By Kari Herbert, Sep 15 2016 01:11PM
They come silently out of the desert – a herd of camels padding across the sand, snaking in single file through the darkness. The first lifts its head, sniffing at the smoke of our bonfire and burning frankincense. Then, just as quietly as they had arrived, they all move off, until there is nothing but us, the endless dunes of the Empty Quarter and a glittering vault of stars.
I am into my seventh day of a "grand tour" of the sultanate – an ambitious 10-day adventure, careering the length of this remarkable country, taking in mountains, canyons, lush oases, beaches and desert, available as a new group tour with Wild Frontiers.
The journey begins in Muscat, the capital. From here we follow the Batinah coast west to Wadi Bani Awf and the al-Hajar mountains, the towering gateway to Oman's interior. A silent testimony to a time of geological chaos and immense volcanic activity, the range soars dramatically from a gravel plain. Climbing precipitous tracks, our 4x4s head into a wild rockscape of giant ophiolite rocks, limestone and splintering mudstone. We head towards Snake Canyon and the Wadi Nakhar gorge. Goats graze precariously on the rock face, feeding on clumps of acacia, wild olive, aloe and grasses. These isolated mountains and wadis – river beds – are also home to wolves, foxes, jerboas and gazelle.
After hours of nerve-racking driving, we reach the lofty canyon rim. Ahead of us is Jebel Shams – the mountain of the sun. At more than 3,000m above sea level, the peak is one of the highest on the eastern Arabian Peninsula. A vulture circles silently above the chasm. We teeter on the edge, gazing at this vast panorama known as Arabia's "grand canyon".