A nice, if brief piece on the Empty Quarter from the “Amusing Planet” website.

empty quarter sand dune

The Sand Dunes of Rub’ al-Khali

Rub’ al-Khali, (literally “Empty Quarter” in Arabic), also spelled Al-Rab’ al-Khali, is a vast desert in the southern Arabian Peninsula, covering about 250,000 square miles (650,000 square km) in a structural basin that takes in a substantial portions of Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. It is the largest area of continuous sand in the world. 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.

The desert is 1,000 kilometres long, and about 500 kilometres, and its topography is varied. In the west the elevation is as high as 2,000 feet (610 metres) and the sand is fine and soft, while in the east the elevation drops to 600 feet (183 metres) with sand dunes, salt flats, and sand sheets. The terrain is covered with sand dunes with heights up to 250 metres (820 ft), interspersed with gravel and gypsum plains.

I don’t know if Frank Herbert, the author of the Dune series of science fiction novels, ever visited the Empty Quarter. If he did, I think it would go a long way toward explaining the existence of ‘spice’ as an important feature of the plotline. During my visits to the area, I was most struck by the scent — actually spicy — in the air. I was also amazed to find small plants growing at the base of the dunes, each seemingly with a scattering of footprints from insects, birds, and rodents. It’s truly one of those places that could be added to one’s ‘bucket list’. It’s a pity that the Saudi government cannot find a way to make the Rub’ al-Khali a tourist destination.


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