Wadi Rum, Jordan
Falling approximately 600 meters from the high plateau of Ras Al-Naqab, Wadi Rum stretches 2 kilometers by 130 kilometers. This series of valleys covered in softly colored sand, punctuated by huge, imposing, fantastically shaped mountains (jabals), is one of the most memorable destinations in Jordan, and has been so since the dawn of time. Deep in the valleys, far from any visible human habitation, it is possible to believe the view has not changed much since the beginnings of human habitation in the Valley of the Moon, approximately 800 BC.
T.E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia, came here many times, both in his pursuit of success during the Great Arab Revolt of 1917-1918, but also because he found solace in the isolation of Wadi Rum. Rum still rewards visitors today with peace and unceasing beauty. The magnificence of Rum lies primarily in its amazing geology.
Underneath the floors of the wadis, which lie between 900-1000 meters above sea level, is pre-Cambrian granite, created two billion years ago. In the sandstone strata of the jabals, it is possible to read the geologic history of the area. Red is Cambrian, pale grey is Ordovician, and whitish is Silurian. Separating them are layers of quartz, shale and conglomerates. The weather has shaped them, creating formations like birthday cakes, mushrooms, melting wax, archways and even one that looks like a giant face in profile. The springs that appear throughout Wadi Rum were created when ancient rainfall permeated the sandstone, was stopped by the granite, and found tiny fissures to form pools.
Paleolithic man lived in Wadi Rum, taking advantage of the abundant wildlife and the plentiful springs. Eventually, their life of constant wandering gave way to the Neolithic lifestyle, which introduced agriculture and animal husbandry. The Nabataeans made Wadi Rum one of their major settlements outside of Petra. They built three dams in the area, and the remains of their aqueducts are still visible in certain locations. Other visitors to the area left their marks in messages scrawled on the rocks, ranging from Nabataean script to Minaean commentary. The Thamuds, a tribe from what is today Saudi Arabia, left the largest number of inscriptions, from signatures to religious exhortations to messages of love.
The first mention of Wadi Rum was possibly as "Aramaua" in Ptolemeus' Geography. It is referred to as "Ad" in the Qur'an, according to some scholars. Wadi Rum was popular with travelers because of its abundance of food and water, making travel and trading easier, as well as its proximity to Petra, by far the largest urban center in the region.
While wildlife populations have decreased over the years, patient visitors can still find animals and birds, such as the hyrax, fennec foxes, gerbils and the Arabian sand cat. Ibex and gazelle herds still exist, it is possible to hear the musical howls of wolves. Vultures and eagles, as well as the smaller Sinai rosefinches and crested larks, populate the area, as well as the ubiquitous snakes, scorpions, and camel spiders.
Hiking and camping opportunities dot the region. The visitor's center near Rum Village is a good place to start a visit. Hot air ballooning is one of the most dramatic ways to see Wadi Rum, but guided jeep tours are also possible. The most traditional way to experience Wadi Rum, however, is by camel. The stillness, broken only by the wind, the groans of the camels and the sibilant commands of the guides, is phenomenal, with visits to the Burdah Rock Bridge, the five kilometer long Barrah Siq, the Red Sands or the Seven Pillars of Wisdom easy to arrange. T. E. Lawrence described Rum as "landscapes in childhood's dreams were so vast and silent", in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.