Dune Bashing in the Arabian Desert

I look out at the horizon, past miles of sandy, flat desert and realize that if the skies were perfectly clear and my vision perfectly sharp, I would be able to see past the desert, on to the next city popping up out of the horizon. My guide sees my gazing out over the desert. He points and says, “Oman is that way. On a clear day you can almost see it.” The Arabian Desert in the United Arab Emirates is vast and somewhat mysterious, a dry barren land on a peninsula surrounded by water.

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The sand moves at the command of the wind, and if left untouched it forms waving grooves, all the grains of sand lining up to create a work of art. These sands have been shifted and rearranged here for thousands of years, creating all the time smoother and smaller grains of sand. It looks soft, so I sit down and run my hands through it. Smoother than water, the sand escapes my grip, falling back to the ground where it belongs. The sandy desert is comfortable, soft, like an enormous sandbox I could play in all day long.

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My first experience in a desert, it is winter now so I am comfortable, not overheating like those who visit in summer. The desert is enchanting, as I can picture here an Arabian celebration, complete with silk-laden princes, brave fire breathers, and sultry belly dancers. There would be eating and drinking, dancing and mingling, while the stars brightly dot the dark night sky. The camels would rest peacefully nearby, sinking into the top layer of soft sand, tired from their task of bringing the party and all of its guests to this oasis.  In the quiet calm of the desert, everyone focuses on this celebration, enjoying their company in the billowing tents and caring not for the passing of time elsewhere.

That’s a night I would love to enjoy. But for today, I have joined a tour that takes a more modern approach to experiencing the desert. When I was caught daydreaming on a sand dune, it was during a rest from my dune-bashing tour. We load back into the 4×4, buckle up, and secure our bags. The roller coaster ride is about to begin again!

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Racing over and around sand dunes, our 4×4 picks up speed. We move quickly over the sand but it slips from beneath us and we skid to the side. I’m scared that we’ll flip. It’s a roller coaster with no tracks. My driver is excellent though, and after doing this for years he still gets a thrill out of it, so I trust him and put on a smile. I’ve been jostled around in the back seat but haven’t hit my head. We slide around the sand and I lose track of where we are. Have we been going in circles? Or are we nearing the Oman border now? It doesn’t matter, because I’m in good hands and I’m having a blast! My heart is racing, my eyes open wide, and my smile widening as I grow comfortable with this new pace of desert touring.

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After bashing around the dunes for just long enough that we’re all beginning to feel motion sickness coming on, we slow down and make our way to a camel farm. The camels here are being bred for racing, and they are an expensive commodity. They’re well-cared for and obviously quite happy because as I walk up to their pen, I am greeted with a nuzzle to my chest and an invitation to pet their head and neck. I’m delighted! Camels elsewhere have been more hostile, but these gentle creatures remind me of my puppy back home! You wouldn’t tell from looking at their gangly bodies, but camels are quite fast.

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After some quality time with the camels, we begin to head back to Dubai. We pass a camel racing track and I wonder if any of my new friends will be claiming a blue ribbon there soon. Miles of desert stretch out on either side of the road, and I continue to be amazed by this land. My mind begins to dream of what this place would have looked like in Lawrence of Arabia’s time. I’ve only seen but a small slice of the Arabian desert and my day here draws to a close, but my love of deserts has only just begun and I know I have much to see when I return.

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