The Edge of the World - Background
Standing on the towering cliffs overlooking the Acacia Valley and taking in the sharp, breath-taking contrast between the expansive, flat desert floor below and the bold limestone escarpment that rises vertically above it, one can see why this is called ‘The Edge of the World.'
Located approximately 180 km (110 miles) North-East of Riyadh, the Edge of the World is literally defined by a rock ‘framed window’ between two towering cliffs to the left and right that provides a dramatic view of the valley below that stretches as far as the eye can see. Just as imposing as the view of the valley is the steep escarpment that seemingly stretches endlessly along the plateau to the left and right.
For the more hardy adventurist who will not mind the climbing and walking involved, the truely most spectacular viewing experience begins when one begins to make his way along a small path on the right side of ‘the window’ which leads up and over the hill towards the plain along the outer edge of the escarpment.
Unlike such an area in the United States that would have been commercialized long ago, The Edge is as natural, today, as it was millions of years ago…with the exception of a few well-worn trails and discarded trash within various ravines. In other words, given there are no warning signs, much less fences, one must be extremely cautious of loose footing or, even worse, the real possibility of falling over ‘the edge.’ While one is free to venture as far out along the ledges as possible, one does so at his...or her...own peril.
‘The Edge of the World’ are the outcrop cliffs of the Jebel Tuwaiq (pronounced "Twayg") Escarpment. Originally residing at the bottom of the ocean, the 600 meters high limestone cliffs were created during the Middle Jurassic Period 161 to 176 million years ago. Cutting through the plateau of Nejd in central Arabia, the escarpment runs approximately 490 miles (800 km) down the central part of the country from the southern border of Al-Qasim in the north to the northern edge of the Empty Quarter desert near Wadi ad-Dawasir in the south.
The western side of the escarpment is a sheer cliff while the eastern side gradually slopes downward, creating a narrow plateau that the locals call ‘jebel,’ or ‘mount.
From along the escarpment, a number of narrow wadis run, to include the Wadi Hanifa, along which the Saudi capital, Riyadh, lies.
BEST TIMES TO VISIT: Fall and Winter are the best times of the year to visit The Edge of the World in that it provides clear blue skies, moderate temperatures and few other ‘tourists’ to get in one’s way (Note: at the time of our visit on a weekend in early February, while there were a number families camping along the wadi, there were literally no other people at ‘The Edge’ during our two plus hours spent there). Given the extreme temperatures and lack of shade, visits during the summer months may prove most uncomfortable. No matter what time of year, though, ensure to bring plenty of water, a hat and sun glasses, as well as wear good quality climbing shoes.
Plan to leave early enough to spend approximately six hours during daylight…two hours driving to ‘The Edge,’ two hours at the site and two hours driving back. Given wadi and desert track driving can be rather treacherous at night, plan accordingly. Even though all of the wadi tracks eventually lead out of the Acacia Valley back to the wadi gate one must past through into and out of the area, it should be noted that the gate is closed and locked at 1800 by the local park rangers…leaving one literally stuck in the valley until next morning. So, plan your trip accordingly.
TRANSPORTATION: It is HIGHLY recommended that driving to The Edge of the World not be attempted in anything other than a four wheel drive all terrain type vehicle, as the final 18 miles is cross country through a wadi composed of ridges, loose gravel and soft sand. Two such vehicles should constitute the minimum ‘convoy’ with each vehicle having a full tank of gas, towing capability with tow strap and spare tires or repair kits. US Embassy personnel can draw from the RSO an emergency kit complete with spare water, rations and a satellite phone.
Interestingly enough, the cross country drive to and from The Edge of the World should prove to be just as enjoyable as 'The Edge' experience, itself, for the thick green tree line along the Acacia Valley is not only a very popular picnic spot where one will see Saudis setting up picknics or campfires for the night but one will also find an amazing array of flowers and flowering shrubs as well as camel herds, birds, lizards and butterflies. To truly appreciate the entire 'The Edge' experience, one literally must 'stop and smell the roses' along the way.
TOTAL DRIVE (ONE WAY): 58 miles
From Riyadh take the road 535 (King Khaled Rd.) north heading towards Salbouk. After approximately 30 km you will reach an intersection and turn left to route 5766 heading towards Jubayla. Set the odometer at zero here. Continue straight passing through a few small towns. Eventually the road becomes route 5762 leading to Sadus.
From this road you will turn off to the desert track on the left at location N24 57 21.2 E46 13 41.6, approximately 30 km from the intersection. There are no sign posts here - other than a blue sign in Arabic about 50 meters from the road. The turn off from the main highway is just a dirt track that seems to go nowhere but will, instead, take you on a most enjoyable journey of discovery and experience.
Continue straight on the dirt track straight and you will soon see a fence on the left, continue beside it now slightly the track turning to the right. This track leads you to a dam and a gate next to a small building where the rangers are posted. Pass the gate and turn right. Now you are in Acacia Valley. From here you will drive along the wadi for a good 20kms and the terrain will eventually become more rocky in the end until you reach the edge of the world location. The track has some forks in it, try to keep to the right but don’t enter into the small valleys, they are dead ends. GPS coordinates for the Edge of the World end location N24 56 41.4 E45 59 32.1