Spilling across four Arab nations, the world's largest sand desert has been defined as much by Bedouin tradition as by geography. Now oil and politics are changing the definition.
Alwan Tour has a special package for trip to to explore the Empty Quarter attarctions in Oman.
Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter—a world of harsh extremes that may rank as both the least, and most, hospitable place on Earth. National geograghy jounerlist arrived in Arabia last January with photographer George Steinmetz and a plan to explore the Empty Quarter. Before our eight-week expedition is over, more than 5,300 miles (8,500 kilometers) on a journey through Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen will be covered.
For thousands of years this territory has resisted settlement as one of the Earth's hottest, driest, and most unyielding environments. Yet it's also home to a culture on the edge, a proud Bedouin society working to adapt its mix of Islam, ancient tribal custom, and newfound oil riches to a demanding and fast-paced modern world.
Taking up a fifth of the Arabian Peninsula, the Rub al Khali known as literally, "quarter of emptiness, or the Sands for short, is the world's largest sand sea. At more than 225,000 square miles (583,000 square kilometers), it takes in substantial portions of Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates to create an arid wilderness larger than France. 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.
Because of these sandy expanses, not to mention its profound heat, the Sands have long been judged too unforgiving for all but the most resourceful humans, considered more a wasteland to cross than a landscape to settle in. Still, along its edges—and venturing across it from time to time—the dozen tribes of leathery and enterprising Bedouin, also known (especially in Arabia) as Bedu, have survived here since before recorded time.