On the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, where Saudi Arabia meets Oman and Yemen, lies the Rub’ al Khali desert. It is an alien landscape of rust-colored sand interspersed with gypsum and gravel plains. Archeologists believe that somewhere in this vast (250,000-square-mile) Empty Quarter is the lost city of Ubar (or Iram). Up till around 300 AD, it would have been a waypoint for caravans of the frankincense trade on the trans-desert route from Oman to the Mediterranean Sea.
Caravans often crossed the blazing hot desert during the cool of the night while navigating by the stars. Other means of transportation slowly silenced the tintinnabulation of the camel bells, but today’s high-resolution satellite photographs reveal their ancient “camel tracks.”
Photograph by Shakil Ahmad.