Nomadic Arab Bedouins have lived in the Arabian Peninsula for thousands of years. It’s difficult to correctly count the number of Bedouins today. Estimates of the total regional population ranges from 4 million to as many as 25 million. In Saudi Arabia, approximately 2 million people identify as Bedouin. Today, many divide their time between a nomadic, desert-dweller existence and an urban existence.
For those who continue to live nomadically, modern conveniences, while available, are often avoided. One way of life that Bedouins keep pure is their ability to navigate the desert with little or no assistance. In fact, where modern GPS devices fail, Bedouin guides are enlisted to help navigate the seemingly featureless deserts.
Using the sun by day and constellations by night, the four cardinal directions are easily established. The sun sets in the west and rises in the east. By night, Ursa Major’s pointer stars Dubhe and Merak direct to Polaris, the North Star.
The Bedouins’ wayfinding tools also include the ability to read sand dunes. Desert transverse sand dunes form at 90-degree angles to the prevailing wind. If the prevailing wind is blowing from the east, dunes run north to south. Crescent-shaped barchan dunes are formed the same way, with the horns pointing away from the prevailing wind.
Luckily for Morgan, his desert guides were skilled navigators. “Our Saudi guides drove us well outside of Riyadh to the middle of the desert in old Defenders. I had no idea where we were. All of a sudden we were at a base camp and they had tents for us. Around sunset we stepped away to get these shots of the beautiful unspoiled dunes.”