The ancient kingdom of Jordan is the crossroads between Asia, Europe and Africa, as well as being a crucible of culture since the palaeolithic era, and next autumn it will be the staging point for one of the most exciting adventures ever unleashed by HERO-ERA, the Badawi Trail to the Last Oasis.
There is a certain irony to the naming of the Rift Valley, the geological feature that dominates the early days of this rally, but even as the first grains tumble through the trips hourglass it is obvious as to why this area has fascinated and captivated people through the ages. There are wonders aplenty, like the city of Petra, its structures hewn from the red rock that comes into view before we have even set foot in, or should that be on, the Dead Sea, with its shores being the lowest land-based elevation on Earth. These delights are but the tip of a sandy iceberg, as over 7500 kms and four countries, the historical, cultural, and religious landmarks to be revealed are the hallmark of nations that have been populated by some of the most significant civilisations in history.
The plush resorts of Aqaba will soon give way to the canvas of Wadi Rum, a desert camp made famous by cinema and a glamping experience like no other, before the road takes us into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which until recently has very much been the forbidden kingdom. Tabuk, Medina, Jeddah; all names that we are familiar with and cities of tremendous cultural and religious importance. Of course, the route that takes us to these places is one that is less travelled, and not so familiar to the pilgrims making their way to Mecca. These roads are in one instance traversing rolling hills, before descents through valleys flanked with towering Massifs, Mesa like and awe-inspiring, before the scenery changes again, becoming more Martian than terrestrial.
A rest day in Al Ula offers the chance to explore the theological and geographical wonders in more detail, but the sands of time dictate that civilisation must be traded for desert once more, quite literally, as an off-road desert loop is planned to excite the drivers, as well as other excursions onto sand and gravel, although the Red Sea, and later the Arabian Gulf, are never too far for those worried about dehydration! There is though the transit across the main land mass of Saudi Arabia to contend with, punctuated by Riyadh as the route makes for the United Arab Emirates and the Liwa Oasis, with the sand dunes growing in amplitude as the Oasis approaches, the golden drifts becoming the dominant feature throughout this part of the trip.
Oman and its mountains provide solace from the sand, as the grains in our horological vessel begin to run more thinly as the magnificent Dubai approaches. By the time the glass has emptied you will have encountered cultural and geographical marvels that will no doubt influence a different point of view on this part of the world, and all whilst driving roads that are not just incredible, but in many cases still exclusive as well.
We will have ventured to the last oasis and in doing so, consumed more than our fill.
This event is open to HERO-ERA Premier and Heritage Members
See the full list of exclusive membership perks and sign up here
Effectively, the day is all “downhill” starting at sea level and ending at minus 1,400 feet on the shores of the Dead Sea where Herod the Great set the trend for health spas and mud baths, over 2,000 years ago. The route will take in some hill driving on the way calling in at Petra - the Rose Red City of the Nabateans, carved out of the sandstone cliffs, and the Crusader castle of Kerak before dropping down to the rift valley to the overnight halt.
Touring the north of the country, the route climbs, inevitably, and drops over a series of rural back roads taking in some beautiful scenery and many sights of biblical interest before halting at Jerash, one of the most impressive Roman cities in the region, if not the world. Finally, it is on to the capital, Amman formerly, the original Philadelphia, full of history and a beautiful city built on seven hills.
The route heads south to join the King’s Highway which follows the escarpment of the rift over good driving roads with hairpin descents and climbs as it crosses Wadi Mujib and eventually joining the main desert highway to Ma’an and onto Wadi Rum where a night of glamping awaits in the haunts of Lawrence (T.E.) Sandstone cliffs (vis the Seven Pillars of Wisdom) form this desert wadi and the landscape will be familiar to film buffs vis Lawrence of Arabia, The Martian, Star Wars and Dune.
Leaving the wadi and re-joining the highway. The route heads across the desert for the Saudi border and then on to Tabuk, effectively, the gateway to the Arabian Peninsula. Tabuk has strong associations with the Hijaz railway built by the Turks to ferry pilgrims to Mecca, but largely destroyed during the Arab revolt and never resurrected.
The route is initially over stony desert leaving the city but then climbs and sweeps through rolling hills / mountains reminiscent of Kerry / Heads of the Valleys. It then turns off and into some serious scenery announced by a major descent into a valley of Mesas and “Cathedral-like” massifs; Monument Valley of the Middle East. Turning north, there is a short but extreme ascent to regain the heights. The road then turns onto a plateau resembling driving on Mars. Very remote, undulating and twisting through fields of black volcanic rock. There is a photo opportunity at the Mushroom Rock before the final descent to the plain and the “Wonders” of Al Ula, where every vertical face appears to be a sculpture.
History, Geography, Petrography, Archaeology, Culture, Tranquility - check your levels, tyre pressures, torques and get out to enjoy a spectacular and varied day ticking the various features off your bucket list. Elephant Rock, the Rainbow Rock (Arch), the Nabatean tombs (similar to Petra), Hijaz Railway museum, Petroglyphs plus many more. There are balloon trips, flights, cycling routes and conducted tours for the more adventurous.
Generally over good but very quiet B roads through beautiful scenery and running parallel with the course of the Hijaz Railway with several blockhouses and associated infrastructure alongside the road. An off road desert loop breaks the rhythm and visits an old fort and several archaeological ruins. Returning to tarmac the road turns to gravel over a couple of sections just to keep things interesting. There is a PC at a Hijaz Station complete with wrecked engine and rolling stock and a well preserved wadi viaduct which will serve well as a picnic spot; KSA is not riddled with diners and coffee shops!! There follows a 15 km gentle desert diversion off the main road and, finally, a highway run into Madinah - the resting place of the prophet (PBUH) which, bar the central Haram area, has only recently opened to infidels!
The route leaves the city and immediately turns onto a winding B road through a pretty valley. Then a short highway run turns onto a quiet country road which meanders through hills and sparsely populated country. Finally, it joins the main coast highway for a 160 km run into Jeddah.
Exit the city and then a 55 km run down the beach/ shore of the Red Sea, before connecting over a sand section of 5 kms to the main highway south. It runs down the quiet highway for 120 kms before turning inland and encounters increasingly interesting roads as it climbs for 100 kms toward a climb to the top of the rift valley; 1,000 m in 10 kms. Then north towards Taif along the edge of the escarpment for 100 km through pretty villages and scenery on an undulating twisty road. Then bypasses Taif to reach the hotel on the Riyadh side of town
This is inevitably a long day as the route starts to cross the peninsula to the shores of the Arabian Gulf to enter the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. To break the run and reduce the highway element, the route heads for the Al Wahbah volcanic crater which, at 780 m deep and 7 kms diameter is a hole not to be missed. However, it is just a hole in the ground, but don’t forget to pack a wide angle lens. Re-joining the main highway, the traffic is light and with little to distract the attention, fairly high averages can be achieved and before you know it you are in Riyadh!
A “transit” day takes the route to the UAE border and a shortish drive after the border to the hotel on the shores of the Gulf.
The route heads inland and into classic sand desert. The golden dunes gradually increase in size as the Liwa Oasis draws closer. The verdant green oasis, a one hundred km crescent in the dunes contrasts markedly with the barren, yet beautiful landscape that is the gateway to the Rhub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) a virtually unbroken expanse of sand desert that stretches across the peninsula to the Yemeni border. A short diversion to Tal Morib (The Hill of Terror) takes in a wonderful drive through seriously big dunes, often favoured by Clarkson and Co to blow the cobwebs out of a variety of exotic machinery. With luck, some local sand driving heroes may be encountered and some entertainment in the sand, before heading to the hotel for sundowners.
The route makes for the UAE/Saudi/Omani border and then heads north to the oasis, garden city of Al Ain, the second city of Abu Dhabi to which the locals migrated every summer to live on dates and escape the heat and humidity of their coastal fishing and pearling haunts. The day ends with a blast up Jebel Hafeet, at 1500 m, an impressive contrast to the largely flat surrounding terrain.
The route crosses into the Sultanate of Oman as it leaves Al Ain and weaves its way through and along the Hajjar mountains that run from the Straits of Hormuz and shadow the shores of the Arabian Sea to Muscat, and beyond. The overnight halt is in the balmy cool heights of the mountain retreat of Jebel Akhdar which stands at 3,000 m.
The route drops from the mountains and takes a circuitous path to the historic port of Sur, on the coast and then follows the coast north to the overnight at the historic port / outpost that is Muscat. The Sultanate of Oman has a rich history, with strong Portuguese influences having, pre Suez canal, been a strategic location on the trade routes with the Far East. It has very close connections to Zanzibar and the culture of the Omanis differs distinctly to that of the Arabs of the Gulf States; dress, language and culture.
Leaving Muscat, the route follows the Al Batinah coast north to recross into the Emirate of Dubai, UAE, at Hatta before heading through the sinuous mountain roads to overnight at Fujeirah.
Some more mountain driving in the Northern Emirates of Fujeirah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah culminating with another impressive climb to 2,000 m up Jebel Jais where the bold, leaving their respective team mate to descend the mountain alone, can take the world’s longest zip line to the be reunited with their partner at a somewhat lower altitude. Finally, the run down the coast to Dubai and a well-deserved finale dinner and Maasalamas to all.