Photos by Greg Gregory unless otherwise credited -- Updated September, 2013

Friday, March 24, 2006

Traveling Naturalists Group

Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia

After driving several hundred km off-road, doing the typical things we Traveling Naturalists love to do, we eventually made our way back towards Dhahran and stopped at a prominent isolated mesa (jebel) called “Shiprock” (and sometimes “Castlerock”) which is located 102 kms due west of Jubail, just off the Urayirah-Nariyah highway...


...It has steep, near-vertical walls on all sides, and has ancient rock walled-structures on its top side, giving it a castle or ship-deck appearance.

Note the crawlway entrance in the middle of the jebel base.

Photo courtesy of John Weatherburn

Access to the top is via a natural sinkhole in the middle of the feature which intersects a low crawlspace...

The lower entrance


...So we basically start at the “deep” part of the cave, then ascend in elevation to the top of the sinkhole at the top of Shiprock (caving in reverse)...

Panoramic view of nearby jebels from the entrance of the crawlway.


...The ascent is facilitated by an old, crudely cobbled-together ladder, which has only one functional leg, and was secured at the top by some old lines and string tied to some tent pegs...

View skyward of the roughly 26-foot composite ladder in the Shiprock sinkhole.


...This ladder inspired confidence neither at the bottom nor at the top...

Ladder legs seen from crawlway. Note left leg, balanced on loose rocks.

...and I was later able to improve the situation considerably with the addition of a long towing strap to minimize safety instability for future visitors, and for our descent.  But of course this was only after I had made the dicey lead ascent. Sorry, while doing this I was in no mood to take pictures! 

Once up on top, I was able to belay the rest of our party without incident.

...Belay of Marek Wiehula, who has just reached the top rim of the sinkhole....


Marek is relieved to be off-rope at the top of Shiprock.




Yellow tow-strap has been added to supplement the top-side string-and-peg ladder ‘safety system’.




 At last, we enjoyed the magnificent view from the top deck of our ship surrounded by a sea of sand.

View of vehicles and participants having lunch on the sand flats, with other jebels in the distance.

The sinkhole does not have typical speleothems, but did have some prominent silicified root structures in one layer.  At the top level we explored a second sinkhole, but it was partially plugged with collapse debris.


We had other interesting encounters during our off-road journey, including a visit from a Sudanese camel drover and stops in some vast fields of wildflowers (see below).  Excellent Trip!

Sabrina the Saluki from the Rub, at the side of the neighborly Sudanese.

Greg Gregory

skyward view from sinkhole 2 on top of Shiprock, with Eric Richter and Marek looking on


Camel Drover enjoying a break with Tess, Mona, Stephanie, and Sabrina the Saluki.


Author Greg Gregory with Sabrina the Saluki, in the wild flowers