Long ago, as a teenager who was accustomed to a skyline of skyscrapers, I dreamed of standing at the edge of a vast desert, on a sandstone bluff above a huge lake.
I was staring up at the massive presence of a pharaoh flanking the entrance to a temple carved into cliffs along the upper Nile River in Nubian Egypt - Abu Simbel.
Why this dream? Because Abu Simbel was going to be drowned.
In the 1950s, the existing Aswan Dam was inadequate both to control the annual flooding of the Nile River and to generate enough hydroelectric power for Egypt. President Gamal Abdel Nasser proposed a new, bigger dam.
The Aswan High Dam would create Lake Nasser - the world's largest artificial body of water - extending more than 300 miles upstream in the Sudan and spreading in places to more than 22 miles wide.
With one exception, all the ancient sites and monuments would be submerged forever.
At the request of the Egyptian government, archaeological missions explored the threatened area. All portable artifacts were removed to museums, and more than a dozen temples were salvaged and relocated.
Ten of them, including Abu Simbel, were dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt as close to the original as possible, but on higher ground.
Several other smaller structures were donated to the countries that contributed to the rescue effort. The United States received the exquisite Temple of Dendur, which forms the centerpiece of the ancient Egypt collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
My opportunities to revisit this collection, wandering the galleries of pharaonic treasures and approaching the Temple of Dendur as from a royal barge tying up at the Nile quay, renewed and strengthened my dream to journey through Egypt to Abu Simbel.
Fifty years later, our plane landed in Cairo on Feb. 19, 2008. We had chosen a tour with Road Scholar, an affiliate of Elder Hostel. In addition to traditional sites, it offered an experience that really caught our interest - an 850-mile road trip through the Western Desert to four major oases.
The names evoked a sense of mystery and adventure: Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga.
So come travel with us on foot threading the chaotic traffic of Cairo, by bus rolling through the "empty" miles on the western highway, in 4-wheel-drive vehicles bouncing across the Black and White deserts, swaying and jolting on friendly camels, basking on a luxury boat cruising the Nile River, sailing in a felucca below the cataracts of Aswan and flying to the remote outpost of our ultimate destination - Abu Simbel.
About the presenters:
Dick and Pat Gritman have been traveling in various part of the world for more than 20 years. They have hiked in Patagonia, the high Tatras Mountains of Slovakia, the Alps of Switzerland and the Dolomites of Italy. They have camped in the Canadian Arctic, canoed in Maine, kayaked in Hungary, biked in the Netherlands, camped and hiked throughout the British Isles and gone walkabout in Australia. Recently they journeyed to China and Tibet, Central America and Egypt.
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