On the way to the Grand Canyon our driver Suleiman pulled off the tarmac and and parked the 4×4 for a photo stop. Across the wadi, on the slopes above the date palm grove, was a deserted village. Before we had time to get out of the vehicle Mohammed popped up from behind the rock where he had been resting in the shade. In his hand was a blue plastic bag full of homemade woven keyrings his mother and sisters had made. He just stood there waiting.
Suleiman, Mohammed and the word wadi are hardly words you would associate with the Grand Canyon we have all heard about. I have never visited the Grand Canyon, USA but I have visited a few grand canyons in my travels. This was another to add to my list and has the same moniker as its American counterpart. This one however was in the Hajar mountains of Oman hence the Arabic names and words.
Leaving Mohammed behind, happier because he had made a little money, we continued our journey up a series of steep hairpin bends. As we approached a small plateau the tarmac suddenly ended and we drove on a dirt track beside a deep gully carving its way across the landscape. We began to climb again, twisting around sharp bends with drops to oneside and sandstone cliffs on the other.
The 4×4 pitched and yawed as it climbed ever upward creating a dust cloud behind us that coloured the sun a pale vermillion. We crossed the odd dry river bed and slalomed round the occasional boulder. The views behind us stretched through layer upon layer of hazy mountain ridges further into the interior of Oman.
Then just as suddenly as it had ended the tarmac road reappeared. It was still steep and twisting but much smoother. Before long it swung round a corner and Suleiman pulled off the road once again. This time instead of a few metres drop to a dry river bed there was nothing beyond the small steel wire fence until a dry riverbed 1700 metres below. It was truly vertigo inducing. I found myself stepping involuntarily back from the edge despite the fence.
Below, far below, was Wadi Al Nakhur. Torrential rains from thunderstorms over Oman’s highest mountain, Jabel Sham (3009m) ran dow numerous gullies carving deep ravines in the soft sandstone. So powerful were these flash floods they had carved a canyon 1700 metres deep. The sheer size was staggering.
I wandered along the fence, which ended where the road turned away from the edge and, keeping well clear of the edge hiked up to an outcrop that dropped vertically down. In the distance some wild animal was barking or coughing. Below falcons screeched and crows cawed. Across the cirque nimble footed goats grazed on what little vegetation there was. It was a desolate and inhospitable place but awe inspiring nonetheless.
At the rock outcrop I lay on my stomach and peered over the edge. Nothing prepared me for the view down to the canyon floor. I could see now why it was called the Grand Canyon of Arabia. It did resemble the American version though not as long; not even close. Further on I peeked over the edge once more to see a cluster of houses in the depths of the canyon; so small they were difficut to pick out.
There was no commercialism other than a small roadside shack with three women, head and faces covered selling woven bracelets and keyrings; Mohammed’s sisters and mother I wondered.
I could have stayed a lot longer drinking in the views but the shadows in the canyon were lengthening and we had that dirt track to negotiate on the way back. It was with reluctance that I turned my back on the deepest canyon in Oman. It was truly a grand canyon worthy of the name Grand Canyon.
Declaration: I travelled to Oman as a guest of Oman Tourism and Oman Air. However I value my editorial independence and will always write things as I see and experience them be it positive or negative. The views expressed in this post are entirely my own.