The Spectacular Rock Formations in Southwestern Saudi Arabia
Exploring the beautiful, rugged terrain of Asir Region is extremely satisfying, because no matter what interests you, you will be treated with awesome surprises. For instance, because of the vegetation in most parts of the region, there are several species of birds for an Ornithologist to be interested about. For a Botanist and a Zoologist, there are considerably a variety of flora and fauna in the area and there is a veritable feast of volcanic phenomena that is waiting to be studied by a Geologist.
Eons ago when the Arabian plate cracked free from Africa, the Western edge tilted upward several degrees and elsewhere, there is an evidence of the resultant upheaval and change. Lava spewed over the landscapes creating formidable "harrats" (basaltic lava fields) of the Western part of the country. Besides, great escarpment were formed by the tilting of the plate. The most spectacular of these are the Hijaz and Asir Mountains in Western and Southwestern provinces, as well as the Tuwaiq escarpment in the Nejd or Central District.
Soaring to 3,500 meters above the Red Sea, the highlands of Asir offer myriads of natural and historical treats for a keen and adventurous visitor. One of the least known jewels of the province, dubbed as the tourist region of Saudi Arabia, are the fabulous stonescapes that are visible in, virtually, most parts of the region. And the most grandiose of these are the enormous, stunning boulders intricately scattered in the vast track of wilderness, just a few kilometers South of the commercial city of Khamis Mushayt.
Once spewed from primeval volcanoes millions of years ago, the tremendous natural forces that followed had curved, molded and formed the stones into dramatic fashions to look incredibly wonderful and yes, out-of this world!
Splendid Rock Formations
A huge, gray monolith whose rear is like the bow of the mighty Arabian dhow is fantastic. It seemed to have been docked eternally on a roadside. Sadly, ill-mannered visitors had vandalized the stone. Meanwhile, a cluster of piled up rocks with heads similar to Picasso's interpretation of human beings that were immortalized in his paintings are equally awesome
In addition, a wonderfully-arched ones that seem to have been eroded by seaside waves and looks like the edges of that unique and colorful Pakistani sandals are not uncommon. Bizarre formations like a Shark's mouth, open wide and ready to devour a prey, imparts and eerie feeling; and so is the "Lion's Head" that seems to sniff quietly, trying to look for something to eat; equally amazing is the "Giant Turtle" in an intersection that seems to strategically watches the passersby.
Awesome, too, are the tall, vertical stones with shafts that resembles newly-sprouted mushrooms after a night's drizzle and thunderstorm in the tropics; a rock spire, shaped like an arrow pierced outwardly on top of gigantic lava hill gives warning to intruders. Likewise, there are numerous flat-surfaced boulders with hollow as small as the size of a soup bowl or as big as a laundry basin. During rainy days, these catch a considerable amount of water to the delight of the denizens of the harrats.
Unlike the equally impressive rocky sandstone outcrops of Madain Saleh, the Nejd and the Al-Hasa Oasis, the stones in this part of the country are mainly granitic in nature.
Lying side by side with these rocks, one could find a bed of quartz in various colors, mostly milky white and garnet. Because of their abundance, these were used by locals as decorative elements in building their houses and watchtowers. Also, there are myriads of soft, rock chips with patches of silver innately embedded on them that glitters under the sun.
What is also worth mentioning is this natural heritage's capacity to support various life forms. From afar, one would think that this is a vast barren land with many natural pieces of stone art that were chaotically scattered. A careful look into it astounds a tourist blessed with a sharp eye to see the beauty of the many plants and animals who reside in the rocks.
These monuments are a home to the shy but prominent Aqami lizard. This reptile loves to flaunt its bright color and then camouflages the rock as it shies away when a visitor or a predator approaches. Likewise, big stones that have caverns are a sanctuary to various birds species. Evidence of their presence and activity are the nests and waste deposits on the crevices and surfaces of these flints. The area is also inhabited by the baboons.
Patches of yellow, violet, white and pink flowers would welcome a plant enthusiast. The flowering wilds, along with some species of grass, are the camel's and sheep's favorite grazing recipes.
Trees, which find a strong support, in the crevices of these stones, are interesting sights to see. They do not only add color to the relatively dull but spectacular environment, they also provide shade for flocks and resting place for shepherd and visitors alike.
As we drove back, we chanced upon a magnificent rock formation that is undoubtedly, the grandest of them all. I named it the "Queen of the Rock". Over the near-edge of a stone, the Queen - with a tapered tip - stands majestically in perfect equilibrium, in an upside down manner, i.e., the pointed edge at the bottom. It looked like it's other-worldly and incredible, to say the least, but for one who believes in the power of the One, this stunning nature's work of art is not unbelievable, after all.
A potential tourist attraction, this natural heritage the region is bestowed with, must be preserved at all costs, especially now that real estate development is booming in Asir.