An Arabian road trip
On the western part of Tabuk and Madinah Provinces lay the majestic Sarawat mountains which run from Jordan all the way south until Yemen. It hosts the highest mountains of the Arabian Peninsula which rise over 2500 meters in Tabuk Province, with the Jebel Lawz being the highest. These last years some roads were built allowing people to drive from the city of Madinah to the city of Tabuk though the Sarawat. This road which runs alternatively on both side of the border between Tabuk and Madinah provinces offers stunning and varying scenery ranging from high peaks of the Sarawat moutains, to traditional villages, pristine beaches of the Red Sea, and the spectacular cliffs of the mythical Wadi Qaraqir.
If starting from Medinah first head west towards the city of Yanbu. The road leads to Wadi Hura which goes up Jebel Harir till the top at about 1700 meters.
There is the first highlight of the trip with a stunning view on the sinuous road which literally drops down to the valley laying nearly 1000 meters lower. Beware when driving down the road!
After crossing the villages of Al-Sudayrah and Al-Sharjah the next stopover is the traditional village of Yanbu' Al-Nakheel located at the confluence of several wadis running from the surrounding mountains.
Unfortunately the old houses are not maintained but the sophisticated and elegant masonry and carpentry typical of the Arabian traditional architecture is still visible behind the new houses and on top of some small plateaus located throughout the main wadi.
From Yanbu' Al-Nakheel the road to the next stages of the trip goes north towards the village of Al-'Ays where witnessed testimony of the seismic activity of the western part of the Arabian Peninsula. Indeed in May 2009 the village of Al-'Ays had to be evacuated because of a series of earthquakes provoked by movements of lava several kilometers under ground level. But this is not surprising as the western Arabian Peninsula is scattered with the so-called "harra" which are dark drifts of lava fields clearly visible on satellite maps.
Further away to the north the road reaches the village of Abu Haramel where the eastern road leads through the Jibal Marzuqah where the Sarawat mountains take a very different aspect that can be admired from the top of the rocky formations along the way.
The next step of the trip is 100 kilometers down a road (still under construction) leading to the village of Al-Manjour where a junction (600 kilometers from the start) allows access to the coastal city of Al-Wajh for a stopover. It is also possible to go until Al-Ula but it is twice the distance further away.
A short detour around the Jebel Aghalab 30 kilometers north of Al-Manjour guarantees some dramatic sights on the dome structures of its granite rocks.
Arriving at the city of Al-Wajh, visitors will suddenly be met by a very different scenery - the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea through which the coral reefs are visible from the shore. In Al-Wajh can be found a couple of hotels advertising rooms with sea views.
If you didn't have the time to go to Jibal Aghalab on day 1 you still have a chance to make it at the beginning of day 2 with a 50 kilometer detour.
The next stage is the road going through the village of Bada until Markaz Al-Nijayl and heading north towards the Jibal 'Amayir which is the next highlight of the trip.
Jibal 'Amayir is a group of sandstone table mountains whose shape have similarities with the famous Monument Valley in USA.
At Jibal 'Amayir the erosion has resulted in amazing rock shapes from peaks to natural pillars.
Another special feature of Jibal 'Amayir is the ancient rock art which is found in many parts of the area, even next to the road.
North of Jibal 'Amayir is the small village of An-Nashifah, and a turn west towards the most prominent highlight of this trip. Indeed, following the villages of Al-Fari'ah and Shuwaq the road will lead to the junction to the city of Dissah on the north which is the gateway to the spectacular Wadi Qaraqir. All that has been admired so far is nothing compared to the natural wonder this wadi is.
Wadi Qaraqir - also known as Wadi Dissah - is a 15 kilometer long canyon running through the Jebel Qaraqir, a sandstone massif laying about 80 kilometers south of the city of Tabuk. This natural wonder was for a long time a well-kept secret among explorers. It was the time before the road leading to the nearby city of Dissah was built and satellite images were available to the public, which made it quite difficult to find and reach. But it was definitely worth the effort. Today, this natural wonder is one of the must-see places in Saudi Arabia. More about Wadi Qaraqir here.
The city of Dissah is 200 kilometers from Tabuk, and if time allows then there is another natural wonder close to the road to end off this day's route: It is the view from the top of the 400 meter cliffs of Jebel Khanayfah. But the way to the best view point on the edge of the cliffs requires driving 15 kilometers on sandy tracks, so going there also requires off-road equipment.
An Arabian road trip (author: Florent Egal)