Friday, February 18, 2011

Ta'if Scout Camping: Part 1

Just this past weekend (Wednesday through Friday) I went camping near Ta'if with the Boy Scout troop here on campus. We were camping with Troop 454, from Jeddah, at one of their favorite camping spots.

We left at 3 pm on Wednesday, and headed to Jeddah to meet up with the other troop. From there we headed towards Makkah (Mecca). We had to take the road around Makkah, because only Muslims are allowed there. Interestingly, that stretch of road, traveled almost solely by non-Muslims, was the only section of road that was in any state of disrepair. I have heard that asphalt roads can last upwards of fifteen years here with very little maintenance because of the lack of snow, and water in general.

Non-Muslims only have one choice at this intersection, assuming "PRIVAT" really means "PRIVATE".

Most of the 5,000+ feet of elevation gain between Jeddah and Ta'if is in a series of switchbacks just east of Makkah. As we approached the switchbacks in the dark the streetlights traced a pretty zig zag up the face of the mountain. The local drivers illustrated their recklessness by passing during hairpin turns at double to triple the posted speed limits, with deadly drop offs just beyond the edge of the road. My mother would have passed out from terror alone had she been with us.

Jagged peaks in the escarpment at the edge of the central plateau.

The roads had street lights almost all the way to the campsite, on a road that probably received fewer than twenty car each night, it seemed a bit wasteful. We had a little bit of car trouble near the campsite: one of the SUVs blew the fuse for the starter motor. This was the same SUV that got two flat tires on the previous campout.

The campsite was absolutely gorgeous; it was situated in a valley that had been terraced for farming. The way that they accomplished this terracing was pretty cool: First they would lay a series of short walls made of loose stones across the valley. Then they waited until the occasional torrential rain had deposited soil behind the walls. Then they would add more stones to each wall, making them taller. Then they would wait for more soil to accumulate, and repeat. Over many years the terraces grew, until the originally sloping land was converted into a series of flat steps separated by four to ten foot high walls.

Our tents on the step above the stone retaining wall.

The sunrise ignited the rocks into a brilliant bronze.

The area where we camped was divided in two by one of these walls. Troop 454 brought a custom made trailer with two huge awnings and we set up kitchens below them. The ground was mostly smooth dirt, because the troop would rake most of the rocks from the site each time they visited, and only flooding could move new rocks in. Setting up tents was easy, and went quickly. Some of the scouts found a flat spot up the side of the hill, and pitched their tents up there. Not very convenient, but very cool.

The scouts hurry down from their tents when they are called to fall-in.  Some of them chose to put their tents a bit out of the way.

That night we had a series of clouds blow right through the campsite, reducing the visibility to ten or twenty feet. It was very fun to watch as the whole world was engulfed by the fog.

A cloud blows in over the hills. Notice the almost entirely obscured hill.

The whole campsite. It is much greener than I expected.

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