Taiq Sinkhole

March 2010

 

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Huge holes and vertical drops

Dhofar, Salalah, Oman


The Dhofar Mountains are riddled with caves. Its limestone rocks are deeply cut by wadis draining north into the desert and southwards across the coastal plain into the sea. The satellite view of the Mountains is not unlike a nearby view of the surface of the limestone rocks when walking on top or even a close-up view at arms length as shown in the pictures below.

A typical karst country, with ridges and hollows from millimetre to hundreds of metre scale formed by the dissolution of limestone rock. The same dissolution can create huge caves in the limestones below. Collapsed caves or large dissolution holes form what is known as sinkholes or dolines. In many cases they will be filled with sediments. Flat rounded features in a limestone country are the telltale signs of dolines hiding below.

The limestones of the Dhofar mountains feature great examples of such sinkholes such as Tawi Atayr and the great Taiq Sinkhole. You will notice that there is a very flat rounded area next to the Taiq sinkhole, clearly another doline and once your eye will get tuned in Google Earth you will spot many more. The rocks in the Dhofar Mountains may hide many more caves or extensive cave systems still to be found and explored.

Typical karst surface with dissolution ridges and hollows (photograph taken near Tawi Atayr)
The picture on the left is a close-up view of a karst surface at arms-length. Compare that to the larger scale shown above, or the very large scale on the images below.

Google Earth map. 
Tracks can be downloaded as Google Earth kmz file.


How to get there:
A weekend to Salalah is easiest when flying from Muscat on Wednesday evening and returning of Friday evening, giving you almost two full days to explore.

Most roads described are accessible by normal car, but for the steep 'slopy' gravel tracks down to Wadi Hinna a four-wheel car is currently still a must.

Wadi Dirbat, Tawi Atayr, the Taiq Sinkhole and Jabal Samhan are easy accessible from the main road between Salalah to Mirbat. The road from Tawi Atayr to Mirbat passing Wadi Hinna (Hannah) and through wadi Al Ghazir is currently being built. This will provide an easy route down to the coast, but not for us as we had to return to Tawi Atayr and take the road to Wadi Dirbat and Khor Rhori

Tracks can be downloaded as Google Earth kmz file.

All coordinates and tracks are with reference to WGS84, UTM zone 40.

A very big hole

The Taiq Sinkhole is just 9km NE -as the bird flies- of the famous Tawi Atayr (well of the birds) sinkhole and can be reached on route to Jabal Samhan (@ 17 9'13.49"N -  5437'21.63"E)

It  is not yet another sinkhole; it is a rather big one.

The elliptical hole has a width of approximately 1000metres in SSE-NNW direction and 750metres in NNE-SSW direction. The deepest point is approximately at 750m altitude. The highest point along the rim is at 1000m altitude (southern and eastern sides).
With an average height of approximately 975m of the rocks surrounding the hole and an average height of some 800m inside, the total volume amounts to a whopping 90 million m3. Compare this to the Tawi Atayr sinkhole with a diameter of some 80metres and a depth of 200m and a volume of 'only' 1 million m3, or the largest cave in Oman, the Majilis Al Jinn, which has a volume of about 5 million m3 and you get a feeling of the sheer size of this enormous hole.

Google Earth Image of the Taiq sinkhole, seen in northern direction.
Notice the two wadi systems draining into the hole from the north and from the east.

Google Earth "close-up" view.
Part of the walls are overhanging or almost vertical down.
The two wadis that drain into the hole merge at the deepest point.....
where one could expect a 'drain' to deeper holes

Origin

Illustration of how this sinkhole could have formed by the collapse of an underlying cave system. The partial overhanging to vertical walls of the sinkhole support this hypothesis. Just west of the sinkhole is a round area with a perfect flat surface, which could hide yet another sinkhole, or doline to use the scientific name of these features. An check on Google Earth reveals quite a number of possible dolines, suggesting many and possible large cave system hiding in the limestones below. 
Western rim of the sinkhole featuring partial overhanging vertical wall with a drop of some 150metres

Panorama view of the sinkhole seen from the high area in the south

Obese flowers and roundhouses

Bushes of Oleander survive on the almost bare rocks around the sinkhole, with roots finding their way in the raggy cracks and hollows. Keep also a eye for its weird, but magnificent sister, the Desert Rose, with its fat stem, thick at the base, but rapidly narrowing to spindly branches bearing beautiful pink flowers. 

The Desert Rose, first described from Aden in Yemen, hence its not surprising name the 'fat one of Aden' -Adenium Obesum. We would call it nowadays a fatboy. Like the Oleander, this plant is toxic and its milky latex can be used as poison. The Jabali used it to reduce swellings and joint pain.

Flower of the Desert Rose, a striking contrast to the grayness of its surroundings.
Keep an eye open for Dhofar's famous round houses on the way to the sinkholes. You will see many, but mostly covered with plastic, canvas, corrugated plates and many, many rubber tires.

Originally their roofs consisted of branches, covered by grass (thatched) such as shown on the picture.
Many thanks to Danka for spotting the pink desert roses in the middle of nowhere and for Shirin, Jandam and Cyrus for being pulled from one hole to another without complaining.

References (Visitor)

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@ J. Schreurs March 2010