Star Dunes – Northern Ad-Dahna

The natural stars of Riyadh Province

When thinking about Saudi Arabia the first image that comes to mind may well be sand dunes.

Although the country has much more to offer than just stereotypical landscape it remains one of the main attractions and a trip through the vast sandy deserts of Arabia guarantees an unforgettable experience.

Sunset on the Star Dunes (photo: Florent Egal)

Sunset on the Star Dunes (photo: Florent Egal)

Indeed, the view of the vast extend of desert land where the waving lines and curved shades designed by the massive and yet elegant mound of sand is a unique display of sheer nature, especially when the sun is setting on it.

One of the most famous sand dune deserts around Riyadh,  the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is named Ad-Dahna. This desert is in fact a great arc of reddish sandy terrain, extending about 1 300 kilometers from north to south, linking the two greatest deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, from the northeastern edge of the Nafud-al-Kebir to the northwestern borders of the Rub al-Khali (the Empty Quarter).

Ad-Dahna desert is formed of sand dune ranges spreading laterally which are called veins ('Irq in Arabic: عرق), mostly red in color since the sand contains Iron Oxides.

View from the top of a Star Dune (photo: Florent Egal)

View from the top of a Star Dune (photo: Florent Egal)

The dunes of Ad-Dahna that are found just 80 kilometers east of Riyadh along the Dammam highway are about 30 meters high, although the part of Ad-Dahna desert which is 200 kilometers north of Riyadh hosts some of the most impressive dunes in the Riyadh Province. Indeed, along the ranges (veins) of 'Urayq As-Siru Al-Aswat, the 'Urayq As_Siru Al-Gharbi, and the 'Irq Al-Kannasiyah are some massive star-shaped dunes that peak at up to 100 meters. The fact those dunes stand in a flat plain emphasizes their mountain-like massive shapes.

On top of a Star Dune (photo: Florent Egal)

On top of a Star Dune (photo: Florent Egal)

A climb to the top of one of these giants guarantees one of the most dramatic viewpoints one can have over a sand dune desert. Indeed, from the top of one of the Star Dunes can be admired the other mountain-like dunes of the surrounding plain.

In addition to the landscape, the Star Dunes offer some great sand driving with all kinds of difficulties from the easy sandy track to the impassable mountains of sands. Thanks to the tracks created by the local Bedouins it is relatively easy to progress along the ranges of Star Dunes but once engaged in one of the "corridors" between two ranges of dunes the only way to change direction is to come back on one's tracks.

How to go to the Star Dunes?

The Star Dunes area is definitely for experienced sand dunes drivers only, and requires complete sand recovery equipment, not only because of the difficulties inherent to the sandy terrain but also because the area is quite remote, therefore drivers need to be independent in case of issues. So far no tour guide offers trips there but we are working with our network of guides to propose trips to the magical Star Dunes.



The natural stars of Riyadh Province (author: Florent Egal)

About the Author

My name is Florent Egal, I am a French national living in Riyadh since January 2010. After six years of exploration of Saudi Arabia I have decided to show with this website that KSA has much more to offer than the stereotype landscape of empty extends of sand dunes. I hope that after reading through these pages people will feel the same willingness and amazement than I have to discover this fascinating country

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