(Editor's Note: The Al Ain chapter has made several trips
to Jebel Shams and the Cliff Walk. Reports of two of these trips
can be seen here
Geologically this excursion offers the best place to examine
the contact between the Arabian platform sequence of Ac and the
overlying rocks of Supersequence B with the intervening sediments
of the Aruma Group (Ar). The Hawasina is dominated by widespread
exposures of Oman Exotics.
Oman Exotics (Ex)
Oman Exotics are so called because their lithology can not be
matched laterally to any of the adjacent rocks. They are not only
most abundant here but include the largest Exotic ever documented
from the Tethys Ocean. It is about 35km long, 2Okm at its maximum
width and reaches a height of 2960m. It is known as Jabal Kawr.
It forms mountains on the left hand side of the road as you drive
up Wadi Ghul. These exotics consist of shallow marine limestone
deposited in Mid-Permian to Triassic times and include coral,
crinoids and stromatolites (algae) along with many other shallow
marine fossils. They were possibly deposited above submarine
volcanoes (vol) that formed a ridge separating the proximal basin
of Hamrat Duru from the distal Umar basin in the Hawasina basin.
They are often seen in the field underlain by volcanic rocks such
as basalts and trachytes. They were over-ridden by hot ophiolite
and most Exotics are metamorphosed to marble.
The syntectonic Aruma Group is best examined in this excursion. As
described in the geological background (part 1) it includes a
mélange unit, the Muti conglomerates (Mu) and Fiqa shales. The
latter two are well represented here and combined as (Mu) in the
map. The conglomerates are made up of rounded to sub rounded
fragments derived from the top of the Hajar Super Group. They are
found between the top of the autochthonous Supersequence (Ac) and
the base of the allochthonous Supersequence (B).
Set the odometer to zero at the turn off to Wadi Ghul by the petrol
station about 12km from the main Nizwa-Bahla road.
||The journey starts with numerous Exotic limestones (Ex) on the left side of the track.
||On the left you will see a large block of the shelf sequence within a shale unit possibly
belonging to the Aruma Group (Mu). On the right the dip slope of the Jabal Akhdar flank has been
affected by well-developed fracture systems.
||On the left of the road you will see the Jabal Kawr Exotics.
||At 5.7km cross and examine some of the volcanics (vol) underneath them. They are mainly basalts
and have been mapped recently as Misfa Formation. These belong to the Kawr Group. These basalts are also found as sills
between the limestone and dolomite of the Jabal Kawr and Misht Exotics.
They may in places occur as a volcanic breccia -- a rock made up of angular volcanic fragments
cemented together. Such breccia can be seen on the left.
||Wadi Ghul Dam.
||A fork to the right takes you to the new Ghul village.
||Wadi Nakhr and Ghul villages. On the right of Wadi Nakhr stands the
new village of Ghul while on the left are two old deserted
villages. The houses were built on the dip slope of the Natih
Formation (Nt) and it is difficult to see them from the road –
particularly those up the slope to the left. Here, on the left
you will see the shale of the syntectonic sediments (Mu). They do
not react with 5% hydrochloric acid (HCI) and are therefore
non-calcareous, indicating a relatively deep sea environment.
Climbers or experienced hikers may be interested to know that
they can follow the stream up Wadi Nakhr from Ghul village to
reach the top of the Grand Canyon.
||A view of the contact between
the grey carbonate rocks representing the top of the Hajar
Super Group of Supersequence Ac on your right and the Muti
Formation (Mu) on the left. This can also be seen at 19km.
||On the left is a
blue road sign (18km). Here you can see what is known as a
hardground, an iron-rich crust on top of the Natih (Nt). This
can be examined at a village built on the contact at 19.3km. The
hardground is a reddish zone formed at the sea bottom, usually a
few cm thick which is lithified to form a hardened surface,
often encrusted and bored by organisms. It implies a very slow
rate of sedimentation (non-deposition) between the platform
carbonates (Ac) and the syntectonic sediments (Mu). This is the
period during which the supersequence B made the journey to
||Muti Conglomerate (Mu) on your
left. These are grey-colored conglomerates with fragments
derived mainly from shelf sequence rocks. Individual fragments
contain the prealveolina fossils (white elongated fossils with
circular or ring-like structures described in Wadi Muaydin).
This fossil is abundant in the Natih Formation near the Grand
||Large blocks of the Natih
are seen within the syntectonic Muti sediments indicating that
it was broken and re-deposited as blocks in the syntectonic
This stop is followed by a
sharp double bend in the track with a village on your right.
The odometer reading of 21km almost coincides with the blue
road sign (20km).
||Take the left
fork. The right hand track will take you to the village of
Sabayib which is again on the contact between the light grey
Natih Formation of the carbonates and the syntectonic Aruma
||More grey blocks of
Natih within the Fiqa shales and at 24.9km and 26.4km are
blocks of Muti Conglomerates within the shales.
Driving on the ocean floor
||Fork. Take the right turn
heading to Jabal Shams. The left hand track leads to Misfat Al
Khawatir. Between 27.3km and 30.1km the road was constructed on
the flat shelf carbonate itself. Now you are actually driving
on what was a sea bottom almost 90 million years ago when the
deposition of the Natih Formation ceased.
||Here on the right there is a highly-cleaved clay bed
within the Natih Formation in which the cleavage is steep and
Dar Al Ghubira view point
||Fork. The left turn will take you to a small village with some green
terraces called Dar Al Ghubira. Stop and walk around looking back
towards the SW for a spectacular view. There in the far distance
to the right is the Jabal Misht Exotic. It is a cuesta (an
asymmetric ridge with a gentle slope on one side and steep slope
on the other). On the left is the mountain of Jabal Kawr whilst
in the foreground is Jabal Misfa. The Hawasina deep oceanic
sediments of the Hamrat Duru Group form the intervening dark low
hills. Wadi Al Ayn and the road leading to Ibri can be seen with
the aid of binoculars. Go back to the track and continue up
towards Jabal Shams.
||In front of you is white Exotic
limestone underlain by dark volcanic rocks. At 31.3km is the
Natih formation on your right and you are now driving almost
along its contact with the Aruma. Continue driving uphill
ignoring a right junction at 34km leading to Dawarat Al Gheil.
You should pass a blue road sign (34km) at odometer reading
||Ignore a left junction to Dar Al Sawda.
||On the right is multi-colored orange and
green shale displaying tight folds.
||Take the right junction leading to the Grand Canyon signposted
'Al Khateem 8km' and 'Heil 4km'.
The Grand Canyon of Oman
||At 38km you will have the first glimpse of
the cliffs of the Grand Canyon.
||At 40.1km the track leads out onto a plateau and then touches the
edge of the Grand Canyon on the left at 40.9km. The Canyon is
undoubtedly one of the most impressive and beautiful land forms’
in the country. It is in some ways more impressive than the
famous Grand Canyon in the U.S.A. because here one feels the
1000m vertical drop to Wadi Nakhr below. The origin of the Canyon
has provoked intense speculation. Was it formed due to sudden
uplift or as a result of relatively slow rate of cutting down by
erosion or is it a collapsed cave?
At its deepest it offers a unique opportunity to see the top of
the Jurassic and the whole Cretaceous sequence of rocks. They are
from bottom to top as follows. The dark grey rocks at the base
belong to the Jurassic Sahtan (Sa) followed by the base of the
Cretaceous, a light color Rayda Formation (R) overlain by the
Salil Formation (S). The remaining sequence belongs to the Kahmah
Group with the Shams Formation (Sh) as a dark grey cliff-forming
You are standing on top of the Natih Formation (Nt) and the thin
underlying beds belong to the Nahr Umr Formation (Nr). Walk
around looking for the large oval foraminifera prealveolina,
rudists, which are ubiquitous in this area, as well as corals,
gastropods and many shells.
There is a very thin ridge in the middle of the Canyon. There are
two wadis to the NE of this ridge. The further is called by the
local people Wadi Masirat and the other is called Wadi Bimah. The
third wadi close to you is called Al Wadi Al Sagheer which means
the 'small wadi'. Half way down the sheer cliff to your left are
terraces and a small village known as Saab Bani Khamsi. Local
people call it Saab Al Khamamsah after the Khamamsah tribe. There
are 11 houses, some of which are padlocked. A cave in the middle
of the second dark limestone cliff can be seen. Local people
believe that it could accommodate about a thousand people. You
can walk down to the village and its terraces from Al Khateem
village at the end of the drivable track and examine one of the
most impressive of ancient engineering works. Some of the
terraces were constructed on an overhang with a sheer drop of
hundreds of meters.