Over the years, I’ve gotten past the almost manic need to spend time in physically imposing places, but I’ve never gotten over how they make me feel. Though I’ve aggregated plenty of them during my roaming, each is a frozen-in-time moment that I can’t seem to explain properly – I end up trailing off into a cloud of memories to the confusion of everyone else in the conversation. Trying to describe them always sounds like one giant cliche. “I wanted to stay there forever!” or “It was so beautiful, it brought me to my knees!” Wadi Rum, with its rust and gold and rivulets of sand, with the water in the far distance and the cliffs lining the seemingly endless wide open space of the desert, is now one of those places. Nothing I write comes close to the majesty of seeing the valley stretch out before me.
I’ve always been a fan of wide open spaces. I grew up in Montreal with long winters punctuated by snowstorms in even bursts. During those cold months, the sky felt like it was snuggling closer to the ground, with grey-white clouds looming just over the buildings as the flurries rolled in. Winter in Montreal isn’t all dreary; the snow is interspersed with blinding blue skies on days when the temperature plummets sharply, too cold for precipitation. But even clear and sunny, the city felt like it was encased in a bubble, inexorably shrinking until spring was upon us again.
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Sunset Photos from Wadi Rum
We often seek opposites when we begin our travels, and for me (and my Montreal winters) I longed for openness and people who moved with the seasons. While I felt comfortable in the cities that I loved – Quito and Amman and Bangkok – it’s no surprise that the staggering openness of the Mongolian plains and optical illusions in Salar de Uyuni’s immense salt flats also blew me away, each stretching as far as I could squint and see.
I spent a limited time in Wadi Rum, but the weather was perfect and as the afternoon wore on the colours only deepened. We took a truck out into the dunes, circling this way and that and stopping at the edge of a giant sandstone cliff, perfect to watch the coming sunset.
In one direction, shadows of a lake in the distance and a still-blue sky:
Below, the perfectly wind-swept lines of sand:
Shadows of two sunburned but happy people:
And in front of me, the sun setting into the distance:
We stayed until the last of the light hit the valley and disappeared behind the dunes:
Even in the dead of night, the vastness of the desert was impossible to miss. Lanterns lined the walkways of the Bedouin camp where I was staying, their flames dancing on the sand below and casting wide shadows on the sides of my tent. I decided to sit outside as the candles burned down, sputtering out in a final blaze of light. I have no idea how many minutes or hours I spent next to the dunes; with perfect quietness in the camp and a vague understanding of how much unknown was out there in the darkness, it was an ideal end to the day.
My time in Jordan was followed by a few weeks in Thailand and then a return to North America. Montreal in the summertime was as glorious as I remembered it, with the Jazzfest and a long-awaited reunion with old friends. But throughout my initial days, I kept staring up at the sky, often stopping as I walked down the street. A car ride with my mother started out with my asking if the sky was always this close close to the ground in Quebec – did she notice it too? No, of course she didn’t. Yes, she thought I was a bit nuts. But the wide open sky from Wadi Rum remained a benchmark for all other subsequent skies, whether I realized it or not. Close to three months later, I can still close my eyes and immediately conjure up the open space and that feeling of smallness from standing at the edge of the desert.
It’s not a feeling I’m going to forget anytime soon.
21 thoughts on “Wadi Rum and the Beauty of Wide Open Spaces”
It was traveling across Canada in 2002 when I fell in love with the prairies and flat, wide open spaces. I love being able to see forever and watching the weather come up. After seeing a number of deserts on our RTW trip (including the spectacular Wadi Rum) I think I have a hankering to see all the deserts in the world…how many could there be?
That would be a fun trip – desert hopping! Lots of them to visit, and all likely tangibly sublime in their own way. If you need a travel partner, let me know :)
I truly enjoyed reading your Wadi Run article this morning. As your story and images reflect on why I love “wide open spaces” myself. If your ever back in the states and need an outlet in the south. I suggest Mt. LeConte. Be safe in your travels and I look forward to my next read from you.
Thank you Bryant. I’ve a growing list of national parks and mountains in N America where the wide openness abounds, and I’ll add LeConte to it as well. Thanks for the suggestion!
I can’t get enough of the Jordan posts :)
Thanks lady :) See you in a few days!
I am not sure what I like better – the photos or the way this is written. I love the imagery you used in describing your experiences. Beautiful post! While many may come away inspired by the beauty of Wadi Rum, your writing may be the most inspirational part of this post.
Thank you Jer. My aim was to try and describe it without coming across as too cheesy. It’s hard, when all I want to do is throw open my arms and go – LOOK AT THESE DELICIOUS PHOTOS! I kept myself in line, though ;) Glad you enjoyed.
Hey Jodi – I think what you’re describing so beautifully is what so many other writers/poets/travellers/spiritual people/artists (perhaps all one and the same after all?) have struggled to capture or convey over the ages: the sublime.
This is the reason I love the Great Plains in the US so much. They are considered boring by most, but there is something mesmerizing about the wide open spaces. I particularly like Eastern Montana, which the call “Big Sky Country” for good reason. The skies do go on forever.
There are no words. WOW!!!!
Awesome pics Jodes. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes in one of my favorite movies, Lawrence of Arabia.
“Why do you like the desert so much?”
“Because it’s clean.”
Gorgeous photos! Oh, I so badly want to go to Jordan. Your last paragraph reminded me of when we were in the Australian outback and thought that the sky was bigger there than anywhere else we’d been.
I love the desert anyway, so this definitely looks like my kind of place. I love the photo of you watching the sunset ~ it looks serene!
The desert is my favourite landscape and as much as the open space is overwhelming during the day, the stars at night are even more. Coming from any city in the world, the feeling is spectacular.
It’s true – the desert’s stillness and openness are incomparable feelings. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
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It was the Sinai Desert that had a similar effect on me. It was the first time I’d ever been to a desert and I was in awe.
What wonderful photos and narrative.
Gorgeous images. Though, that’s no surprise with such a location, and you behind the camera. I love how the sun’s rays appear to be green in the sunset image.
I too love a quiet, wide open space to pause and reflect and while I’ve never been to anything quite like Wadi Rum I do remember feelings similar to what you describe washing over me in Sedona, Arizona while I was hiking the trails alone after our press trip ended.
I have 3 days back in Sedona anytime I want, and I find myself saving them up for a time I *really* need that wide open space to heal something in me ;)
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