Dominated by mountains, flanked by oceans and deserts, Oman is a tapestry of constantly changing terrain: from the sandy edge of the Rub'al-Khali (the Empty Quarter) to the lush Salalah plain; from the fertile terraces of Jabalal-Akhdar to the barren majesty of the mountainous Musandam Peninsula (See page 38).
Although Oman, in fact, is five-sixths desert—sand dunes and stony plateaus — it is the mountains that strike you; they rise right out of the sea or straight up from the flat plains. These mountains, called simply al-Hajar, (the Rocks), form the backbone of northern Oman, running southeastwards from the tip of the Musandam Peninsula to Ra's al-Hadad, Oman's easternmost point, and include fascinating geological structures, called ophiolites— masses of volcanic rock, thrust up from an ancient ocean bed— that have recently been the subject of much research.
Frost, and even snow, is not unknown on the spiky peaks of the al-Hajar range — which rise in places to more than 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet). Occasional torrential rains — which, over the years, have carved deep gorges through the mountains — produce sporadic, but spectacular waterfalls, and tinge al-Hajar's slopes with vegetation. Some say that this is why the range's central massif is called Jabal al-Akhdar (Green Mountain) but others say the name is derived from its greenish-colored, copper-bearing rock.
Between the al-Hajar mountains and the sea lies the Batinaplain, a narrow, alluvial strip with towering date palms stretching to the shore. An arid, gravel plain dotted with stunted acacia trees lies beyond the mountains. Southwards there is a rocky plateau, flanked by sandy wastes, the type of terrain that covers most of central Oman and includes the Jiddat al-Harasis, where the Omani government recently reintroduced the once-almost-extinct Arabian oryx to the wild (See Aramco World, July-August 1982). The third-generation zoo-bred oryx have not only formed the world's only self-reliant herd and proved, beyond doubt, that their natural instincts are retained, but they have also produced three young — the latest one in March, this year.
In contrast to the rest of Oman, the southern coast— Dhofar — catches the monsoon rains and is almost tropical; bananas, pineapples and papaya grow in profusion on the Salalah plain. But behind Salalah the mountains pile up again, sloping gradually northwards to a gravel plateau—once noted for its fragrant frankincense — that stretches to the edge of the empty quarter, with its shifting dunes, and neighboring Saudi Arabia.