Saudi Arabia, lying in the same longitudes as Mexico, has approximately one-quarter the land area as the United States. The distance between Jiddah, on the west coast, and Dhahran, on the east, is equal to that between Chicago and New York. A southeasterly flight from Turaif, near the Jordanian border, to the extreme southerly regions of the Kingdom would take about as long as flying from northern Montana to New Orleans.
Much of Saudi Arabia's vast expanse, as is well known, consists entirely of desert. But the Kingdom has mountainous portions, too, with peaks rising in its southwesterly corner as high as 10,000 feet. Gravelly plains, completely devoid of sand, cover thousands of square miles in the north. Along the Persian Gulf shore the frequent stretches of salt flats, called sabkhas , have mired down many an unwitting driver who imprudently has chosen a short cut off the beaten path.
Take a plane across the breadth of Saudi Arabia and watch countless miles of monotonous, sand colored geography slide by far below. Suddenly, for no accountable reason, a tiny, irregular splotch of green comes into view: irrigated gardens wrested from parched earth where someone long age dug a water well. Discover villages half hidden in oases which grew into towns as ancient, anachronistic mud-brick walls came down before population pressures and little farming communities burst into surrounding palm groves in all directions.
Through the mist on the horizon looms the outskirts of a city. As the aircraft swoops over it the haze is seen more clearly as dust kicked up by earth-movers changing the city's face—broadening thoroughfares, excavating for apartment houses, digging sluiceways. In the heart of the city, aw from the restless traffic and commerce of the newer sections surrounding it, is the traditional Middle Eastern bazaar. Here, in deepest contrast to the quiet desert only a few miles distant, milling throng trade riyals for hubble-bubbles and dates, bright enamel teapots and strong, exotic spices; flashlights kerosene stoves and fountain pens.
As these photographs attempt to show, the scenery of Saudi Arabia is as varied as the moods the desert which dominates its landscape.