The 'Abode of Silence', or the Empty Quarter, covers almost 655,000 sq km and evokes all that was romantic and forbidden for European adventurers, such as British explorer Wilfred Thesiger who famously crossed it. The Bedouin simply call it 'the sands', and its dunes, which can reach up to 300m high, form long chains of sculpted ridges that always look as if they're missing the silhouette of a camel caravan.
The dunes are known to move up to 30m a year and are home to a surprising amount of wildlife. This includes the Arabian wolf, sand cat, red fox, desert lynx, cape hare and spiny tailed lizard. Seeing any of these, however, is extremely rare.
It rains less than 35mm a year out here, and is one of the most unforgiving places on earth. It is not somewhere amateurs should explore alone. Even the most experienced desert drivers have encountered difficulties in the unfamiliar terrain, and you should only be heading into the sands alongside an experienced guide or tour group like Haya Tours from Riyadh.
The edge of the great desert is about three hours' drive south from the capital. Route 10 takes you to the tiny agricultural town of Layla, which is seen as a waystation for the desert. You can explore the desert from this point with a 4WD, but be sure to bring all provisions with you as there is very little in Layla. If you want to spend the night and reach the more scenic dunes further in, arrange this with a tour company or an experienced tour guide.