Camping: An Ordeal or an Odyssey
Camping and staying outdoors for the night is the worst nightmare for me. It’s a lot of fun as long as it ends before the night falls. As soon as the night creeps in it starts becoming a Hollywood thriller with a killer lurking out in the wilderness in search of a family stranded in the woods and then there is no end to the sufferings.
There are two biggest incentives, that force me to go and take a sand bath. One is the outdoors in the desert is synonymous with sand all around, the beautiful shifting and curving sand dunes, the cool breeze and the pleasing aroma of Bar B Q. The second is you get to drive the 4X4. Get to harness the power this beast that you can only dream of driving in the sandbox.
This weekends camping trip was located at N 27 12.120 E 48 10.500 to the mastodon bones. It is an overhang where bones of early animals are preserved and exposed. The jaws and skulls of many animals embedded in the ceiling of the overhang can be clearly seen. We drove off from Dhahran around 10 am in the morning packed and loaded with stuff for two days and a night. I had stuffed the car with everything that might be useful for the campout tents, sleeping bags, food, snacks, warm clothes, water and don’t forget the photography gear.
The journey started with a hiccup, as soon as we left the house we realized that the waypoints and coordinates were not copied to the GPS. Oops! a U-turn won’t hurt but not having the GPS will definitely!! Finally, we hit the road and ready for the beloved outdoors. Left the main road at N 27 13.695 E 48 24.974, drove west for about 24.5 km on a dirt road to the mastodon bones.
The site can be reached easily with 2WD cars but the last 1km as you turn off to the overhang from the main dirt road can be sandy at places unless you follow the many desert tracks. Although it was the first week of November it was still hot and the sand was too dry and loose.
The irony of life is if you are scared of something it will definitely come to haunt you. This trip holds a special place in my heart because all the nightmares came true on this single trip.
Getting stuck in the sand
First stop was searching for the petrified wood. Petrified wood is a fossil. It forms when plant material is buried by sediment and protected from decay due to oxygen and organisms. Then, groundwater rich in dissolved solids flows through the sediment, replacing the original plant material with silica, calcite, pyrite. We struck gold and gathered a couple of samples in the scorching sun. A big relief was getting back to the car. We had the waypoint to the bones site and set off to relax and have lunch there.
When the sun is high up the desert deceives you and you cannot assess the true relief. This results in a sudden drop in the dune face. We got stuck as there was a sudden drop by the edge of the dune. Tried to engage and disengage the 4-wheel drive and ended up in getting the tires deep in the sand. We were lucky enough to have the walkie-talkie working, we called for help and got pulled out by the other car.
Lost in the wilderness
While searching for Mastodon bones we were lost and were looking for the waypoint that was supposed to be the destination. This is very peculiar of the desert that if you are lost you are actually driving in circles and no matter how hard you try you end up coming back to where you started. There was no sign of the other cars, did they vanish into thin air or we are on another planet, it does look like a planet from Star Wars Tatooine. There was a possibility that we run into Jabba’s palace and get petrified like Han Solo. A couple of weeks before the trip we had a ladies gathering and came to know that a family was stranded in the desert and all of them died while trying to get out of there, although I doubt that it actually happened in 2017 with all the technology around us.
Night and the stormy winds
The night fell and finally, it was time to go and relax in the tent. It was about 10:00 pm and all others were asleep. I was trying to go to sleep and the cool and dreamy breeze turned into stormy winds. The whoosh and howls were so loud; I could imagine all of us flying off in the tent. It brought back the memories of my childhood, I was a wee four-year-old and the winds in Quetta, one of the southern cities of Pakistan are notorious for blowing things away. This same wind took me along and threw me to another street in the neighborhood, luckily the neighbors heard the crying sound of a baby and took me in. That was not the time of mobile phones, the landlines were a luxury at that time.
People used to walk to neighbors houses to know their whereabouts. The storm was really bad and it took four hours to settle. It was then that my mom realized that the nest is missing one chick when my dad returned from his friend’s place. Mom thought that I was with my dad and he thought I was home. Whereas I was being pampered by their friends, they were very fond of babies. Panic attack, running here and there, no clue where the kid might be, a husband-wife love affair aka the argument rather a small skirmish. That’s when the bell rang; ding dong; and I was there as a UN peacekeeper. Mom and dad forgot their ordeal and suffocated me with their tight hug. Ah! the warm feeling of mom and dad’s hug is worth a million dollars.
Using the outdoor toilet at night
It was time to go and relax in the tent, wait a minute I had to do the inevitable, i.e. using the tent toilet, YIKES! The wind was blowing at 400mph and the tent was about to blow away. It reminded me of a story “Red Wind” by Raymond Chandler, it goes: “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. “
Anything can happen to the toilet tent on a stormy night like this.
The crunchy food bites
It’s the desert, not dessert!!
I made my favorite shortbread pecan squares and blondie bars. No matter how hard you try to protect the desserts from the desert when it’s time to have them they are as crunchy as they were cooked in the sand. If it’s windy then the Bar B Q becomes crunchy as well, don’t talk about the salads or other condiments.
Besides, these few glitches it was a memorable trip. If you ask me am I going out again? Well! Um! Um! Um! Um! Um! Um! Yeah! Maybe! sure!!!!
The calm and vast desert becomes magical at night. It becomes a place from a storybook; with zero light pollution, you can see the starry sky. It’s like a ceiling adorned with millions of small lights and buntings. The experience cannot be described in words, it has to be felt and seen there in the middle of nowhere. A night in the desert is the best meditation therapy you are alone with yourself and your God no gadgets, no luxuries no distractions. A time to explore yourself, go deeper and have a meeting with your soul a time of rejuvenation. Then you get mesmerized by the early morning scene, ember glow from the east, the morning blush, the chill of the morning gust and me; a teeny weeny speck poking out of her cocoon to get a glimpse of the spreading honeycomb in the east, a glowing medallion growing from the ground and rising up to shower this world with it’s saffron glow. That’s the scene that makes me go back in spite of all the uneasiness that a city dweller experiences in the desert.