Madain Saleh: An Archeological Marvel in the Saudi Arabian Desert

Paige Peterson is the Executive Vice President of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a board member of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations in Washington, D.C.

This photo essay illustrates her visit to Madain Saleh, one of Saudi Arabia’s “hidden treasures.”



When he was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir gave me an extended visa. He had two good reasons for doing that. One was professional. I am the Executive Vice President of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, where one of my missions has been to build alliances with Saudi Arabia’s excellent cancer researchers. The other was personal. As a writer and photographer, I was endlessly curious about Saudi Arabia’s people — and its landscape.

It’s a cliché to say that a picture can be worth a thousand words. These pictures were worth more than that for me — they are the story of a rare and extraordinary adventure. It’s a privilege to share it here.


Map depicting location of Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is located on the continent of Asia. It shares land borders with 8 countries: Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Saudi Arabia’s geography is dominated by the Rub’ al Khali desert, the second largest desert in the world with only the Sahara being larger. The Kingdom’s population is over 28,000,000.

Saudi Arabia is the 13th largest nation in terms of land area. The United States is about 5 times bigger than the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is four times the size of France, western Europe’s largest country.

Two bodies of water border Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Sea to the East and the Red Sea to the West.

The flight to Al-Ula was one hour and fifteen minutes from Jeddah.

Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdulaziz Airport.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by local nature photographers who had an exhibition of their work at the airport. Notice the distinctive ways men can wear their ghutra (headscarf).

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Paige Peterson – “My Time in Saudi Arabia”

National Council Board Member, Author, and Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, Paige Peterson.

National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Board Member Paige Peterson published a travelogue in the New York Social Diary from her recent time in Saudi Arabia. Read about her visit to Jeddah, her experience as an author-in-residence at a school in the Eastern Province, and her drive through the desert in the first installment of the series. The second installment chronicled her visit to the Al Deira Souk and the Riyadh Ritz Carlton. The third installment discussed her participation in the C3 Saudi-American Healthcare Forum, created to advance “healthcare diplomacy” between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Finally, the fourth installment highlighted the achievements of four remarkable Saudi Arabian women she met during her visit.

Links to her pieces are available below.

My Time in Saudi Arabia, Part I

After my week in the Eastern Province, I packed my belongings for the drive to Riyadh noticing that the sky was ominous. The wind began to howl. I was assured “everything will be fine.” Off we drove into the desert. The trucks were moving slowly and steadily through the drifting sand in the right lane, but once on the highway we pulled into the fast lane, as fierce winds shoved our groaning aged SUV from side to side.

My Time in Saudi Arabia, Part II

I was amazed by this vibrant scene. Suddenly I detected a faint and exotic scent. It grew more intense. It was like a marvelous tonic. I followed my nose and all at once, we entered a stall whose perfume totally revived me.

The vendor was holding a black-handled torch that shot a flame into a lamp. Inside was frankincense. These incenses are part of life in the Middle East, used to perfume public rooms and homes. Yes, as in frankincense and myrrh. The incenses brought by the Three Wisemen to the stable. Here in this stall are sold medicinal incenses that have been traded in this part of the world for over five thousand years. This was by far the most exquisite shop in the souk. Very magical.

My Time in Saudi Arabia, Part III

I very much enjoyed being seated next to Dr. Selwa Al-Hazzaa. She is the first female doctor to hold the position of Consultant of Ophthalmology at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. Forbes International Magazine chose Dr. Al-Hazzaa as one of “The Most Powerful Arab Women.” She is also a member of the Shura Council. She regaled us with a series of entertaining and provocative stories about her life. This is such a wonderfully verbal culture.

My Time in Saudi Arabia, Part IV

I asked four remarkable Saudi Arabian women to share their life stories in their words. They did more — they shared their private photos with me. Meet Khawla, Rasha, Yasmin, and Mona.