By this point it was nearing lunch, so after getting a mere glimpse into the vastness of the Black Desert, we hopped back onto the highway (with a great sigh from Ben) and were taken to “Oasis Cafeteria,” a local lunch dive. Thinking this might be my last chance for western plumbing I checked out the facilities. It was “western” in that the four stalls were tiled nicely, but the hole in the ground bordered by foot indicators in each stall made me yearn for Badry’s. Hence began my attempt at following the camel method of water storage.
Following a leisurely lunch, we headed out into the desert. Or maybe I should say, even further out into the desert. Along the way we passed another "guide" truck highly laden down with rugs, blankets and tables for the valiant campers.
Just before we arrived at the entrance to the White Desert Protectorate (which encompasses 115 square miles), we came to “Crystal Mountain.” Considering the scope of what we’d seen already, I think we were all expecting a towering creation of sparkling wonder that would induce ooo’s and ahhh’s to rival any good fireworks display. Instead it was a natural outcropping of quartz crystals that left us less than enthused. Yes, it sparkled, a little. And yes, there were some pretty rocks around, but I think the marketing campaign stretched itself a bit with the “Crystal Mountain” thing, maybe “Crystal Rock” would have been better.
Regardless, we appreciated it, dutifully took lots of photos, and then moved on. Now we were entering the White Desert. Based on photos I’d seen of it, I was expecting an almost arctic landscape, dotted with huge white chalk formations looking like casual snowdrifts. In reality, it was far more impressive.
But, before getting there we had one more significant off-roading hurdle to overcome. Too bad we failed.
Islam was in the lead car and as we came around a bend into a large open area he took off, spinning and fish-tailing and spraying sand in as many directions as possible. By now we were used to his antics, so Ben stopped the car and we just waited until the off-roading demonstration was over. However, as we watched, Islam careened through a sand dune and then seemed to stall out. We watched and waited and realized that they were semi-stuck, but doing all the revving and wheel twisting needed to get un-stuck.
At this point Ben felt that the jocularity had reached its peak, so we decided to avoid the area Islam was currently spinning in, race through the middle and wait for him on the other side of the clearing. Good idea in theory. Not so great in practice. About two-thirds of the way through we hit the dreaded “female sand” and quickly became bogged down. Despite all his training and instinct, Ben couldn’t get us out of this one. By this point, Islam had wiggled his way free from his female-sand clutches and came over to help us out. The more we tried to get out, the deeper we sunk.
We tried various methods for digging out, including using a plastic water bottle cut in half to help dig and dragging large flat rocks over to place under the wheels. Another set of guides, with their two campers, came along and lent their help too. So at this point, we had one Desert Policeman, four “professional” guides, Ron, Ben and Jim (I was the documentarian). And amongst everyone who had come out to the White Desert for a camping outing, we had no shovel and no tow-rope. (As a side note, I will give credit to Ron for requesting that I buy a tow-rope before we came to Cairo and I thought he was just being silly – however, being that we were not in our car, we did not have said tow-rope. Not the brightest are we.)
Following several unsuccessful attempts to tie pieces of cloth together to act as a tow-rope, they were all finally able to get the Xterra out of the female sand and onto the safe, hard, secure male sand (sighs and cheers all around).
From here, our caravan of now three cars (with the extra guides) traveled another few hundred yards and crested at the top of a mountain overlooking an expanse like I’ve never seen before.
The vastness of the landscape cannot be properly conveyed in photos or words. We sat at the top of the hill for quite a while, taking photos, relaxing, gazing.
If you look at these photos below, you can see two very small figures way way out there. Those were the other two campers who had opted to walk down the mountain. I can’t deny that I fully expected a Landspeeder to whiz by at any moment. The mental “Star Wars” references were hard to ignore.
Never one to miss an opportunity, “Idea Man” Ron tried to start a trend of making sand angels. It didn’t catch on.
When we’d all had our fill and were ready to head on in to the unknown, we buckled ourselves back in the car and following Islam’s lead (though Ben was having some rather colorful nicknames for him by this point), we flew down the mountain at break-neck speed. It was fantastic!
We continued our explorations, stopping here and there, grabbing some photos, having an impromptu foxtrot which, despite Ron and me not practicing regularly, we did fairly well. Until Ron tripped on a volcanic rock and called it quits, that is.
If you check out the White Desert online, you will see a slew of photos of stark white chalk formations, ranging from knee-height, to several hundreds of feet tall. These have all been formed by the wind, over all these years, gently and silently carving them out. The end results are a huge variety of shapes. We saw the chicken and egg paradox (I had to hug the chicken).
We saw the Loch Ness monster.
We saw, quite possibly, a first draft of the Sphinx.
We saw a bunny.
And we saw lots of “mushrooms” or “trees” or “spaceships.” Whatever you want to call them.
But after I got over the initial amazement and started to look past the individual formations, I was suddenly struck by the overwhelming feeling of being on a remote distant planet, so far from Cairo, the U.S., even Earth itself. It’s hard to believe that we didn’t have to travel through space to see this.
There were a handful of other cars around, but even with people milling about it was not difficult to find an area with no living being in sight. And coming from the mountains we had been climbing over all day, to come to a land so flat and so strange took some sensory adjusting.