Jeep ride across the southern desert, Wadi Rhum, Jordan

Jordan’s Southern Desert casts a spell on all who visit. Rugged, barren and awe-inspiring, the desert of T. E. Lawrence and the Great Arab Revolt of the early 20th century has jeep tracks nowadays, and tented camps.

It is still home to Bedouins, though, and they make it possible for city folk like me to experience a bit of desert life. When I traveled into Wadi Rum by jeep recently, my companions and I were treated to sublime weather, magnificent vistas and rock formations, and nights under star-blessed skies.

The desert is vast, rippled and stark, its russet sands flanked by primeval rock formations. It is a wild place, inhospitable, with extremes of summer heat and winter cold, violent weather. The landscape stretches more than 100 kilometers from north to south, its central valley 900 meters above sea level. The highest peak, Jebel Umm Adaami, lies on the border with Saudi Arabia. At 1830 meters, it is the highest mountain in Jordan.

The desert invites contemplation, and upon inspection, evidence of the rugged life here abounds: tracks of birds, beetles and snakes, a small cat; a goat carcass; sun-bleached bones. Even plants trace circles in the sand, with the help of the wind.

Every creature crossing these sands leaves its mark. Camels have left their prints; now, in a too-brief passage through this timeless landscape, so have I.

In June of this year, UNESCO added Wadi Rum to its list of World Heritage landmarks. Lawrence’s famed sculpted rocks, described in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, greet visitors at the entrance to the park, harbingers of the extraordinary formations to be found in these precincts.

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