There is no Arabia Felix without the Rub al Khali.

Felix (1)

Rub al Khali–the Empty Quarter…a massive natural and cultural enigma

I can not escape its sand. I can not escape.


Humans + Landscape = ?

In between my infrequent blog entries, which always focus on humans and landscape, I am writing adventure novels, not surprisingly on humans and landscape.

As you can see from the menu bar above, I have been working on four novels over the past six years.

In preparation for updating them on my blog this fall, I have had some fun doing themed graphic design, one composite image for each of the four novels.

Themed graphics?

Yes—unique to each novel—humans interacting with the exotic geography and inspirational landscape around them, with the lightest  sprinkling of ethnobotany.

I have interpreted each of the four novels below and I hope you find them enjoyable.

If so, recommend them to your like-minded friends, please.


This is the least developed adventure to date. The story revolves around a coffee house in Vienna–a place where for centuries East and West have and continue to struggle…over espresso…the text offering a brief respite.


The landscape background is the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter where surface sand patterns take us to Julian eternities and the sun takes away our sight. The botanical panel is the date palm, Phoenix canariensis providing food, utensils, environmental and architectural shelter. The human craft panel is carved stone–essential discipline. The text is the gold ring.


The Moroccan landscape background threatens with an irritating red born of never-truly-healed and always festering cultural conflict wounds–North African, Arabian, Sub-Saharan African and European–in equal measures macerating humans over millennia. The botanical panel is the fruit and foliage of the fig, Ficus carica–rare relief. The human craft shows patterns from North African Berber wool carpets–practical essentials. The text is the shelter humans take from the native and endemic forms of the plant, Cannabis sativa. The dreams are real life.


The dark green and blue landscape background is the edge of our dreams always implanted by the highland mountains, forests, lakes, rivers and streams of the Swiss Alps. The botanical panel is the gentian, Gentiana acaulis, whose blue beauty, paired with our rare good fortune, beckons human transformation. The human craft panel patterns are the lace of internal order. The text is the promise of clarity–or is it simply the hope of clarity?

Cross Cultural

Lived lots of years in foreign countries–foreign cultures.

Cross-cultural are experiences in which I have been face-to-face with people and behaviours I did not understand and often did not agree.

…as opposed to multi-cultural which is theory only.

In my work as a landscape architect in those foreign countries and foreign cultures, I had to build major projects. Had to reach workable agreements in difficult cross-cultural conditions. Learned so very much from so many different people.

The links below track some of my cross-cultural journeys.

They are all HD, all less than one minute long, and they are all growing from the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali.


Rub al Khali Enigma: the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula, what it is.



Dreams: how to get from dreams to fiction to reality, Atlantis Dubai 2008.



Empty Quarter: transforming cross-cultural realties, harsh environments into restful shelter, Qasr al Sarab 2010.



A Golf Academy in the Empty Quarter?


Dubai Landscape: the humans

…quarry for Gulf construction…

The Hajar mountains run along the Emirati and Omani border. Directly on the coast of the Gulf of Oman, they actually collect reasonable monsoon rain remnants about 1,000km south at Salalah, just before the Yemeni border. But here in this photo, the rainfall is rare. These mountains are quarry resources for the entire Gulf region.

…having fun yet?…

The Desert Zone bumps against the Mountain Zone. In the Desert Zone, only the presence of water supports humans. Even with water, humans struggle in the Empty Quarter.

…take the airs…

Avicenna marina, al qurm in Arabic. Salt water plants. Mangroves, lots of them in the region; except in Dubai where they are found only in the Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary–in the heart of Dubai Municipality. Mangroves enabled coastal life and architecture (branches for lintels and beams), fodder (leaves), cooking (charcoal). Besides date palms, they had no other woody plants.

…safe at last…or…

Dubai urbanification–this is the Coastal Zone. In fact, it is the heart of a growing 200km long megalopolis connecting Ras al Kaimah in the north to Abu Dhabi in the south. And it was once…Empty Quarter.

Dubai Transect Landscape

…empty quarter zones Dubai…

Dubai Municipality sits in the Coastal Zone. Al Ain is an oasis in the Desert Zone. The oasis is supplied by rare monsoon remnants, from the Gulf of Oman, captured by the Hajar Mountains in the Mountain Zone.

I wanted to understand a little more about the larger landscape into which the Dubai Municipality sits. Dubai Municipality is just a narrow, but intensely built, strip along the edge of the Gulf. From the above satellite image–it is hardly visible.

The landscape transect distance from Dubai, at the Gulf coastal edge, above on the left, across to the right to the Gulf of Oman is 100km.

Many times, I drove that transect through the Dubai Emirate on a main road, identifying essentially three distinct landscape eco-zones:

A Dutch doctor, a General Practitioner, Marijcke Jongbloed, lived in the United Arab Emirates for twenty years. She surveyed, 1983-2003, the landscape of the UAE. She compiled her findings in a book entitled, The Comprehensive Guide to the Wild Flowers of the United Arab Emirates. She photographed each plant in its natural habitat, annotated a location map and commented on how the plant was used by humans (ethnobotany). Best reference I found for plants in the UAE.

…sand or sun…but no water…

Aladdin? A lamp? No, it’s the Empty Quarter and it’s full of sand and genies…No!! It’s full of djinnis and gnomes and surfs and a whole lot of people…but the humans only live along the edges, right? No, no, no…it is nothing…nothing but a mirage.


Mirage…dream, dream, dream…when I want you in my arms, when I want you and all your charms…whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream…the Empty Quarter…dream.


(dream, courtesy of The Everly Brothers)

Maps: Burckhardt

Born in Lausanne in 1784, and studied in Leipzig, Gottingen and Cambridge before heading to Arabia…he was a geographer and author, best known for having re-discovered in modern times the ruins of Petra, the Nabatean city in Jordan. Burckhardt was an explorer who spent three years in Syria learning the language and ways of Arabia before beginning his journey through the sands and on to Medina and Mecca.

Burckhardt was a modest and self-effacing man whose careful accounts of his travels in Syria and Arabia are classics, and whose conversion to Islam was apparently sincere.

Before leaving Damascus, Burckhardt had tried to anticipate trouble. ‘Knowing that my intended way led through a diversity of Bedouin tribes,’ he wrote in his journal, ‘I thought it advisable to equip myself in the simplest manner. I assumed the most common Bedouin dress, took no baggage with me and mounted a mare that was not likely to excite… cupidity …’

…not quite nomadic…

In Jordan, near the Saudi Arabian border where the sands meet the mountain cliffs are the carved facades of Petra –remnants of Nabatean culture. Image credit to Daniel Case – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33632136

His writing covered not only the natural geography of Arabia but also deep insights into the cultural geography of the Bedouin and the Wahabis–peoples of the sands. He wrote of the Wahabis:

‘The founder of this sect is already known as a learned Arabian named Abd el Wahab who had visited various schools of the principal cities in the East, as is much the practice with his countrymen even now being convinced by what he had observed during his travels that the primitive faith of Islam or Mohammedism had become totally corrupted and obscured by abuses and that the far greater part of the people of the East and especially the Turks might be justly regarded as heretics. But new doctrines and opinions are as little acceptable in the East as they are in the West and no attention was paid to Abd el Wahab until after long wanderings in Arabia he retired with his family to Derayeh at the period when Mohammed Ibn Saoud was the principal person of the town.’

Travelling as a poor man, Burckhardt drew close to the Arab tribes, he was depending upon them. His books tell the strange stories…lessons?

‘Unfortunately in Kerak he learned that cupidity is a relative thing. For there, for the third time, he placed himself under the protection of a shaikh—the Shaikh of Kerak—and for the third time was betrayed. Although he swore on the head of his son to protect Burckhardt, the shaikh promptly robbed him of most of his funds and turned him over to a guide who made off with the rest and then abandoned him. Again he was stranded in the desert without either money or a guide.’

The difference between truth, prejudice and political correctness can only be learned by the individual. But Burckhardt’s writings from two centuries ago and the contributions from many contemporary authors frame a window of understanding for that landscape and the humans who have called that desert their home.

Maps: Moths to Fire

…or…mystique richesse?

Is mystique the Empty Quarter landscape magnet for Western culture? If so, then how…why?

How could a place, a landscape where cultures of India and Africa have interlaced for millennia be…empty?

How can there be an Arabian Peninsula landscape virtually untouched by Islam these last 1400 Hegira years?

And before Islam, how in the Empty Quarter can there be long lost whisperings…mystical names…unwritten sagas…still emerging from those sands…

But is this Empty Quarter mystique nothing more than a moth to fire?

For me it is unimaginable how non-Muslim foreigners came in search of this landscape…a foreign land…a foreign culture…a foreign religion…a foreign language…what to speak of…NO GPS…NO TELECOM…NO WEATHER REPORTS…

Everytime I think about our ‘modern technological tethers’, the real time information resources to which we are all accustomed, I am amazed by the strength and will power of these earlier explorers…and that gives their writing all the more gravitas.

Maps: SW Asia

For a visitor not familiar with the cultures of Southwest Asia, this map is a lame short hand code for that trans-dimensional experience.

Southwest Asia is where the first time visitor, having cultural roots in Western Europe or North America, and now having both feet firmly on the ground of this unusual cultural landscape, finds, for personal consumption, placed on the table before him, a plate with four pounds of sweets that all are just too sweet…and then, from the vague mist of too much sweetness, the visitor may realize…the game is on.

The Southwest Asia background geopolitics establish the contemporary context for the large construction projects in the Arabian Peninsula region–the region in which the Empty Quarter and my landscape story, The 23 Club, take place.

Maps: Arabia Felix

Maps are fun. Maps are codes–landscape codes that blend natural and cultural geographies.

Maps and cartography…other ways of taking landscape journeys.

The Empty Quarter is the central landscape influence of my landscape story, The 23 Club.

Arabia Felix

Arabia Felix…happy? Why?

Felix is the only portion of the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula to receive regular rainfall. The tail ends of Indian sub-continent monsoon cyclones push into the mountains and valleys of the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

The valleys of Yemen have fertile soil and dependable rainfall–thus, felix, Arabia Felix.

Atlantis Dubai 2008

Some readers wonder how my experience in landscape architecture moved me into writing landscape stories. This video tells the story of the pace and intensity of a large project I worked on in Dubai from 2006-2008.

The project, Atlantis the Palm Dubai is sandwiched between The Gulf (aka The Persian Gulf) and the Empty Quarter (aka Rub al Khali). The intensity of both of these overwhelming landscape features is a 24/7/365 experience that makes every human seek shelter…seek a dream.