Saturday, June 13, 2009

Desert Notes: The Empty Quarter

“The Empty Quarter” – doesn’t that just sound totally dramatic? I thought so when I first heard it.

It’s the name that is given to the desert that stretches between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the Sultanate of Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Known also as the Rub al-Khali, it is the world’s largest continuous expanse of sand.

I have yet to see The Empty Quarter for myself, but the name simply conjures up the most amazing imagery in my head.

I have visions of endless dunes of sand, reddish brown and reflecting the bright hot sun into the endless blue sky.

The only sound I hear is the endless singing whisper of the sand, as the wind creates whirls and eddies in the desert.

I imagine the heat is unrelenting, wearying, and the sand a constant irritation as it creeps into your clothes, rustling and scratching. The only comfort is from the stark beauty of the landscape around you, with heat hazes glimmering on the horizon, which is filled with yet more dunes. And as each dune is conquered, yet another one lies at your feet.
Restless sand, endless heat.

Just imagine.

There is a large portion of this “desert within a desert” that is yet still unmapped, although it has been traveled by the Bedu tribes for centuries. While camel caravans would stop at the small oases that are part of the desert, today’s traveler has much better options - an airconditioned 4x4, GPS, and satellite phone.

Luxuries indeed to the original inhabitants of one of the world’s driest places.

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest sand sea. According to National Geographic, it holds roughly half as much sand as the Sahara, which is 15 times the Empty Quarter's size but composed mostly of graveled plains and rocky outcrops.

Despite its attraction for intrepid travellers searching for the romance of the desert, it has its dark side. As the area is stretches across borders, which are difficult to man, it has become a place for gun traffickers and a hideout for terrorists.

I find it fascinating, and plan to visit the Empty Quarter at some stage during my stay in the UAE. I promise to share my experiences with you.

In the interim, I found a fantastic mini-video (uses Flash) on the National Geographic site. To view, go to

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