Rub' Al Khali, Saudi Arabia
Location: The Middle East---take a look at a map.
Length: 250,000 square miles.
Time: 24 hour flight from Los Angeles, California to the town of Doha in the state of Qatar. Plan on at least three days of touring.
Wheeling experience: Advanced.
Points of interest: The Rub Al Khali, or empty quarter, covers more than 250,000 square miles---about the size of France----and is the most forbidding environment on earth. Still largely unexplored, it is the largest area of continuous sand dunes in the world. You can also swim in the Persian Gulf at Dukham or Ummsaid, or take a camel ride.
What you need: A passport, visa, and plane ticket (a Qatar Airways round trip to Doha is about $2,000 if booked long enough ahead). Hotel accommodations are relatively inexpensive for a 4-star rating at around $175 for three nights. A vehicle with driver rents for $100 for four hours. A "self- drive" costs $750 per day, or you can rent a quad for a lot less. Summer months of June through August can be very hot with temperatures in the 110- to 130-degree range, so be prepared for dangerously hot weather.
Information: Qatar Net Tours, www.nettours.com.qa
The 05 Road, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Location: Approximately 150 miles northeast of Lusaka, from GPS waypoints 1226.061S; 3142.263E . . . yes, we know, it's in Africa.
Length: Approximately 40 miles.
Time: 4 to 5 hours.
Experience level: Intermediate (driving skills) to ultra-advanced (survival skills).
Points of interest: Everything----there is no way to describe the sensation of 'wheeling backwards in time across a prehistoric landscape that has changed very little for thousands of years. That, plus the fact that you'll be surrounded by thousands of extremely large critters---most of whom have little fear of man---makes this the Marlin Perkins Fantasy Tour of a lifetime, and an exercise in staying alert. The wheeling is fairly straight and mild dirt across broad savannah dotted with ebony and acacia groves, though the trail can be narrow in spots and you'll come across a few tricky streambeds with steeply eroded banks that will test your suspension and line-picking skills, and plenty of up-and-down whoops.
What you need: If you're smart, a guided expedition group to tag along with. If you're not, plenty of spare food and utensils, parts, fuel, firewood, clothing and camp gear, insect repellant, a camera, GPS, all necessary permits and vaccinations, and most of all, a vehicle in a perfect state of tune (you do not want to break down if you can help it; it might be days before you see another rig, and cell phones are worthless); pith helmet optional.
Information: Zambia Tourism Board, www.zambiatourism.com
The Silk Road, Xian, Shanxi Province, China
Location: Central and western Asia.
Length: Approximately 7,500 miles, from 398 E. 2nd Ring Rd, Xian.
Time: 2 months.
Points of interest: How about the Great Wall of China for starters? And that's only the first day of a 60-day overland 4x4 trek retracing the steps of Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Marco Polo and countless Chinese, Persian, Roman and Mongol conquerors and traders along the ancient spice route across the Asian continent, over 7,000 miles in all. There are paved roads and unpaved roads, dirt trails and goat paths, snowy mountain passes and desert sandstorms to navigate as you travel by Land Rover through historic trading posts such as Samarkand and Isfahan, en route to your final stop at Istanbul.
What you need: A passport and visas, all the requisite shots, decent four-wheel driving skills and an international license, an insatiable appetite for adventure, the willingness to take risks (downtown Tehran is along the route) and the patience of a saint. Some rudimentary field-fix skills might come in handy, too. Oh, and $25,000 for the cost of the tour---airfare not included.
Information: Silk Road Overland Safari, 416/322-6508, www.asiaadventures.ca/
Zoo Road, Baja Mexico
If ever there was an off-road equivalent to Pamplona, Spain's infamous Running of The Bulls, it would be Zoo Road near the city of San Felipe on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula during a SCORE desert race. All three of the well-known Mexico-based desert races have passed through this rigorous section of dirt at one time or another. The trail consists of a power line road traveling north-to-south. The spectacular action comes in the form of 3-foot-tall roller whoops on either side of the 6-foot-elevated Zoo Road/powerline road intersection. During races, literally hundreds of multinational thrill seekers congregate on either side of the race course to witness the fast-approaching Trophy Trucks thrust up and over the road crossing, often times achieving upwards of 8 feet of air. Inevitably, someone gets too close and the results are not always pretty. However if you dream of seeing million-dollar trucks with 4-feet of suspension travel and upwards of 800 horsepower going full tilt, there's no other place quite like Zoo Road.