Jabal Dhawi

October 2009


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Hidden between wadi Sahtan and wadi Bani Awf and only accessible via a new gravel road up Jabal Dhawi. A few villages are hiding at the other side of the Jabal in the fertile valley beyond. The new road ends where the valley becomes too narrow. Villages that haven't changed for hundreds of years, except for the coming of this new road. Meet Oman like it must have been.

We noticed the steep road up, signposted Jabal Dhawi, when driving from wadi Bani Awf to wadi Sahtan. From the heights of the road to Yasib we could see the track snaking up the mountains to the east and wondered where it would go. Returning from another visit to Yisab and having some time to spare we decided to give a try. The road looked rather steep from below, but there was this little pickup with the blue water tank coming down and we concluded that if such a thing can get down, we could certainly get up.  

A deep respect for the builders of this road as it gets close to the maximum gradient a car can take. With marvelous bulldozed hairpins the road rapidly rises to a long ledge offering great views at both sides. Part of it is a true crestal road, with the narrow crest of Jabal Dhawi shaped to fit the new road, but just! You definitely need a reliable 4WD and low gear, both up and down. Don't try this if you have a fear for heights or if you don't know your car as it is steep down at all sides. Don't stop up on the steep parts. Take your time. Breathtaking views, but not many places to safely stop for pictures. Mind the dust.
We have not found a map with the name of the wadi, nor of the settlements beyond Jabal Dhawi so for now this is Jabal and wadi Dhawi.

Google Earth map Jabal Dhawi
Google Earth Image. The linked kmz (zipped) track up starts at the entrance of Wadi Bani Awf and leads you to the junction to Jabal Dhawi and beyond to the end of this road. Notice that the satellite images show the folding of the old rocks exceptionally well (see below).
Jabal Dhawi; a bit of geology
Google Earth Image overlain with a bit of Geology. The thick blue line shows the tight folding of a Precambrian limestone package known as the Khufai or Hajir. The yellow line marks approximately the base of the Permian (300 million years ago), separating much younger limestone rocks (Saiq) in the upper right from the Precambrian in the lower left of this image. You will notice when driving through that wadi opens wide when you reach the softer old Precambrian rocks.
How to get there: Please note: all coordinates and tracks are with reference to WGS84, UTM zone 40.
We took the scenic route, following the Motorway from Muscat to Sohar and turning to the south towards Halban, following the road parallel to the foothills of the mountain to Nakhl and Awabi and from there into wadi Bani Awf (2320'29.0090" N - 5729'25.7501"E). Continue all the way into the Gubrah bowl until a T-junction (2315'27.8107"N - 5726'16.0455"E) with many signs, one of them pointing to the right, towards wadi Sahtan. Follow this track until you see a new sign to Jabal Dhawi to the right (at 2317'2.7673" N - 5720'12.4486"E).The end of the road is at  2318'52.6029" N - 5725'4.1963"E

A bit of Geology

The route through wadi Bani Awf takes you through the massive carbonate rocks that form the outer shell of the Oman Mountains. Near the village of Fara the steep rock faces step back, opening-up the inner core of the mountains. You may not know, but you just crossed a couple of hundred million years of rocks, which is rather impressive on the relative short distance. Even more impressive for a geologist is that you pass the Cambrian to Pre-Cambrian boundary (+/- 540 Million years) near Fara, represented by the brownish ridge that left and right of the village. Just beyond the narrow gorge after Fara (cutting through what is known as the Kharus Formation = Buah Formation) you will notice that the rocks totally change. From massive carbonates to the shales, phyllites to be more correct. The rocks split easily in various directions and not surprising that leads to elongated rock slabs. These are the silts and claystones of the Muyaidin Formation (=Shuram). The thicker slabs are ideal for building walls. If you have the time just have a look in some of the side-roads where you will find small clusters of houses neatly build from these rocks and roofed with branches. You will always find some people under a tree, most likely inviting you for coffee and dates. Back to the track, turning right at the T junction to wadi Sahtan the road will take you through a narrow fold of these old rocks, again through a gorge of massive carbonates, this time of the Hajir Formation (=Khufai). Not far from here is the famous snake gorge, also cut through the very same massive carbonates. Beyond the Hajir gorge the rocks become platy and grey-dull again and you have gone even deeper down in time in rocks older than 600 Million years. A closer look may reveal boulders in these rocks, often of granitic material. In the hot desert climate of today it is difficult to imagine that some of these rocks were deposited by ice, during a period that is known as ice-ball Earth. There are indications that our Earth may have been largely frozen for long periods, hence the "ice-ball". The new gravel road up Jabal Dhawi is carved into these old rocks. If you look carefully on the satellite maps you will see that the road follows the western flank of one of these tight folds (a clear syncline). Once you have descended into the wadi at the other side you will drive towards the steep ridge of the Permian carbonates in the distance. That's where the road ends. It will remain the end of the road for many years to come as it will need more than a bulldozer to blast a road through the massive Permian carbonates in the very narrow gorge.

View from high-up on the road to Yasib, looking eastwards over wadi Sahtan and the road up to Jabal Dhabi (the peak in the background in middle left) . 

3D view Jabal Dhwai
3D view Jabal Dhawi route (Google Earth)

Looking down from the pass below Jabal Dhawi into the wadi below

At the bottom of the wadi suddenly green fields with a village at bit further at the edge of wadi

Old style village at the bottom of the wadi. Blending with the rocks and built with simple drystone walls, precariously balancing at the edge of the wadi. No electricity and no satellite dishes, but well maintained. Living simple as it must have been for many hundreds of years.
The well maintained fields are watered from an intricate falaj system, whereas the village, slightly higher, depends on water from an old well.  

Water well, complete with bucket and winch to pull the full bucket up. The water table is some 5 metres deeper.

Up on the ridge crossing jabal Dhawi you may think you are on a beach. The surface of the sandstone beds next to the road show very nice wave ripples. You will not find any tracks of any crab, worms or other animals. Remember this is the Precambrian where there was no animal life yet.

Regular sandstone ripples, sedimentary features that survived for more than 500 million years in these rocks and opened-up by weathering and erosion of the overlying rocks.
View from the Jabal Dhawi Crest to the east, in the direction of Wadi Bani Awf. Notice the gentle slopes of the soft Precambrian rocks with the jagged peaks of the younger limestones in the upper left.
With thanks to Paul and Jose Boerrigter for following us up and down hairy roads, not complaining about the dust clouds and for the nice company at the campfire.

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@ J. Schreurs October 2009