Category Archives: geology

Wadi Al Helo

Wadi al Hilo is one of Sharjah’s several enclaves. Just off the old Kalba Road, the valley lies on the old caravan trade route and has applied to be listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site as part of the Gateway to the Trucial States.

One of three watchtowers up on the hilltops overlooking many of the ruins.

Helo, as you may know, means sweet, so it is called The Sweet Valley. This is mainly attributed to the sweet water in the area which has made the land very fertile and particularly good for growing fruit. Farms can still be seen in the area growing different fruits and dates as well as fodder for animals such as goats.

It is also one of the many protected areas in the Emirate of Sharjah due to its biodiversity. It is home to many species of birds, rodents and reptiles as well as fish.

But Wadi al Helo is most famous for its rich history. It has ruins, graves and other archaeological sites from several periods and evidence from digs points to it having been more or less continuously inhabited for at least 10,000 years.

Sites and relics have been carbon-dated as far back as the Neolithic Period with dates given as at least 8000 BC. Later sites indicate settled life in the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pre-Islamic and Islamic Ages.

A copper mining workshop dating back to 3000 BC was discovered during one of several archaeological digs. The larger area was one of the important copper mining centres and it was exported to Mesopotamia. Some relics can be seen in Al Hisn Museum, Khor Fakkan. And if you look closely at the surrounding mountains, you may still see copper veins running through them.

Copper ingot found at Wadi Al Helo, displayed at Al Hisn Museum, Khor Fakkan.

Rock art of people, animals, symbols and inscriptions was also discovered in the area dating back to different periods.

Credit: Michele Ziolkowski, Rock on Art: Petrogylph sites in the UAE, 2007

The mosque, which has been restored, and the village nearby are around 120 years old. The main house had a courtyard and a staircase and was surrounded by about twenty other houses as well as stores, fields, tobacco drying rooms, cemeteries, wells and the nearby watchtower. This indicates that they were fairly well off.

On one side, on top of the hill, you can see three watchtowers in a row which safeguarded the area. If you’re fit it’s a fairly easy climb up from the road in good weather and you can enjoy the view over the valley. There are also hiking groups which run organised trips.

You might see goats on a field trip too.

Park near the fort and explore the ruins from different ages nearby and then as you drive further up, you will pass many other structures on your way. It just goes on and on! The road itself is not paved, but it is a firm surface with grit and small stones. It is also one-way so you may find yourself backing up if you meet someone en route. Watch out for goats suddenly appearing on the road. As always, make sure you’re prepared for going off the beaten track.

What could I combine it with for a day trip?

Masfoot

Lying on plains between the mountains, Masfoot has beautiful views and lots of fresh, clean air!

Head towards Masfoot Fort and most of the places mentioned here are on that side of town. (That’s the Hatta side so it’s an easy stopover if you’re going to or from there). The fort itself stands atop a hill and although it’s not currently open to go inside, it’s worth going for the great view over the valley. On the hill opposite is a watchtower.

The town is an enclave of Ajman and a farming area. There are plans to turn it into a tourist resort but for now, it’s lovely and quiet. During the winter, visit the lake at Masfoot Dam.

Masfoot Walk is a paved walkway from the dam through the lower part of the town and ends near the fort. A waterway has been created which is partly lake and partly stream. There are lots of benches along the walkway to enjoy the view. One area is sheltered. The upper part of the Walk is lit with street lamps whilst the lower half is lit with lamp garlands.

Halfway down the Walk (and road to the Fort), you’ll see a watchtower on a mound and a cafe called Prestige. Its a great place to sit and relax, take in the view, listen to the sounds of the birds and enjoy a fresh juice. They also have lots of desserts and fresh drinks and some savoury options too like ‘Salt Crepe” which is very tasty and burgers. They are also very reasonably priced.

Much harder to find is the Bin Sultan Mosque, built in 1815. It is in the farming area at the foot of the mountains on the opposite side of the fort. It was built using gypsum, clay and palm fronds as so many buildings were. It has been restored and is still in use today.

Both Al Warqa Park (Monday and Wednesday for ladies only) and Al Muzeera Ladies Park are well kept and have play areas and facilities.

If you have a interest in rock formations like me, you can see many interesting ones. Drive along the main road in the direction of the Oman border and Madam for some limestone formations which are completely different to the main Hajar mountains behind. The last photo shows the contrast between the two. Other rocks like the ones in the middle below are dotted around. The first one is at the entrance to Masfoot from the main road from Hatta side.

If you want to sit somewhere remote for a picnic, there are wide open plains at the foot of the mountains near the Oman border (not the border crossing, further south.)

To get to Masfoot, GCC nationals can take the road from Al Madam to Masfoot, but other passport holders need to take the Maleha/Kalba Rd. It is signposted from there.

If you’re looking for a place that offers tranquility rather than organised activities, this is the place for you.

Places to visit during school breaks

Some parents have been asking for ideas for what to do with their children during the upcoming school break and so I have compiled a list and sorted it into categories and a lot of them are educational. Some are repeated as they fit in more than one category. Those that I have written blog posts about include a link. Please remember I don’t cover anywhere in Dubai or Abu Dhabi as they tend to get enough coverage already. Also as this is a general list, there are some busier places you may want to avoid at this current time.

(The prices were correct at my last visit. If you find them to be different, please let me know. )

Science-related

Transport-related

Archeology/history-related

Nature/plant-related

  • Botanical Museum, Sharjah Desert Park 15dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Islamic Gardens, Sharjah Desert Park 15dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Mangrove forests, Ajman, UAQ, RAK
  • Noor Island adults 35, child 20, butterfly house 15 dhs extra (combined ticket 2 for 1 in Entertainer)
  • Walk through Old Residential Village, Wadi Shees

Geology/natural history-related

  • Buhais Geology Park, closed Tuesday
  • Natural History Museum, Sharjah Desert Park, 5dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Discover Mleiha – Children’s workshops on fossils, paleontology – book in advance

Art

  • Sharjah Art Museum, free
  • Sharjah Art Foundation
  • Bait al Naboodah, free
  • Calligraphy Museum, Heart of Sharjah
  • The Rain Room art installation Adults 25dhs Children 6-12 15dhs, under 5s go free.
  • Arabic Architecture – Sharjah government buildings in Al Khan, Government House Roundabout, Quran Roundabout, University City, Sharjah, Sharjah Municipality Building, Sharjah Mosque.

Just for fun!

  • Al Rafisah Dam – lake, play areas, picnic areas, nature, ducks, pedalos, kayaks, etc starting from 30 dhs.
  • Khor Fakkan Corniche
  • Kalba Corniche Park
  • Kayaking – Ajman Marina, RAK, KIte Beach UAQ, Khor Kalba
  • Al Majaz Waterfront – restaurants and cafes, more happening 4pm onwards – mini golf, splash park, boats, car rides (pretend old style cars), multiple play areas, jogging track, park
  • Al Qasba Canal – restaurants and cafes, paid play areas, occasional festivals
  • Ajman Marina – play areas, boat rides, restaurants and cafes, beach, caravan site, birdwatching, golf
  • Al Suwaidi Pearl Farm with boat trip, Al Rams, Ras al Khaimah 300 dhs, children 200 (?) dhs
  • Discover Mleiha – dune-bashing, horse-riding, UniMog tour, workshops, stargazing and more (all need to be booked in advance)

Don’t forget, if you enjoy my page, please follow me on here, Facebook or Instagram and share with your friends!

Wadi Ghalila

The picturesque valley of Wadi Ghalila lies not far from the Oman border and is surrounded by the beautiful rock formations of that area, in particular the beautiful striped mountains with layers of varying colours and shades. Some almost look like paintings rather than a natural work of art. Look out for other formations too.

In the last three photos above, notice the different rock formation in the first two and the huge boulders that have fallen down in the last photo.

Following the recent rain, you can find beautiful fields of purple flowers to walk through or sit and picnic in. Within these fields you’ll also find remnants of old buildings constructed out of rocks fallen (or possibly also brought down) from the mountains. Look out for butterflies.

As you drive around the valley, you’ll come across many old buildings, most of which would have been stores for grain, etc and some animal enclosures. There is the odd house around too. Look carefully on the mountainsides for farms and houses. These are only accessible by climbing, but, of course, are all private property.

Can you spot the stone building on here?

The road to the dam has many tiny hamlets on either side of the road with both new villas and old houses and farm buildings. At the time of writing, the dam itself was dry and there is work ongoing at the site, but just past the bridge over the dam on the right, there is a stairway to a hike on the right. Although the first part has actual steps made by the locals, it soon turns into a path and both parts are scattered with loose rock, so care and decent footwear is advised. It leads to the Jebel Jais road and affords a view of several wadis from the top. More information here.

Further down the valley is the Stairway to Heaven, but you’ll have to walk from the road to the beginning of the hike. It is by no means an easy walk or climb and should only be attempted by experienced mountain climbers with appropriate gear and in a group. There have been multiple deaths, injuries and lucky escapes on the mountains, so don’t take this lightly. I’m guessing the helipad near the dam is partly for the mountain rescue helicopters. There are several trekking companies who guide people on this route.

Lastly, you can find quiet area to pitch a tent, either at the foot of the mountains or up the mountains themselves if you go on a hike.

Have fun but be sure to leave the valley in its original beautiful state and leave no trace of your visit behind!

Wadi Shees

Wadi Shees nestles between the Hajar Mountains and a drive down can lead you in different directions, but all to the Omani enclave of Madha.

The wadi is now much more accessible from the new Khor Fakkan road. Coming from the west, look out for the large sign at the side of the road marking the entrance to the Khor Fakkan area of Sharjah emirate (Welcome to Khor Fakkan – you can’t miss it.) Take the next exit to Shees and drive carefully as it has lots of steep slopes, bends, blind peaks and corners and it turns into one track. If you are coming from Khor Fakkan, the exit is straight after Al Ghezeer Tunnel.

On your left, you can stop at Shees pools. The first small pool is drinking water but further down there are pools where you can paddle or swim or even dive when the water is deep enough. You can go through the pool to the back where there is a narrow entrance to the next pools, but you cannot see them from the road. You can picnic at the same area although that spot gets busy at the weekend and on holidays.

Further down still is the old residential area of Shees, which is well worth a visit if you can manage the climb up a hundred or so steps. Walk through the village and notice the intricate underground falaj system for irrigating the farms and the mosque that was earlier the house where Sheikh Sultan used to stay when he visited. Continue through the farms, enjoy the view over the mountains, learn about farming and the biodiversity in the area from the information signs along the way and look out for trees with interesting shapes and wonderful roots growing down rock faces. The path will eventually take you back down to the road where you can walk back up to your car.

Further down the road, pass Shees Health Centre and Sharjah Co-op (preferably on the tourist bypass road) and then you can only be in awe at the deep wadi you’re driving through and the huge rocks jutting out that look like they might fall on you at any moment!

Look out for goats higher up climbing over precarious edges with the greatest of ease. Can you spot the baby goat in the photo below?

When you receive a text message from Ooredoo, you know you’ve crossed into Omani territory. When you reach the fork, you can turn left up the single track road up the hill or right through the farms. There’s also an option to go straight. All roads, especially straight, need a four wheel drive to go down and come out at the other end but you can go left or right a bit further without one. If you turn left, the road will take you to Al Nahwa, an exclave of Sharjah inside the Omani enclave. The road takes you through mountains, open plains and lush oases. Carrying on further still, you will come out in Mirbah, Fujairah, which is just south of Khor Fakkan.

You will lose signal as you get deeper whichever road you take so make sure you’re prepared for any emergencies and then sit back and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

(Note: Don’t confuse Wadi Shees with Wadi Shie which is further into Khor Fakkan. You will also see it written Chees on the Oman side. There is no border point as it is surrounded by the UAE. )

Rock formations around Taween

If you are mesmerised by rock formations like me, head out to Taween on the Dibba Rd E87. Take the turn off to Taween on the side of the road coming from Dibba.

(If you enter 25.5307729,56.1166536, it will take you roughly to the start of the road.)

You can follow the road round to take you back out onto the E87.

The rocks here are all part of the Dibba Zone and if you’re interested in geology, you can read more here.