Monday, February 02, 2009

Ops Jalan Sakan: Digging For Desert Roses

This is the latest installation in our Mission:Travelots.

Last weekend we went digging for desert roses in Abqaiq. It is just off Highway 10 heading towards Abqaiq. After the exit labeled 'Desert Access', there will be a small road that is currently used as a detour due to highway construction. Take the first junction on your right off this detour road (follow the garbage trucks). Drive to the very end of the asphalt road, deflate your tyres before entering the sand. You have to drive off road a bit till you reach N26deg 11'30.9" E049deg 50'52.5".

You can really tell the site not only by the signs of recent digging, sand mounds and desert roses scattered on the ground (rejects from previous excavations), but also from the crackly ground, indicating a very high content of salt/minerals.

Taufik explained to us how we could tell a hole is a good site to search for desert rose. The sand should still be distinctly layered, if not, it means that someone has dug a hold there before. There should also be a layer of crystalized salt in the hole, and the salt also indicates the direction of growth. A thicker layer of cystalized salt would indicate better chances of finding a desert rose.
You really need not dig too deep to find a desert rose. The ones we found lied about 2 feet under the ground. You do have to be careful when you dig though. These crystals has petals that are very fragile and could easily break when you hit it. So once you think you found one, use a spade or even your hand to carefully extract the rock. Brush off the sand using a hand brush, then continue washing off the sand by dunking the rock into water to examine the beauty of the petals.
Mature cystals have really huge petals that could get 6-8inches wide, but immature ones look just like wrinkly rocks. The best ones are of course that has petals that grow in a circular formation and look like roses.

Digging the hole may take a bit of work, but the discovery of a desert rose is thrilling enough to make it rewarding, and actually quite addictive. You end up wanting to dig up more, to find a better one.
If you're not up to digging though, there were plenty of specimens lying around on the ground. They may have been rejected by previous excavators, but as they say, "One man's garbage is another man's treasure". You might find one that you like.

The children really enjoyed digging for desert roses. Usually the dads would start digging a hole, and the kids would then jump in to help in the search. They felt really helpful with their small spades and I'm sure the excitement of finding a desert rose is as exciting to them as to adults. I was humming the theme for Indiana Jones through out the excavation :)
Izani's favourite part was dunking the rocks into the bucket of water and brushing the sand off. I think it was more because he gets to play with water than because he liked to see what it looked like.

TIPS for digging desert roses:
1. You need a 4 wheel drive to go into the desert.
2. Have a tyre pressure gauge and a tyre pump handy. (Though a tyre pump may not be necessary, since you only release 1/3 of the air and it's still safe to drive slowly to the next gas station on asphalt).
3. Bring a big spade for major digging, but small ones for searching for desert rose once you've dug a hole. Also bring a brush to gently brush sand off the rocks.
4. Bring a bucket and a small tank of water to wash the sand off the rocks and also to wash your hands off in the end.
5. Bring a tarp to line your car boot or a box to put your rocks in. It is advisable not to stack your roses on top of each other coz they may break, so if you need to, bring rags/cloth to cushion them.
6. If you're bringing children, bring hats and extra clothes. They will get dirty!
7. The winter is warming up, but we were there from noon till after 2pm and it wasnt that hot. It was bright, but cool. I wouldnt recommend digging during the summer months, and of course when there's a sandstorm. During spring and fall, you might want to schedule your trip for really early in the morning, and never in the afternoon coz you dont want to get stuck in the desert when it starts to get dark.
8. Bring lotsa drinking water and some food if you like. We parked our car against the sun and laid our picnic mat in the shade and had our snacks there.

Note: Desert Roses are considered as national treasures and are restricted from being taken out of the country. It makes a pretty decoration/paper weight while you're living in the country though :)

Next trip on Mission:Travelots - hm... dont know yet.


  1. Anonymous10:44 AM


    I asked for a closeup pic, dapat whole story on it. sangat menarik and so lawa!

  2. Komen Pak Malim kucing ray yg alim.

    Sting ada nyanyi lagu Desert Rose, kan, kata Pak Malim sambil menggoreng ikan.

    'I dream of rain, ye le, ye le
    I dream of gardens in the desert sand.'
    Is that the desert rose he was singing about? kata Pak Malim sambil memandu ke round-about.

  3. Anon,
    Weh datang lah sini melawat sedara-mara you, then ask them to bring you to dig desert roses (or some visit me and I bring you!).
    Cepat, before I balik Malaysia!

    Pak Malim Kucing Ray yang Alim,
    Tak sure lah.. mungkin 'desert rose' tu a metaphor for a woman kot dalam lagu tu.. sebab desert rose yang ni takde bau.. eheheh

  4. pak malim. betul kata elisa. lagu tu is metaphor for woman. the arabic in the arabic part of the song describes it more. that song is not classical though. it's morrocan arabic.

    habis kalau dah korang gali habis soma rose tu nanti, i nak korek apa? :P

  5. elisa..i siap ingat you buat cookies apa la tuu...from the 1st pic..ha ha ha..silly me.


  6. Puan Lollies,
    1. Site dia punya lah besaaarrrr
    2. Desert rose ni regenerates. It's crystals mah, so it's always forming.
    3. Sebab tu kena korek tempat orang belum korek (refer to Taufik's tips about the layered sand), sebab then more likely to get matured crystals then crystals yang baru nak form.
    So, bila mau datang? March/April ni jadi ke?

    'Cookie' ni takleh makan, dia keras macam batu (eh memang batu pun!) dan masin macam ikan masin. (Believe me, I've licked one)

  7. hak ah, ingatkan a type of kuki ke apa...! hehe

    tak leh bawak keluar dari negara?? can seludup out without being detected by the scanner izit? if so... nak satu! kata saya yang tak tau malu. ngeee

  8. macam cornflakes madu pun ada heheheh..
    meaning, takleh bawak balik malaysia lah ye..

  9. Alin,
    We will definitely try.. tee hee!

    Meaning, kalau customs officer check and jumpa, dia akan confiscate.
    Tapi kalau customs officer tak check and tak jumpa... *grin*

  10. eiii... bestnya!!!! something out of the usual beach / highland adventure... nak ituttt!!!

  11. famygirl6:20 PM

    so pretty! the one in the picture that is. memang nampak macam rose petals.

    do people sell these crystals there? like souvenirs utk tourists ke?

  12. Anonymous5:40 AM

    i thought ada lagu or something about desert roses ni..

  13. Salam Elisa, lama sudah kita tidak berbicara, maaf, mak teh selalu kesuntukan masa! Desert rose jenis yang you tunjuk ini is something new to me. Mak teh jenis adventurous, rasa ingin juga nak pi buat kerja gali lubang di padang pasir tu. Tapi apakan daya mak teh juga jenis permaisuri lilin, sangat tak tahan dengan panas! So kalau Elisa balik malaysia nanti bawalah satu untuk mak teh as souvenier. Hehehe! kalau boleh lah! Nak tunjuk kat students sebab mak teh dah cakap pasal entry you ni mengenai desert pose kepada my students.

    Pak haji suka tanam desert rose ( jenis pokok dwarf, tanam dalam pasu ada bunga pelbagai warna )Pokok jenis ini orang cina suka. In exchange nanti boleh kasi pokok ni kepada Elisa.