National Geographic : 1960 Jan
KODACHROME) NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY After a night under the stars, we made a stop next day at one of Aramco's mobile drill ing caravans 250 miles to the west. These exploring convoys, boring down through the sands and then through thousands of feet of rock to map the desert's subsurface, consist of giant tractor-trailer combinations hauling both a drilling rig and living quarters for the crew (page 108). The next day we flew on to a second convoy far off in the southwest corner of the Empty Quarter, not far from the Yemen border. At Al Mukalla Thrusts a Skyserapered Promontory Into the Gulf of Aden Centuries before Christ. south Arabia gained fame as an exporter of frankincense and myrrh, aromatic resins prized in perfumery and religious rites. Part of the Aden Pro tectorate today. Al Mukalla makes its living from less exotic trades: fishing, dhow build ing, and export of sesame oil. This aerial view from Charlie's cabin shows a fleet of dhows anchored in the harbor beneath gleaming white buildings. the southern end of a gravelly plain the oil men had found stumps and fragments of a forest perhaps 60 million years old. Tons of reddish, petrified wood lay in the vicinity. Even more fascinating, however, were the arrowheads and spearheads from a later age that lay scattered about. Geologist Hans Helley thought that perhaps the plain was once a lake bed. Inhabitants of this forbidding land are believed to have chipped and shaped these stone weapons about the time of (hrist. What kind of land could this have been when forests thrived where we found only desolation? No one knows the answers. The Rub' al Khali guards its secrets well. Charlie Dares the Empty Quarter We were scarcely back in Dhahran before I was proposing to Tay a change in our flight to Cairo. "Why not ly ('harlie across the Rub' al Khfili to Salalah on the southern coast? It will save us going around the whole Arabian peninsula.'" \e measured the distance from Dhahran to Salalah. an R.A.F. base and main city of Dhufar province in the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman. According to our maps, it came to about 700 miles. Tay at first flatly vetoed the idea. But then I told her of Al 'Tbaylah, with its airstrip, radio beacon, and chance to refuel just about halfway to Salalah. With that convincer, we were soon in the air, headed into a corner of the earth that the fabled Lawrence of Arabia described as "the last unwritten plot of earth big enough for a sizable man's turning in twice or thrice about, before he couches." Our flight charts were nearly blank, except for Cotton McGinty's penciled notations. They showed only latitude and longitude lines and the symbols for sand and gravel.