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Volume 16, Number 5September/October 1965

In This Issue

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North From Jiddah

Written by Paul F. Hoye
Photographed by Burnett H. Moody


March 1

'The trucks are ready and so are we and at dawn, Inshallah, we head north—north from Jiddah to Medina, to the ruins of the Hijaz Railway, to what I hear are areas of scenic grandeur unmatched this side of the American southwest, and to Mada'in Salih, with its tombs, legends and its ancient curse.

'The trucks are preposterous—huge red Ford 800's big enough to bowl in and fitted with 12-ply tires, special gasoline. However, with a thousand miles of what I'm told is pretty rugged driving ahead, I assume they're necessary.

'We loaded our gear aboard this afternoon and Moody seems to have touched all the bases. There's food enough for a battalion—everything from Maine lobster to peanut butter—two tents I think they got from Ringling Brothers, compact, two-burner Primus stoves, lamps, cots, sleeping bags and—since it's supposed to get very chilly there—a pair of rather elegant, if incongruous, aprés-ski boots.

'There are also six barrels of drinking water and the photographic equipment—cameras for both Moody and Sa'id and two large leather cases crammed with light meters, lenses, filters in all the colors of the spectrum, a tripod and enough film to make Mathew Brady go green. And, of course, there's my equipment too: one spiral notepad, one pencil and two felt-tipped pens. Pity they already found Livingstone; not only would we have found him faster, but we would have had it in Life the week after.'


March 1

'In jotting down the above notes I was thinking that this seemed like an excessive amount of gear to take along for two weeks no matter how rugged the country up there is supposed to be. Tonight, however, during a visit with a man who has been there I discovered that I may have been hasty. "You're not going for a drive in Central Park," he said. "You're going to Mada'in Salih and that's 500 tough miles from here. If you forget anything, forget it for good." Since he's one of the few Westerners who've been up there, he ought to know...

'Anyway we're ready and in the morning we go. If even half of what we've heard is true this ought to be quite a trip. We’ll soon see.’

Outside Medina

March 2

'Somewhere in the darkness over this hill, where we've made our first camp, lies Medina, the Second City of Islam. They call it the "Radiant City" and the man who coined that phrase was as observant as he was poetic. I wouldn't be surprised if he first saw the city as we did today—through a break in the low brown mountains at the precise moment when the hot brassy glare of the afternoon sun was giving way to the soft red-gold of sunset. We had just rounded a bend in the road when the driver silently raised a finger and pointed. And there was Medina, a dramatic flash of white in the distance, a long rectangle of low walls and high mosques, the thin needle points of the minarets and the dome of the Prophet's Mosque poking up from a jumble of low whitewashed buildings. We stared entranced and then it was gone and we were jolting west across the sands in search of a place to camp.

'Until that point, it had been a drowsy day. This morning, late, and in that state of confusion that no amount of advance preparation can ever quite allow for, we left Jiddah, lumbering past the handsome palaces that look across the coastal boulevard to the harbor, and then heading north up the coast. At first there was the usual lift of excitement, but as we droned along, roadside signs ticking off the kilometers, there was less and less of note to see. Traffic, heavy around Jiddah, dwindled and soon there was only an occasional bus carrying pilgrims north to Medina. Off to the left, west, the Red Sea sparkled in the hot sun and off to the right the flat gravel plains stretched off to shadowy hills in the distance. By the roadside, at intervals, stood simple accommodations for pilgrims and rude stands where soft drinks and food are sold. Occasionally a man would wave his hand or a child would yell and once, just before we swung inland, we swept by a caravan of camels—there were exactly 73—marching along in that steady awkward rhythm that is the camel's own. But still time passed slowly and eventually I began to think about our destination and to review what I'd read about it.

'Mada'in Salih, I recalled, is a valley some 500 miles north of Jiddah where an ancient people called the Nabateans carved a series of tombs into the rock, and where, according to tradition, a prophet named Salih later called down a curse upon the inhabitants when they killed a miraculous camel brought forth from the rocks by God. From that time on, naturally, the Bedouins and most travelers generally avoided the place. Which accounts, I suppose, for the relative isolation of Mada'in Salih despite its location on a major caravan route and on the old Hijaz Railway. Few dared defy the curse and so, for more than 12 centuries, the tombs, and whatever else was there, have mouldered in the sun, untouched, unexplored, unexplained...'

In Camp

March 3

'Out of the darkness this evening, silently and without preamble, strode an old Bedouin. "Assalumu 'alaykum," he said, the traditional "Peace be unto you," and crouched down to try Muhammad's tea. He liked it and I can understand why. Muhammad—he's the No. 2 driver—makes superb tea. He makes it in a small, smoke-blackened kettle over a twig fire. Only over a twig fire, in fact. We offered him the use of a camp stove and his scorn was scathing. "The flavor," he said, "is in the smoke."

'Today was tiring. We had heard that there are two ways to circle Medina, one that takes almost two hours and another that takes 40 minutes. We found the short route, a meandering track that cuts west and wanders northward through a long valley commanded by a circular mud-brick fort on a ridge 300 feet above. The valley is spotted with small deserted villages of brown mud-brick, the bricks melded one into the other so that the surfaces have become sagging lumpy masses of crumbling sand. With the boles of palm trees poking out of the walls at roof level they could be adobe huts in Mexico or Arizona.

'Even though we took the short route, however, we didn't save much time. Halfway around, Muhammad's truck bogged down in soft sand. One minute we were racing along confidently on what looked to be a firm, packed-gravel surface. The next we were roaring like mired elephants as the big 12-plys bit fruitlessly into deep loose powder. Misfir, the head driver, sensed the trap the very second that the surface changed, swiftly shifted down, engaged the big sand gear and tramped hard on the gas. He almost escaped completely and was close enough to firm ground to coax it out. Muhammad wasn't so fortunate. He sank to the hubcaps. To get him out we had to lay a track of thick planks and metal treads, wrench the planks and treads out of the sand as fast as the truck drove over them and ram them down in front of the tires again while the wheels were still moving. It took sweat, swearing, hard work, and all the power those big Fords could muster. Preposterous, did I call them?

'With Medina behind us, the land, almost imperceptibly, began to change. Yesterday, only the arid brownness of the low mountains—or perhaps they should be called jabals—broke the flat monotony of the coastal plains. But this afternoon the land began to roll in gentle swells and there appeared great stretches covered with a layer of round black stones that look as if someone had painstakingly sorted them for size and then carefully leveled them with a rake. Geologists, I believe, call them igneous rock and say they were flung out of the earth centuries, or maybe even eons ago, by the belching fury of volcanic action.

'As the afternoon wore on the changes became more pronounced. The smooth black stones gave way to larger jagged fragments heaped up in huge mounds and looking as if they had been soaked in tar and set out to dry. For contrast occasional dunes of soft beach sand sloped off from lee ridges, improbably golden against the black sheen of the rock. There were also salt flats, blindingly white, like snow on an Alpine slope, and, rarely, from patches of alfalfa, flashes of bright green like English grass in the spring. Finally, impossibly, there was a lake—a big lake, cool and blue in the shadow of a great brown jabal. I felt an overpowering urge to stop and swim in the cool waters and looked tentatively at the driver only to see him dissolve into laughter. My lake was a mirage, nothing but a mirage...'

In Camp

March 4

'Before we get underway this morning and I get distracted again, I must jot down a few notes about our head driver Misfir. We didn't realize it until yesterday, but Misfir is a remarkably able and resourceful individual. That was when he rescued two drivers, one of whom had been stranded for four days.

'The first rescue took place not far from a town called Khaybar. An unusually heavy rain had washed out nearly a hundred yards of roadway and since repairs hadn't yet been made it was necessary to make a wide swing through the sand to get by. Just before we regained the road, a driver flagged us down and pointed to a half-ton Dodge truck hub-down in a wadi. It turned out that the Dodge was not only stuck, but that the motor wouldn't start. It looked like a lost cause, but Misfir nonchalantly ordered the driver to jack the truck up until the wheels were free, bent and began to spin the wheel. It struck me then when he was doing—changing the position of the fly wheel so the starter could be released. Something clicked and Misfir climbed in, thumbed the motor to life and began to jockey the vehicle backwards out of the sand with indifferent ease. Twenty minutes later the driver waved his thanks and was gone.

'The second rescue took place on the barren track that wanders off to the west from the paved road. A truck was parked up ahead surrounded by half a dozen Bedouins. The driver signaled for help and told us he had been stranded there for four days, depending on the Bedouins to supply him with food and water. Misfir took about five minutes to give his diagnosis: the gas line was plugged. He detached the line, blew air through it and tried the starter. The truck coughed and caught. Misfir explained to the man what he must do if the line continued to fill up and in a few minutes that driver too went roaring down the road.

'As we got back in the cab and started off again I inspected him more closely. He's a big man with the barest trace of a beard, and a hearty laugh. He's also very strong. Just the day beforerl-recalled Muhammad had stalled and to get him started Misfir had to "crank" the truck, by spinning simultaneously the wheels, drive shaft, and fan-belt. He's also unusually alert. Shortly after we left the paved road he looked sharply at our other truck and suddenly reached up and yanked the cord to the horn and sent a two-note bellow echoing over to Muhammad. When Muhammad stopped, Misfir pointed to a trickle of precious water coming from the spigot in one of the hiptanks. I could barely see the trickle even then. And shortly after that he saw a movement by the side of the road and before I could even guess what it was, he had stopped and begun to fill the goatskin water bag of a Bedouin woman who was walking with two children to a distant encampment. He had ignored dozens of similar pleas prior to that point but somehow he knew that in that case it was an emergency.

'From Sa'id we learned that Misfir came from a small village near the Yemen border, that as a very young man he crossed the peninsula to Dhahran, got a job with the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) and began to go to school. He spent six years studying mechanics and working in Aramco shops and then decided to strike out on his own. He bought a truck and began to haul cargo over the rugged road to Yemen. Later, he bought a second truck and has just added a service station to his holdings. I would risk a small wager that it won't be the last addition...

'I should add one more note. The other night Moody was explaining that the reason we slept in the truck was that we'd been told that agharib (scorpions) abounded in the region. Misfir looked surprised and then laughed. "Agharib," he said contemptuously and pantomimed being bitten, sucking out the venom and spitting it on the ground. He then deliberately stretched out on the sand, wiggled deep into a comfortable position and closed his eyes. We didn't join him.'


March 4

'Over the horizon about two hours ago there appeared an exciting sight. It was a building—Zummurrud, a station on the old Hijaz Railway.

'Somehow it was a surprise to find Zummurrud. We'd been jolting along for hours on the faint rugged track that twisted through hills as black and high as slag heaps by Pennsylvania coal mines, past stretches of flat sand touched with tones of pink and green, and, at one point, by the whitened bones of a camel. Then, unexpectedly, there was the station, a square strong shadow standing in solitude on the empty plains. Moody nearly impaled himself on his tripod as he scrambled to the platform over the cab to get distance shots of the structure. I can't say I blame him. For some reason, reaching Zummurrud was an exciting moment—possibly because it meant we had reached the Hijaz Railway with its inevitable suggestions of the valor, the dangers, the battles of a bygone era.

'We stopped to explore the station, of course, and afterward sat in the shade for lunch and looked out at the empty plains and savored the silence and began, inevitably I guess, to wonder what it was like 50 years ago when the crews of workers and soldiers swarmed southward, mile by dusty mile, spiking the rails to the desert floor, fighting off hostile Bedouins and wondering when their hot hard labors would ever end. Then, no doubt, Turkish sentries paced the parapets above each station and looked down the tracks to the south where a great purple mountain looms large against the sky, or north across the empty prairie, waiting, perhaps, for the sight of smoke signaling another train carrying pilgrims south to Medina. Later, probably, as war came, the sentries crouched nervously behind the heavy doors set deep in stone casements, rifles loaded and cocked, and peered out through narrow slits wondering when the nearby hills would yield up a line of mounted raiders behind the robed figure of Colonel Lawrence. Over there, for example, behind that jabal. The riders could assemble quietly there, form a rough line of battle and then move out at a trot, swinging wide to encircle the station, breaking finally into a galloping charge, their rifles winking fire and the staccato reports of gunfire exploding into the silence and rolling off in echoes across the great empty plains...'

Mada'in Salih

March 5

'The first truck, its tires spewing a high arch of yellow dust into the air, careened around a high formation of sandstone and suddenly halted. Misfir braked too and Moody leaned out motioning urgently behind him. We looked, Misfir and I, and there, carved into the face of the cliff, etched deeply into the rough pinkish rock, was what seemed to be the entrance to a great temple, but was, of course, a tomb. We had arrived at Mada'in Salih.

'In a word the first impact of Mada'in Salih is wonder, although by then the sheer grandeur of the land had already begun to exhaust our quota of wonderment. Last night we camped near an oasis called Al 'Ula—which has, we noticed, its own tombs carved into a great red cliff high above the scented gardens of the oasis. This morning we left early, following the railbed as usual, squirmed under a great overhang and swung west. After a wild dash through a field of fine but treacherous white sand we entered a valley and paused in amazement. Suddenly, unbelievably, we were no longer in Saudi Arabia, but in the American Southwest—Utah, perhaps, with its Monument Valley, or Arizona with its Painted Desert. Before us stretched the country of Mada'in Salih, a country best described by Parker T. Hart, former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, after he saw it from the air two years ago:

"For about forty miles the valley stretched north-south like a sea of yellow sand from which rose innumerable great islands of tawny pink sandstone, often sheer walled and several hundred feet in height, sculptured by wind and sand into columns, pinnacles, spires, saw teeth, natural bridges, profiles and every oddment of erosion conceivable to man's imagination. At the base of many, the tomb entrances were clearly visible. The width of the great valley varies from perhaps ten to twenty-five miles, larger than the Grand Canyon and far more impressive than Bryce Canyon or Cedar Breaks, sandstone classics of the American Southwest..."

'To which I can add little, except perhaps the sense of surprise at finding such unlikely country in Saudi Arabia. We got out of the trucks and just stood there for a little while trying to take it in. Moody and Sa'id set up their cameras and I wandered off and sat down in a circle of shade under an acacia tree. By my foot a colony of black ants with golden dots on their tails scurried about on industrious errands. Overhead, two large, jet-black ravens wheeled and swooped and then, borne by an updraught of warm air, shot upward and out of sight. One of the drivers pointed east and there, outlined in perfect profile against the morning sun, was the unmistakable silhouette of a great stone eagle, its wings partially extended, its beak curved sharply toward the ground. To the north, poised upon a towering ridge, was still another eagle, this one facing us, his wings spread wide for flight. "The Valley of the Eagles," someone murmured. Indeed, indeed.'

Mada'in Salih

March 6

'This morning, just a few minutes ago, Mada'in Salih welcomed us.

'It was barely dawn. The sky was touched with pink and white and the breeze was cool, and a bird I couldn't see was chirping with what I must say was understandable enthusiasm. Some distance from camp, Moody, sweatered and hooded against the chill, was squinting through his long telephoto lens waiting for the clean fresh rays of morning sunlight to filter through the valley and bring the rich muted color of rocks and sand to glowing life. Over the sands behind him, walking swiftly, came an old man. He was a Bedouin wearing a black cape and hood and a white robe. He was barefoot and smiling and in his hand he held a brass coffee pot with a sharp curved spout.

‘"Assalumu 'alaykum," he said and dashed thin, tart Arab coffee into a cup. Three times he poured and three times I drank. "Shukran," I said finally and he moved on to Sa'id and the drivers. When everyone had been served he bowed slightly, smiled again and trotted back off across the desert. We don't know where he lives but there's no habitation visible for nearly a mile so he must have walked at least that far and must have gotten up in the dark to pound the coffee and brew it. A memorable beginning to our stay and a pointed reminder that the tales of Bedouin hospitality are founded not on myth but on heartwarming fact...'

Mada'in Salih

March 6

'From up here, the summit of a twisted crag in this weird jumble of rock called Jabal Ethlieb, the valley of Mada'in Salih has a harsh but compelling beauty. It's just past noon and in the heat of the sun the valley is creeping into the shade to await the coolness of the afternoon. Here and there, to be sure, there are small flutters of motion. A Bedouin woman, small and shapeless in black, walks from one low tent to another. A white kid prances stiff-legged away from the herd. A camel nibbles cautiously at the top of a thorn bush. A lizard, almost invisible, skitters up a dune and darts into a hole, his tail leaving a thin, shivery line traced in the sand. But over most of the valley the stillness of the afternoon is descending, a stillness as tangible and as heavy as the heat itself.

'Actually it's hard to decide which is more impressive—the natural wonders carved by the hot abrasive touch of the wind or the tombs carved by the Nabateans. I incline toward nature. Just south of here, for example, a few hundred yards away, is a globe of sandstone shaped like the crown of an English bowler. Across the valley there's a formation that looks like a Greek amphora, another that resembles a coyote, his howling nose pointed at the sky, and a third that is surely the stern of a Spanish galleon. All around are the pitted cliffs, battlements, turrets and steeples.

'Yet to decide in favor of nature at this point wouldn't be fair, since we've only just begun to really look at the tombs. We started out yesterday, Moody, Sa'id and I, hiking and climbing throughout the valley, Moody to capture it on film, I on paper, and actually the only valid observation I can make so far is that the Nabateans certainly moved a hell of a lot of rock.

'That observation, I know, is not exactly remarkable but neither is it entirely facetious. Some rough measurements I made today suggest that the construction of these tombs required prodigious labor. One tornb, for example, is set back into the cliff 10 feet, measures some 30 feet across and possibly 60 feet high. This means that just to get into the cliff deep enough to start cutting out the facade, the Nabateans had to first excavate some 18,000 cubic feet of sandstone. Then they had to carve the facade itself before burrowing in to excavate the chamber and the burial niches. Not far from this summit where I'm making notes is located what has been called theDiwan or "Council Chamber." It's no more than a huge cubic space cut into the sandstone, but if my paced measurements are anywhere near accurate, some 47,000 cubic feet of stone had to be excavated to create it. Considering the rude instruments available at the time, and that the 29 tombs I've counted so far are a long way from the total number here, it seems logical to assume that carving the tombs must have kept a lot of men busy for a long time. (Which suggests in turn, I imagine, that this valley must have once supported a large and vigorous population. I suspect that the archeologists will have a great time when they come.)'

Mada'in Salih

March 6

'I'm beginning to see what Lady Crowe meant.

'Lady Crowe is the wife of the former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. She came here two years ago in the same diplomatic party that included Ambassador Hart and Dana Adams Schmidt of The New York Times. She later wrote an excellent account of the trip in which she said that the tombs of Mada'in Salih have a "provincial" look to them and suggested that the artisans who worked on the tombs merely copied or adopted certain simple Roman and Greek designs. I agree. Once the first excitement of seeing them has subsided it's clear that the tombs gain much of their attraction from their inaccessibility and the magnificence of their settings; as works of art the imposing facades promise much more than they contain.

'After visiting the rest of the tombs on the east side—there are 64 in all, 22 of them in the Kasr al-Bint butte—I made a rough map of all the sites and then examined it carefully to see if they formed some pattern that might indicate which were done first or explain why one rock face was chosen over another, or why one decoration was applied to Tomb A and an entirely different decoration to Tomb B. But I found nothing.

'Moody, incidentally, climbed to the "bower" itself, a tomb carved on a ledge some 300 feet up in the air. There, goes a legend, a girl's lover was killed by the girl's father for the usual reasons. Moody, looking for a good spot from which to photograph the tombs on the west side of the valley, found an easy way up at the south end—the same one apparently that Doughty mentions in Arabia Deserta. He says it leads across the face to just above the Maiden's Bower. He also says there are some burial niches cut into the rock right out in the open.'

Mada'in Salih

March 7

'Began checking the tombs on the west side this morning. There are more than I thought, many tucked away in little cul-de-sacs or cut into small isolated formations. These over here are apparently exposed to the wind; they're badly eroded and in several places are almost obliterated.'

Mada'in Salih

March 7

'Unless there are any tombs I haven't seen—and since I made a rather wide sweep in all directions, I doubt it—there are 111 tombs in Mada'in Salih. The total is probably higher, but I eliminated five that were so badly eroded they might have been natural caves.'

Mada'in Salih

March 8

'The only trouble with Mada'in Salih is that there's too much to see and time is running out.

'Moody, for example, has just been told by a Bedouin that there is a large formation near here literally covered with inscriptions. Obviously we'll have to go see it. Also we want to inspect the ancient wells, especially those dug out recently by Bedouins in search of more water for crops. And, of course, there's still the Mountain of the Camel.

'The Mountain of the Camel—it's actually an enormous butte, not a mountain—is a towering ridge at the western edge of the valley. It stands in a brooding purple haze like a great Gothic cathedral, distant, intriguing and somehow mysterious. We've been calling it the Mountain of the Camel because we thought it was the mountain from which Salih called forth the miraculous she-camel. We're not as sure of that now, but we do know that it is the mountain into which the she-camel's calf is supposed to have vanished when the aroused residents of the valley sought to kill it. It is also the scene of a new and fascinating postscript just related to us by a Bedouin from Yemen.

'"On certain moonlit nights, when the cool winds blow across the sand," he said, "the Bedouins of the valley have heard a strange sound in the distance, from high up and far away—the sound, they say, of a frightened baby camel crying for its mother."

'I had planned to hike over there anyway, but since hearing that story and noting that a full moon is at hand, I've given it first priority...'

Mada'in Salih

March 8

'Well, I've seen the Mountain of the Camel. 'This morning, from here, I thought it imposing. Tonight "imposing" just won't do. I left camp early, expecting to reach it in less than an hour, and even though I detoured through the clusters of jabals west of camp (on the off-chance that there might be unrecorded tombs tucked away in there) I still thought I'd reach it quickly. But after crossing a fiat clay plain and climbing a high dune I discovered that the butte still seemed to be a good distance away. It certainly was. It took another two hours to get there and only then, as I trudged down the far side of another dune, did I realize just how large it is. Large? It is stupendous! From the base, where great hills of black shale slope down several hundred feet more and fragments of broken rock as big as cottages form jagged pyramids, the sheer cliff, streaked with tawny stripes of rust as wide as highways, rises up and up and up. A thousand feet? Twelve hundred feet? I couldn't begin to estimate. Moody will have to get it on film.'

Mada'in Salih

March 9

'In the moonlight, as in the sunlight, Mada'in Salih has an unforgettable beauty. Off there to the east the weird shapes of Jabal Ethlieb lean at drunken angles against the dark blue sky. In the west, the bulking shadow of the Mountain of the Camel looms large and mysterious. Above, the heavens are alive with glittering pinpoints of brilliant light; you could hang your coat on the Big Dipper and almost read by the North Star. The wind is cool and the moon is rising higher. Since this is our last night, it is a good time for summing up...

'Today, in high spirits at the prospect of leaving, Muhammad and Misfir treated us to a hair-raising drive through the valley, a bruising, full-gallop run between and over the hummocks that dot the valley floor. I will say that we got around the valley in a hurry and could at least take a look at and photograph some of the things we had missed: the inscriptions—characters about three inches high cut into the face of a large stone about 12 feet across and 16 feet high, a series of mounds laid out at roughly regular intervals, along what could easily have been a street, ancient wells recently re-excavated, a particular tomb we hadn't inspected and, again, the Mountain of the Camel.

'As we visited these places and speculated about them, it occurred to me that all we had come up with in our five days of exploration of Mada'in Salih were questions. Who, for instance, cut those inscriptions we saw this morning? When? And why in this particular place, not even close to a tomb? Above the inscriptions a triangular hole pierces the stone. Was it cut through with the iron tools of the Nabateans or by the silent abrasion of wind? And is it an accident that this hole throws a triangle of light almost exactly on top of a mound at sunrise? Or could this be an altar where some unknown rite came to its climax as the sun climbed over the twisted rocks of the Jabal Ethlieb?

'And the mounds? Are they the houses of an ancient village, or merely the remnants of some post-Nabatean settlers? Or just mounds? And when were the wells first dug? By prehistoric man? By the Nabateans?

'The questions actually are limitless. I noticed, for example, that in almost all of the tombs are the dry, gray shells of old wasps' nests, hundreds of nests which must have housed hundreds of thousands of wasps. Since wasps must have great quantities of water and vegetation—sophisticated vegetation at that—doesn't that imply that there must have been a tremendous amount of cultivated vegetation in the valley at one time? And doesn't that in turn imply agriculture? And people? And homes?

'Looking out at the valley tonight, a desert valley, lonely, incredibly silent under the stars, it's hard to even imagine Mada'in Salih as it might have been then, lush with growth, perhaps dotted with small homes from which people bustled forth to greet caravans plodding into the valley with cargoes of incense or myrrh from South Arabia. But it could have been and if so—the central question of Mada'in Salih—what happened?

'No one knows, of course, but it probably won't be long before the answers begin to emerge. The Hijaz Railway is being rebuilt and in a few years travel to Mada'in Salih will be relatively easy. Then the archeologists will come and will put their shovels into the great dunes near Jabal Ethlieb and the Mountain of the Camel and into the dirt in the tombs in the rock, and soon the valley will give up its secrets.

'In a sense this is very sad. There are not many regions like this left in the world—isolated, peaceful, undisturbed by the probings of the scientist and the browsings of the tourist, and retaining that certain aura of mystery and legend that the modern world so rarely has room for any more.

'That, however, is in the future. Tonight Mada'in Salih is still inviolate, still shrouded in legend and touched with romance. Which is why, a few minutes from now, I think I shall take a final look around. From the west there's a cool wind blowing across the sands and in the sky the moon is getting brighter. I think I'll just walk and listen in the stillness. You never know what you might hear—the cry of a lamed camel for instance, or the deep ominous thunder of an ancient earthquake or—who knows—maybe even a baby camel on a dark ridge crying faintly for a mother who will never come...'

Paul F. Hoye is a graduate of St. Anselm's College in New Hampshire and a former reporter and columnist for the Providence Journal, Providence, R.I. As a 1962-63 Ford Fellow in Columbia University's Advanced International Reporting Program he specialized in Middle East affairs prior to becoming editor of Aramco World.

This article appeared on pages 3-4, 7-13, 22 of the September/October 1965 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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