat.  Many sand martins were nesting in parts of these caves as they were in many other parts of the main hillside.

No shop in the village so we ran on to the village we had visited initially to obtain bottled water and chocolate bars to fortify ourselves for the run "home".

Ian Wilton-Jones.