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Picnic at Painted Rock

Earlier this month we were invited to join friends on a day out to the desert east of Riyadh. Well, hum-ho, we have seen a fair bit of the desert in our time in KSA, and I have learned to appreciate the different hues of beige that it often offers. But this was to be something a little special, we were to go to the Painted Rock.

So what’s the Painted Rock? I am aware of the UNESCO World Heritage site at Hail in KSA, some 600 km north of Riyadh (inscribed to the WH list in 2015, the same year as Scotland’s Forth Bridge). Having played a small part in the UK’s bid to gain WH status for the Bridge, I have an interest in WH sites and know the rigorous process they go through to be inscribed. So I do hope to visit the Hail Rock Art sites one day. But a painted rock near Riyadh? I didn’t know about that, and so I didn’t need asking twice to go there.

A key part of going out into the desert is having proper vehicles and safety equipment. But no, this was not to be needed, our wee front wheel drive car would manage it apparently. And no need for emergency supplies, there were shops nearby. Really? My experiences of Saudi cultural sites (so far) are that they do not usually have expositions, information bureaux or gift shops handily nearby. And so we set off with our friends in a 2-car convoy leaving Riyadh westwards on the Makkah Road. As you leave the city, there is a spectacular drop off the Tuwaiq escarpment to the lower level desert, at a point well south of the rock formation known as the Edge of the World (see earlier blog item posted in April 2017). Once out into the country we kept going towards Makkah for about an hour, and then turned right off the highway at a petrol station and shop / mosque / motel complex onto a minor road. Two kilometres later an unmarked dirt track led a few hundred metres to an isolated rock formation which had a protective fence around it. So that was it. The size was maybe 50m by 50m and with a height of 20m or so. Still no signs, not even a “Keep Out” on the fence.  

We went for a walk around the rock, and at the back there wasn’t so much a hole on the fence as a yawning chasm that a car could enter. This gave access to the rock, and from ground level I could see artwork at higher levels. To get a better view, I could climb up the rock and look at the art from close up. What was there was truly remarkable. Ancient carvings on a couple of rock faces of animals, people and items depicting scenes from 10,000 years ago. This included fauna scenes including camels and ostriches. There was also modern graffiti from visitors proclaiming their more recent arrivals. Happily the two eras of etching were separate from each other. So back down the rock and back round to where the cars were parked and a very nice barbeque / picnic. We had the place to ourselves. We tidied up and left the site, leaving only footprints, and made our way back to the main road, stopping at the garage to refuel and buy an ice cream. And so back to Riyadh. A day out with a difference!  

Once back to our house, I set about searching the internet for information on what we had seen. The rock is known as Qaryat Al-Asba (Graffiti Rock) and geologically it is an inselberg, which means isolated outcrop. For something this notable and interesting and quite close to a city of 8 million people, there is remarkably little information out there. But one website did have worthwhile information, and I commend you to read it, at

And of course some pictures from the rock…




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