Click On Photos To Enlarge

Then Click On Back Arrow To Return To This Page


spacer I worked in Saudi Arabia for about two years as a geophysicist on a refraction survey crew. There are two types of seismic exploration methods; refraction and reflection. The reflection method is the more common method and is what is used today to do detail mapping of an area. The refraction method was a general reconnaissance method used to survey large areas for large underground structures. I worked on one of the last two refraction crews in the world for oil exploration. Reflection sends shock waves down that bounce off a layer of rock and comes back to the recording device at the same angle it went down. Distances for reflection surveys are very short. Refraction sends a shock wave down that travels along a layer of rock and then comes back to the recording device on the surface. Reflection surveys can be used to map many layers. Refraction can only be used to map one layer. Only the first arrivals can be used in refraction surveys. In Saudi Arabia, ARAMCO (Arabian American Oil Company) was only interested in large underground structures. They used the refraction surveys to find them, then used the reflection surveys to do a detail map of the structures. Reflection data could be processed on a computer as digital data by using many types of software in order to refine the data. Refraction data could not be processed on a computer because only the initial arriving data was used.

The crew I worked on was working in the middle of the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) which is the large desert in Southern Saudi Arabia. I lived in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and would spend three weeks in the desert and three weeks in town. After two or three trips, I would take trips out of the country for R and R in some place like Greece, UK or Lebanon. We got a trip to Lebanon for every trip to the desert. I could save them up and go further if I wanted to go to some other country. A few times we were working very close to the Southern border of Saudi Arabia in an area where the borders were not well defined. We had to be careful as to what we said on the radios so the other countries would not know we were close to the border. There was a situation years before when a stratigraphic drilling crew working for ARAMCO was near the border. The other country arrived and had more soldiers than the crew had with them. They told the crew they could leave, but they had to leave the drilling equipment there. It is still there.

There were two ways to get to the area we were working; airplane and truck convoy. The truck convoys could take a few weeks to get there, because they could not travel in a straight line, but had to wind around the sand dunes. Personnel always flew down along with fresh food, mail, parts and the latest movies. Sometimes if there was a religious holiday around the time we flew down, we might have to share the plane with a few live sheep. We usually flew down on a Friendship Folker, DC-3 or Twin Otter airplane. ARAMCO had quite a fleet of airplanes. We would leave Dhahran Airport on a two to three hour flight to our desert location. The DC-3 and Otter could land on sand airstrips. The Folker had to have a hard packed strip, which usually was a Subkah or salt flat in the Sand Mountains area. The crew I worked on could only work during the cooler part of the year from about September to May. In the summer, I would work for another crew that worked in the Sand Mountains Area. On the way down, we would swing out over the coast and then go inland to our desert location. When we arrived at the desert strip, there would be people waiting that would be going back to Dhahran. I would have a chance to meet with the person I was replacing and discuss the previous three weeks work. From the strip we would drive to the main camp. The camp consisted of large trailers that were air conditioned. They were all linked to the mechanics trailer that had a generator. We had 110-volt electrical system. There was a mechanics trailer where work was done on the vehicles, kitchen trailer where the meals were cooked, dining trailer where we ate, office trailer where I worked, and two sleeping trailers (four-man and ten-man). The four man trailers had individual rooms while the ten man trailer had double rooms.

The native workers lived in tents just as they did when they were Bedouins. Most of the native workers were from other countries outside of Saudi Arabia. Usually Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, India, Somalia, etc. This type of work was not the type of work the Saudi's would normally perform. We had showers but not toilets. Each truck had a roll of toilet paper on the gearshift. When we had to use the toilet, we would drive out away from camp and do our business. There was always plenty of good food to eat. ARAMCO sent the chefs off to cooking schools in Europe for training. They cooked all day long. We always had lots of baked goods to eat. We had lobster, steaks and other great food to eat. ARAMCO made sure we were happy with our food. We had houseboys to do our laundry and to make our beds. We had about three recent Hollywood movies to watch each week. The screen was on the side of the office trailer and we always had outdoor movies with popcorn. Sometimes a traveling Bedouin would stop by to watch the movie. One time there was a movie with a woman in a bikini. One of the Bedouins walked up to the screen to touch her. The workers laughed because they thought it was so funny. They knew it was only a movie and not the real thing.

I spent my days doing various things that I could do. Most of the work I did was done at night after the crew returned from the field. I would lay on the trailer top reading and trying to get a good tan. It was hard to get sun burned there. I might take a truck and go out exploring to see if I could find any traveling Bedouins in the area. I would usually take oranges and water with me to give to them so I could take photos of them. They would usually offer me camel's milk. Other times I would spend the day with one of the crew members to see what they did in the field. During the day, there were not many people in camp because they were all in the field working. Sometimes I would see a desert animal such as a fox, lizard, falcon, gazelle or camel. There was a lot of vegetation in the area. It was not all barren sand dunes.

The main area that I worked in was just gently rolling sand dunes and we could get around in trucks with special sand tires on them. The other area I worked in during the summer was called the Sand Mountains. It consisted of large sand dunes that were about 800 feet high. In between the dunes were salt flats or Subkahs. They were at sea level and had salt water underneath them. Travel in that area was by helicopter and dune buggies. The dune buggies had wheels that were about six feet high with special treads. We also used Beaver Aircraft, which were small airplanes that held about five people. In the Sand Mountains area, we had a permanent base camp and worked out of it. We had spike camps in the area for the native workers. In the other area, we would change location of the camp every few weeks to stay close to the area we were shooting at that time. Also I decided we moved often to get away from the area we had been using for a toilet. The Sand Mountain area had chemical toilets. After a few weeks in the other area, our location was getting pretty trashy. Modern environmentalist would have had a fit if they saw what we did to the desert. We left trash everywhere and tore up the topography with tire tracks and shot holes. The attitude was that the blowing sand would soon cover up what we had done. Camp moves were interesting to see the very large tractor trucks moving the trailers. Sometimes the trucks and trailers got stuck in soft areas in the sand.

More on Page Two.

spacer DC 3 used for travel to the desert.
Boarding DC 3 that will take us to the the desert from Dhahran Airport.
spacer View of Arabian Gulf on way to the desert.
View of Arabian Gulf on way to the desert.
spacer View of the Sand Mountains.
Looking out window of Friendship Folker at Sand Mountains and subkahs on way to the desert.
spacer Aerial view of main camp in Sand Mountains.
Aerial veiw of the main camp in the Sand Mountains.
spacer Sand landing strip.
Sand landing strip in desert awaiting arrival of DC3.
spacer Unloading DC3 in desert.
Unloading supplies from the DC3 upon its arrival at the desert landing strip.
spacer Approaching main camp.
Approaching the main camp from the air strip. Tents in foreground are for the native workers.
spacer Arrival at main camp.
Arrival at the main camp. From left to right is mechanical shop, kitchen, dining hall, office and four man sleeper trailers.
spacer Ten man sleeper trailer.
Ten man sleeper trailer. There are five rooms with two bunk beds in each one as well as closets and desk.
spacer Water tank trailer.
Water tank trailer that was the source of our drinking water. These were driven out to the nearest water well to be filled.
spacer Workers camp in Sand Mountains.
Workers camp in the Sand Mountains. They lived in tents near our trailers.
spacer Beaver aircraft.
Beaver aircraft used to transport workers to spike camp and out to the seismic line.
spacer Elder Bob reading in camp.
Elder Bob reading in camp. He had time to do a lot of reading during the days in the desert.
spacer Soccer game.
Friendly soccer (football) game between expatriots comprised of Brits, Yanks, Aussies and Canadians.
spacer Fellow crewmen.
Fellow crewmen at end of day waiting for supper.
spacer Fuel bladders for helicopters.
The fuel for the helicopters were stored in giant rubber bladders near the heliport.
spacer Heliport.
Heliport where the helicopters were kept, serviced and fueled.
spacer Powder dump.
The powder dump where the amonia nitrate (fertilizer) was mixed with diesel fuel. The amonia nitrate came in fifty pound burlap bags. It was poured out, mixed with the fuel and put back into the bags.
spacer Desert falcon.
Desert falcon caught by one of the native workers. It was kept for a few days, then released.
spacer Desert fox.
Desert fox caught out on the line. The expatriots fed it for a day, then they released it.
spacer Desert lizard.
Desert lizard found near the main camp. We kept it long enough to take the photos, then took it in a truck far away from camp and let it go back to the desert.
spacer Elder Bob on camp move.
We had to move the camp every few weeks to stay close to the seismic lines being shot. This was Elder Bob during a rest stop on one of the moves.
spacer Trailer high centered.
On one of the moves, a trailer got high centered while being pulled over a sand dune. It took a few other tractors to get it off the dune.
spacer Tractor and trailer stuck.
Another problem on camp moves, was getting stuck in a pocket where the sand was very fine. Normally the trucks could handle the regular sand alright, but not the hidden pockets.