The Zahid Expeditions:

Expedition 1: May 16-22, 1994 (Crossing from west to south, briefly in Yemen, then south to north, passing through Wabar).

We entered the Rub' Al-Khali driving from Abha to Shorurah ("the town at the End of the World"), examining ancient lake-beds with hippo teeth, ostracods and freshwater shells, and elegant flint arrowheads. Attempting to follow the map provided by the Harris Al-Hodood (Saudi Border Patrol) we inadvertently camped in Yemen during the 1994 Yemeni Civil War, returning via the Saudi border post at Kharkeer with help from a local Bedouin. Inside the tent-circle of our first camp we encountered 9 scorpions, two camel-spiders (which actually have 10 legs, so are technically not spiders but belong to the Arachnidae family and are distantly related to scorpions - see the photo below), and one sand-viper. The Major assigned to us from the Harris Al-Hodood, badly spooked, gave up on us then. He commandeered the Al-Hodood Nissan and drove back home. We had several interesting encounters with Jerboas, a kangaroo-mouse that we discovered ("first-hand", literally!) is a carnivore. From here we entered the dangerous, dead core of the Empty Quarter and made our way - under the guide of an incredible desert tracker from the Murra tribe - to Al-Hadida (the Wabar Impact site). This strange place of black glass and white rocks represents a Hiroshima-Atom-Bomb-scale asteroid impact explosion; we have gathered sufficient evidence to prove that this event is very young - it happened in the Spring of 1863. There are at least three crater rims still visible, and the exposed wind-sorted ejecta field is about 500 by 1,000 meters in size, caused by an explosion-cloud that reached the stratosphere (see title photo of the amazingly dense ejecta field above). We then visited the eery, highly radioactive, wrecked weather-station and dead airplane at Ubayla, and finally encountered civilization again at Umm Bakh on the 6th day, ultimately landing in a luxury hotel in Dhahran. I took two showers and one bath that first night back just to get the sand out of my hair.

This expedition was an extraordinary accomplishment, for we had crossed an area as dangerous - and logistically more difficult - than Antarctica. If an accident had befallen anyone, no helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft could have ever reached us. Seventeen people in 6 Hummers covered 1725 km of continuous sand dunes in only 6 days. At Wabar, Jeff Wynn completed a magnetic profile over the two largest meteorite craters - when the temperature reached 142 degrees F. (61 degrees C) in the shade. This was:

  • the longest crossing (actually TWO crossings), and
  • the first summer crossing of the Empty Quarter, both records, and also
  • the record fastest crossing. We could do this because we were driving six of AM General's Hummer vehicles - amazing machines that can inflate or deflate tires while driving. We repeatedly pulled the .50-cal machinegun-toting Harris Al-Hodood Nissan pickup out of sand-traps, but stuck a Hummer only once: when we high-centered it on the top knife-edge of a seif-dune (we winched it off).

Expedition 2: November 30 - December 3, 1994 (Survey Grid Set-up)

We raced into the Wabar site from Riyadh, taking 17 hours one-way to get there, set up a precise survey grid, and returned in only 3.5 days. It required driving at night for much of the time, using flame-thrower halogens to avoid the dangerous, south-facing dune slip-faces. Ray Maybus, the US Ambassador to Riyadh, accompanied us and took photographs.

"11-Meter" and Philby-A craters, Wabar site. Magnetometer in foreground.

Expedition 3: March 14-20, 1995 ("The Shoemaker Expedition")

With Gene Shoemaker, we drove in and camped at the Wabar site for 5 days and 6 nights, completed detailed geological and geophysical mapping, and reported results at a news conference in Riyadh (see photo of Gene below). On the way into Wabar we encountered a zone of dunes that had been rained on - leaving weird 10-cm gray/beige contours on the dunes (each band representing a day of sand-movement in the diurnal windstorm cycle) that looked for all the world like a billowing topographic map. Temperatures on this expedition reached 131 degrees F. (56 degrees C. - see photo below) while we worked at the site, and our camp was destroyed twice by raging sandstorms, one of which nearly killed our cook Gabriel. As we would eat our gritty meals we would be seranaded by Dr. Jaffrey's organ keyboard, while periodically lifting our feet to allow the hunting scorpions an open path to the occasional wind-blown insects that represented their dinners. On the way out, we were rained on so hard north of Haradh that we had to drive down wadis full of water - in an area where it might typically rain once in 10 to 100 years.

Jeff Wynn with an ancient bovid skull from the Empty Quarter