The Sand Dunes of Rub al Khali


Rubʿ al-Khali, (literally “Empty Quarter” in Arabic), also spelled Al-Rabʿ al-Khali, is a vast desert in the southern Arabian Peninsula, covering about 250,000 square miles (650,000 square km) in a structural basin that takes in substantial portions of Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. It is the largest area of continuous sand in the world. It holds roughly half as much sand as the Sahara, which is 15 times the Empty Quarter’s size but composed mostly of graveled plains and rocky outcrops.

The desert is 1,000 kilometres long, and about 500 kilometres wide, and its topography is varied. In the west the elevation is as high as 2,000 feet (610 metres) and the sand is fine and soft, while in the east the elevation drops to 600 feet (183 metres) with sand dunes, salt flats, and sand sheets. The terrain is covered with sand dunes with heights up to 250 metres (820 ft), interspersed with gravel and gypsum plains.


Aerial image of the sand dunes of Rub’ al Khali.


The image above was taken on May 16, 2011, by the crew of the International Space Station. Parallel rows of salmon-pink and white alternate to create a rippling pattern. White salt flats, known as sebkhas or sabkhas, separate the dunes. These salt-encrusted plains vary in hardness, in some places creating a surface strong enough to drive a vehicle over, in other places disappearing into sand.

The orientation of the linear dunes lies at a right angle to northwesterly trade winds that originate in Iraq, known as the Shamal winds. Secondary barchan (crescent-shaped) dunes and star dunes—with crests originating from a single point and stretching in several directions—can form atop the linear dunes when southwesterly winds blow during the monsoon season (Kharif winds). The long, linear dunes begin to break up into isolated large star dunes to the northeast and east (image right). This is likely the result of wind pattern interactions and of changes in the sand supply.

The Empty Quarter was so named because the hyper arid climate and difficulty of travel through the dunes has long discouraged permanent settlement within the region. The first documented journeys made by Westerners were those of Bertram Thomas in 1931 and St. John Philby in 1932. With daytime temperatures reaching 55 degrees Celsius, and dunes taller than 330 meters, the desert may be one of the most forbidding places on Earth.

There is however, evidence of human activity at Rub’ al Khali dating from 3,000 to 2,000 years ago, including chipped flint tools, but no actual human remains have been found. Several fossil remains of animals such as hippopotamus, water buffalo, and long-horned cattle also indicates the presence of water once in the distant past.




Photo credit: NASA

















Pittsburgh, PA.,: A very Hilly City

Being from Winnipeg, one of the flattest cities in the world, hilly cities have always intrigued me. I always thought San Francisco was the U.S. city with the most hills, but I discovered that Pittsburgh is even hillier than the California city.

The city of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, the United States, is located over an unruly terrain of hills, hollows, valleys and three intersecting rivers. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, when Pittsburgh was growing as a coal and steel town, factory workers built houses in the hills rising above the flat riverbanks that were lined with factories. In order to commute to work, city officials and residents built staircases along the hillsides, originally of wood and later with concrete that ran up and down throughout the city.

Revered American journalist Ernie Pyle famously wrote about the city in 1937:

Pittsburgh is undoubtedly the cockeyedest city in the United States. Physically, it is absolutely irrational. It must have been laid out by a mountain goat… I’ve flown over it, and driven all around it, and studied maps of it, and I hardly know one end of Pittsburgh from the other… There’s just one balm — people who live here can’t find their way around, either.








The steps

Many of the city’s neighborhoods are steeply sloped with two-lane roads. More than a quarter of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods make reference to “hills,” “heights,” or other similar indicators by name.

The city has some 712 sets of outdoor pedestrian stairs with 44,645 treads and 24,090 vertical feet including hundreds of paper streets composed entirely of stairs and many other steep streets with stairs for sidewalks. Many provide vistas of the Pittsburgh area while attracting hikers and fitness walkers.


Population (2013)
 • City 305,841
 • Rank US: 62nd
 • Density 5,540/sq mi (2,140/km2)
 • Urban 1,733,853 (US: 27th)
 • Metro 2,360,867 (US: 22nd)
 • CSA 2,659,937 (US: 20th)
 • GMP $131.3 billion (23rd)


















Route 66

Route 66 motorbike riders.

U.S. Route 66 or U.S. Highway 66 (US 66 or Route 66), also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in the United States, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). It was recognized in popular culture by both the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” and the Route 66 television series, which aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964. In John Steinbeck’s classic American novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), the road “Highway 66” symbolized escape and loss.


US 66 served as a primary route for those who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and the road supported the economies of the communities through which it passed. People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System.


American pop-culture artists publicized US 66 and the experience, through song and television. Bobby Troup wrote “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66”, and the highway lent its name to a TV series in the 1960s.

The end of the road at the Santa Monica pier




The World’s Southernmost City

The southern part of South America is fractured into a number of small islands collectively known as Tierra del Fuego. Located roughly between 52° and 55° latitudes, these islands constitute some of the most distant landmasses on earth measured from the equator.

The region is sparsely populated, but there are two major population centers here—Ushuaia and Río Grande—both located on Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, the largest island of the archipelago. This island is shared by Argentina and Chile, and while the Chilean part is geographically larger, the Argentinean side is more populous. Both Ushuaia and Río Grande are similarly sized, but Ushuaia is located further south, a position that has allowed it to claim the title of the “southernmost city in the world,” although it is not the only town who claims so.

world's southermost cities

Ushuaia is the administrative capital of Tierra del Fuego, an industrial port and a tourist hub. Almost all tourist trips to Antarctica start from here. People from all over the world fly in to Ushuaia, disembark and immediately proceed to board one of the cruise ships that line the dock, for the voyage south. Few actually stop to explore the city.

Ushuaia has a sizable population of 71,000 and the infrastructure to call itself a city. There is a settlement called Puerto Williams further south, but it has a population of only 2,800. Puerto Williams is the capital of the Chilean Antarctic Province, and it too claims the title of world’s southernmost city. But because of the town’s small size and population, that claim is not taken too seriously.

southermost city Ushuaia


Ushuaia’s claim is challenged by Punta Arenas, the capital city of Chile’s southernmost region, Magallanes and Antartica Chilena. Punta Arenas is among the largest cities in the entire Patagonian Region with a population of 127,000, as of 2012. The city is located north of Ushuaia, but Chilean authorities claim that Punta Arenas is a truer city than Ushuaia being vastly larger than Ushuaia both in population and area. Ushuaia is only 23 square kilometers, while Punta Arenas is more than seventeen thousand square kilometers. This makes Punta Arenas a strong candidate to the title of the “world’s southernmost city”.

southermost city Punta Arenas


If size is not a criteria, than Puerto Toro is the world’s southernmost settlement having a permanent population of 36—mostly fishermen and their families. It is the only such community on Earth that is situated below the 55th parallel south. It is also the only Chilean locality and port with coasts and waters belonging to the Atlantic Ocean.

Puerto Toro was founded in 1892 during the Tierra del Fuego Gold Rush and was once one of the most important towns in the region. Once the gold prospect diminished, people moved out and Puerto Toro became a small hamlet.

southermost city Puerto Toro


National Geographic Magic

Sheep in Serbia transported to the market in the backseat.

Skydiving over the Pyramids.



Monument Valley Utah

Tarpon feeding


At first glance it looks like San Francisco, but it really is Vancouver, British Columbia.

Coming in to land in Ecuador

Newborn calf in Nebraska

Wave Rock Australia

Crni Kal Viaduct Slovenia

Appears to be a glacier. It’s actually sand dunes in China.

Buddha cave in Myanmar

Bruarfoss Falls Iceland

Tokyo apartments

Wyoming badlands

Covering of snow in the Grand Canyon

Is Canadian province of Saskatchewan named after Sasquatches?

Saskatchewan not named after sasquatches, residents insist


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Saskatchewanians are eager to correct the record after an NBA announcer insisted this winter that their province is named for its abundance of sasquatches.

The Fox Sports announcer made the comment while pointing out that Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles is the first person from the province to play in the NBA.

“That region’s known for being home to a lot of sasquatches,” the announcer said, adding, “that’s what it’s named after.”

For the record, Saskatchewan comes from a Cree word for “swift flowing river.”

And as Manitoba sasquatch expert Chris Rutkowski points out, there are far fewer bigfoot sightings in the Land of the Living Skies than other regions like the Pacific Northwest.

Washington has had the most of any state or province, with 617, according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Association. British Columbia has had the most in Canada, 130. Saskatchewan has had a mere seven.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall laughed when he heard the news. “We might have more Elvis sightings,” he said.

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere also found it amusing, but saw an upside: “Now we’re going have a bunch of people that are going to come here wanting to see the sasquatch.”

Saskatchewan Tourism’s Aviva Kohen seemed more annoyed by the other things the Fox Sports announcer rattled off about her province, including that it’s cold and flat.

“That’s a myth I run into quite a bit in marketing and a myth I try to dispel.”


Sasquatch sightings in Canada



State # of
Alaska 22 1-2014 1-2013
Alabama 98 3-2016 7-2016
Arkansas 104 5-2019 11-2018
Arizona 84 10-2017 6-2016
California 441 4-2019 11-2018
Colorado 124 10-2018 8-2018
Connecticut 17 6-2019 11-2018
Delaware 5 9-2013 11-2012
Florida 325 4-2019 11-2018
Georgia 132 8-2017 1-2017
Iowa 76 4-2018 6-2018
Idaho 87 12-2018 11-2018
Illinois 298 4-2018 9-2017
Indiana 78 11-2015 8-2015
Kansas 46 3-2019 8-2017
Kentucky 113 1-2019 10-2018
Louisiana 43 8-2017 1-2017
Massachusetts 35 3-2018 10-2017
Maryland 35 11-2015 5-2014
Maine 17 12-2017 2-2017
Michigan 219 5-2019 6-2018
Minnesota 73 8-2018 7-2018
Missouri 148 6-2019 4-2018
Mississippi 23 4-2013 2-2013
State # of
Montana 47 1-2019 5-2016
North Carolina 97 4-2019 10-2015
North Dakota 6 12-2010 8-2005
Nebraska 15 1-2019 5-2018
New Hampshire 16 10-2017 7-2016
New Jersey 70 4-2018 6-2053
New Mexico 42 3-2014 10-2013
Nevada 9 4-2009 2-2005
New York 109 5-2019 8-2018
Ohio 290 2-2019 4-2018
Oklahoma 99 5-2019 10-2018
Oregon 250 12-2018 6-2018
Pennsylvania 118 6-2019 3-2018
Rhode Island 5 12-2011 11-2011
South Carolina 52 1-2014 2-2012
South Dakota 17 8-2011 6-2008
Tennessee 100 5-2019 8-2018
Texas 238 5-2019 2-2018
Utah 70 7-2016 7-2009
Virginia 78 4-2019 4-2019
Vermont 9 10-2017 12-2016
Washington 666 6-2019 12-2018
Wisconsin 99 1-2019 7-2018
West Virginia 102 2-2019 7-2017
Wyoming 28 5-2010 3-2010

Sea Stack formations along the Pacific coast

A strange geological formation occurs along the Pacific coast of the northwest United States.  They are found especially along the Washington and Oregon coasts.  Islands that pop out of the ocean and are particularly tall.  They make for picturesque scenery.

Sea stacks are found around the world.  A different type of stack is the Flower Pot Rocks along the coast of the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.

A stack is a geological landform consisting of a steep and often vertical column or columns of rock in the sea near a coast, isolated by erosion.  Stacks are formed through processes of coastal geomorphology, which are entirely natural. Time, wind and water are the only factors involved in the formation of a stack.  They are formed when part of a headland is eroded by hydraulic action, which is the force of the sea or water crashing against the rock. The force of the water weakens cracks in the headland, causing them to later collapse, forming free-standing stacks and even a small island.












Flower Pot Rocks in New Brunswick