Hot Rum Wadi

The advantage of visiting the Jordanian desert in August is that you get a taste of what life is like for the local Bedouin tribes – trying to shelter yourself from the extreme sun and heat, doing your best to stay hydrated in the harsh, arid climate.

The disadvantage of visiting the Jordanian desert in August is that you get a taste of what life is like for the local Bedouin tribes – trying to shelter yourself from the extreme sun and heat, doing your best to stay hydrated in the harsh, arid climate.

The part of the desert we visited is called Wadi Rum. The word “wadi” is Arabic for “valley” and “Rum” is the name of the nearest village. Wadi Rum is also sometimes called the Valley of the Moon.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom at Wadi Rum

Believe it or not, we weren’t the only crazy tourists choosing to spend a whole day and night in Wadi Rum in August. Despite temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, our large Bedouin camp was fully booked.

But we weren’t exactly roughing it. Our “tent” for the night was something closer to a permanent structure, with a king-size bed, plenty of electricity, and a private bathroom.

And yes, that’s an air conditioner above our bed. A damn good one, I might add. While the outside air felt like you were hovering over a red-hot charcoal grill, our room got so cold we had to turn off the A/C for a while.

The camp’s office is similarly tricked out.

And the main dining hall, also fully air conditioned, looks like something they’ll build on Mars one day.

If you’re wondering how they generate all the power to run the place, the answer shouldn’t come as a surprise in a cloudless desert: solar panels.

Speaking of Mars, the Wadi Rum desert is where they filmed some of the recent movie The Martian. Wadi Rum makes a great stand-in for Mars, as you can see in these photos. Just ignore the plants and tire tracks.

Many other movies were filmed on location at Wadi Rum. The first was Lawrence of Arabia back in the early 1960s. The film’s Bedouin extras commemorated the event by carving likenesses of Peter O’Toole and some of his co-stars into rocks near a communal campsite.

Bedouins from hundreds of years ago left their own artistic mark on the desert rocks.

We drove by the communal campsite during our jeep tour of the desert. The juxtaposition of modern and traditional modes of transportation was fascinating.

Take only pictures. Leave only footprints.

Our jeep tour concluded with a spectacular sunset view.

After the jeep tour, we had a nice Bedouin-style dinner and some stargazing time. I can’t show you pictures of the view we had, because our little cameras can’t capture the night sky. But wow, that sky! None of us could recall having ever seen a sky that full of stars. The Milky Way was so bright we thought for a moment it was clouds up above. And Mars was the biggest, brightest, reddest Mars we’d ever seen.

Instead of the Valley of the Moon, maybe they should call Wadi Rum the Valley of Mars.

Our stay in the camp was great, but we all agreed that the best part of our desert adventure was the hot air balloon ride we decided to sign up for at the last minute. We had to wake up very early the next morning, but we had a feeling it would be worth it.

First, we drove to the lift-off spot in pickup trucks. The balloon rode with us, in the truck that led the caravan.

The crew starts unloading the balloon and equipment.

The captain tests the burners and blast valves.

It was fun to watch them set up the balloon. Who knew you could blow up those massive bags most of the way with a couple of fairly ordinary fans?

The burners finished the job.

One by one, everyone climbed in the gondola and the captain ran the burners a few minutes more. While we waited for lift-off, he chatted with the passengers, made jokes, and told us interesting facts about Wadi Rum and ballooning.

Finally the gondola slipped the bonds of gravity and we ascended slowly up into the sky.

Hey, we found the solar panels!

We rose to an altitude of 3,000 feet. The views were amazing.

Not everyone in the gondola seemed that interested in being so high off the ground.

And some people down below were pouting because they didn’t get to go at all.

The rest of us were exhilarated. We didn’t want the balloon ride to end.

But of course it had to end. As we descended, the trucks were waiting below.

And so our visit to the Jordanian desert also came to an end. It may have been a little on the hot side, but our time in Wadi Rum was an incredible experience. And with running water, modern vehicles, and air-con, a night in the desert is nowhere near as rough as it used to be.

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  1. Paula

    Looks incredible! That balloon ride… wow! Kudos for last minute impulses. Training to be an extra on the next Martian movie?

  2. Alex

    Great descriptions. Interesting.

  3. Vicki

    Nice! We passed by Wadi Rum on our way to Petra and back, but did not stop…our loss.

  4. Jean Harrison

    I really enjoyed the photos and comments on all of the Israel trips, particularly Wadi Rum and Jerusalem, as well as the “biblical” towns.

    Years ago, during an Intifada, I went to Israel with a group from Wesley Seminary (DC). For two weeks we alternated meetings with Palestinians and Israelis, which, as you can imagine, was exhausting. On a bus into Gaza, we were caught in a crossfire between opposite sides. but this was no more difficult than the meetings. I envy the time you had to explore…and just be there.


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