Wadi Rum, Jordan: What Happens When It Rains in the Desert? 50

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In the weeks leading up to my trip hosted and sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board, I was excited about the opportunity to do a number things I hadn’t had time to do and see the last time I was through the area, but none was higher on my list then getting to see Wadi Rum and spending the night in a Bedouin camp there.

Wadi Rum Desert Jordan

the harsh, but beautiful landscape of Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum is only about 40 miles east of Aqaba, where I’d just come from and after enjoying the many fun things to do in Aqaba, I was realy for a little relaxation.. It is the largest and most famous Wadi (meaning valley) in all of Jordan. It is one of Jordan’s most famous tourist locations, popular with hikers and rock climbers and also those that want a camel safari though its unique terrain.

But that wasn’t at all what I was fascinated by.

As you know by now, I am a huge movie fan. One of my favorite movies of all-time and one that should be on everyone’s list of movies to see on the big screen (it must be seen on a huge screen to get the whole effect) is Lawrence of Arabia.

Wadi Rum is Lawrence of Arabia country.

It is obviously just a fraction of the size that you should enjoy this Top 10 Movie of All-Time (a top 10 list that does not suck), but take the three minutes out to click on that clip and enjoy second of cinematic genius. It defines the word ‘epic.’

We got to Captain’s Desert Camp where we were going to spend the night, dropped off our stuff and then took and afternoon jeep ride through Wadi Rum.

Captain's Desert Camp tents Wadi Rum Jordan

the tents at Captain’s Desert Camp at dusk

Wadi Rum itself was what I’d be anticipating for days. The color of the sandstone walls seems at places as if slowly melting into the floor of the desert beneath them. When the jeep stopped and I got out to take photos, the complete silence engulfs you, only to be disrupted by the sound of the wind.

When I shut my eyes, I could imagine that I was actually in Lawrence of Arabia and about to join the rag-tag army attacking the mighty Turkish guns of Aqaba.

The hills in Wadi Rum reminded me a bit of the hills of Namibia — or eastern Utah. The colors are rich oranges, blood reds, and vivid rust. The shadows play across the crags and faces of the hills, bringing highlights and contracts to the shapes and colors. A simply magical place.

T.E. Lawrence, in his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom described it far better than I ever could:

‘They were not unbroken walls of rock, but were built sectionally, in crags like gigantic buildings along the two sides of their street… They gave the finishing semblance of Byzantine architecture to this irresistible place: this processional way greater than imagination… Landscapes in childhood’s dream were so vast and silent’.

After we drove around Wadi Rum for a few hours, we went to a spot which was supposed to be a good spot to see the sunset. There were low-hanging clouds over the horizon and as we pulled up, the driver turned to my guide and I and said, “rain tonight.”

slot canyon wadi rum jordan

one of the slot canyons

No truer words have ever been spoken.

My personal run of magic ended shortly before sundown. The clouds on the horizon made it so that I wasn’t able to enjoy the sunset, so we drove back to camp for dinner. The traditional Bedouin meal was excellent. The rain started to fall gently right after dinner.

Afterwards, a few of the locals broke out a drum and a guitar and sang a number of songs for us as we drank Bedouin tea.  I wish I would have learned how to play guitar so I could have joined along with them. It was such a nice way to end a peaceful day.

I went to my tent early, around 9 p.m. and watched a TV show or two on my computer before falling asleep.

But there would be no sleep in the tents on this night.

The rain picked up its intensity. A slow drip started from somewhere above me onto the corner of my bed, but it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I didn’t have any lights in the tent, so I didn’t really pay that much attention to anything.

About an hour later, I could hear Mohammad, my guide, outside walking up and down saying, “Michael, where are you?  Michael?” I asked what was wrong, and he said “some of the tents are flooding – we need to move to Aqaba tonight. Now!”

Now, Wadi Rum is in a fairly arid part of the world, but it does occasionally rain there.

Although I was there in one of the best months to visit, I had caught a bit of bad luck with this torrential downpour. Once I got my stuff packed and got out of my tent, I realized how hard it was raining.

It wasn’t Old Testament-style rain, but you could almost see the Good Book from where I was standing. I could have sworn I heard someone banging around like they were building a big boat… or ark… or something.

Pools of water were overcoming the walkways. It was amusingly difficult to find our way to the car, in order to make the drive to Aqaba and a more normal hotel. My boots were caked with mud by the time I hoisted my backpacks into the car and followed them in myself.

After we got all our stuff in the car and closed the doors, Mohammed turned to me and said, “are you sure this is OK?” (meaning moving to Aqaba that night instead of the morning).

I told him, “absolutely… rained out in the desert? Much better story than a simple night’s sleep.”

And I’d go back tomorrow. Now, off to Amman and the Royal Automobile Museum to check out more history.

dinner captain's desert camp wadi rum jordan

the tents, tables, cushions and more set up for a dinner feast

ancient art carvings wadi rum jordan

ancient carvings in the wide of one of the mountains

lawrence of arabia carving wadi rum jordan

portrait of Lawrence of Arabia carved into a rock

wadi rum desert jordan

Wadi Rum

For the story of a non-rainy night with a real Bedouin experience, check out my friend Melvin’s post. Keith saw Wadi Rum from above… and made me very jealous for not leaving the ground myself.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

50 thoughts on “Wadi Rum, Jordan: What Happens When It Rains in the Desert?

  • Steve Collins

    Excellent recounting! The Bedouins are a large key to understanding this historic region. Amazing similarities to New Mexico; plaza structure, cave glyphs, feast or famine nature of rainfall patterns. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Yea, I would like to hang with some more Bedouins, but again my horrible language skills fail me.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      food was good. Typical Middle Eastern fare. Some bread and hummus and such to start. Then a few meat courses.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      it was really surprising to see them in such good shape – they were exposed directly to the wind and the rain, so I was surprised to see them still in good condition.

  • megan

    Wow, that’s a fancy looking camp!

    My night in the desert at Wadi Rum was one of my favourites from my entire trip – it’s an immense, amazing place.

    Sorry about the rain – although getting to experience such a rare event is pretty cool anyway!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      It was a pretty damn fancy camp. I enjoyed the heck out of it, for the time I was there! I’d go back in a minute.

  • William

    So cool! You have made an area that I’ve always been interested in a place that I can now see myself going to in the future. Thank you!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      thanks for finding the blog, William. Jordan is a great place to visit. Hope you end up going soon.

  • Pete | Hecktic Travels

    Amazing how they guy could tell that it was going to rain. Cool experience, not to many people get to do see rain in the desert. Great photos Michael, and the quote from T.E. Lawrence is perfect. I really enjoyed this post.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I have found that people that have lived their whole lives in certain environments have that uncanny ability to tell the weather. I remember that same thing happening a lot when I went fishing in way, way upstate Canada with local Native American guides. “Put on your rain pants now… before it starts raining here in about 20 minutes.”

  • Jennifer

    I would have really, really loved to be there for that. My non-English is basically zero (if there’s such thing as a negative ability, that’s mine for learning another language) but you and your “skills” still had a great time.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      put your language skills next to mine…. and we might collectively lose our ability to speak our native tongues also. My greatest wish is to have natural talent in that area. I sing better than I do languages… and you never want to hear me sing.

  • Randy

    Love this inside glimpse through your writing and the pictures. I’ve never seen Lawrence of Arabia but will definitely check it out now!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      you HAVE to see it. Such a great movie. Try to see it on as big a screen as possible, because one of the star characters in the movie is…. the dessert itself.

  • Adrian B.

    I watched the clip from Lawrence of Arabia (God, it’s been so many years since I haven’t watched that movie!) and then read the rest of the article, while still hearing the music in my head – it was like watching your adventure in the desert on the big screen!
    Thanks for this great story and amazing photos.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      the whole back story for how the person got selected to do that great music is an interesting one as well

  • Cailin

    Rain is always a nice way to make things more of an adventure. I know it is the last thing that you would of ever wanted to experience while in the desert however if you think about it the other way around you are lucky to experience it as less people actually get to see it rain there then they do when its not raining. Just like when I just saw a glacier in Iceland that people were upset about seeing covered in black ash from last years volcanic eruption but I thought about it the other way, we were seeing it a way that few people actually get too 🙂
    Glad you had a great time there!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Heck, I’m fine with a little misadventure. Would have rather caught a good sunset THEN got the rain, but all-in-all it was perfectly fine in my book. Had a fun time.

  • Vera Marie Badertscher

    What a fabulous experience. Envy envy. Living in the Sonoran desert in Southern Arizona, I could give you a top ten list of things not to do in the desert during a rainstorm. Our legislature a few years ago enacted a fine, known locally as the idiot’s fine, for people who drive into washes after a rain.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Yea, I have read stories about getting caught in slot canyons and such. No danger out where we were, but was an interesting night regardless.

  • Theodora

    God! Lucky you didn’t get a flash flood… Looks a beautiful place. Very jealous.

  • jill- Jack and JIll Travel

    Jordan looks like such a great country (despite the biblical sized rain) – beautiful pics of the carving.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I am waiting for my good locusts story. That one is going to be a classic.

  • Lisa @chickybus

    Wadi Rum is really magical….a very special place I’ll never forget. And I can’t believe it rained when you were there. Wild! Glad it wasn’t Old-Testament style–LOL. I recognize that camp and must say it is a very nice one indeed! Hope you make it back there…adventure definitely awaits…

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      You have been everywhere I have been already! Next travel plan for me… figure out places you haven’t been and get there 😉

      • Lisa @chickybus

        LOL…yeah, I’m seeing a pattern here.

        And now I’m going to Ecuador next, which is near where you were–Colombia–and it’s a place I’ve never been to…. Hmmm…. 🙂

  • Sophie

    Wadi Rum looks wonderful, and I think you were lucky to experience desert rain. Quite unusual.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      yea, the unusual nature of the rain actually made it even better. I like odd.

  • Leslie (Downtown Traveler)

    What an amazing destination! Sorry you got rained out, but it sounds like you had time to explore the area. Must be amazing seeing those ancient rock carvings and the landscape from :Lawrence of Arabia 🙂

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      the rock carvings were totally unexpected and the Lawrence of Arabia aspect was exactly what I wanted!

  • Leigh

    Rain is definitely the better story – same thing happened to me when we had close to epic rain in Arches National Park. The pictures didn’t look so good but an interesting experience nonetheless.

    Another great book to read – not about Jordan specifically, but about the Middle East is Desert Queen – The Extraordinary Life & Times of Gertrude Bell. She was an ally of Lawrence of Arabia. It’s been one of my favourite books; also enjoyed Leap of Faith by Queen Noor.

    Sounds like a fabulous trip – trying to keep my jealousy in check.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I will add those to my Amazon wish list. So much to read… and to write!

  • Iain Mallory

    Sometimes the unexpected can really change a visit and make the trip even more of an adventure. I am sure it was not what you wanted, but certainly gave this piece a different slant.

    What is that saying ” a little rain never hurt anybody?” guessing you don’t feel quite that way right now?

    I also love a good film, Lawrence of Arabia, it was on here just over the bank holiday, though they unfortunately edited the classic Omar Sharif scene.

    Thanks for whetting my appetite for Jordan as I have not yet visited there.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      hopefully it is on your list — fabulous country in a great part of the world

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      it was really, really nice. So happy to have gotten to experience it, for a bit 😉

  • Nicole

    Would love to sleep in the desert in Jordan! Funny you mention flooding and tents and compared Wadi Rum to Eastern Utah. We once slept in a tent in the desert of Eastern Utah when a flash flood suddenly happened. Exciting stuff.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      now that is a story I want to read more about – did you write it up?

  • karen ho fatt@outdoor fire pit reviews

    My first experience with the desert was a trip to Arizona a few years ago. I was mesmerized by the barrenness and beautiful colors of the landscape and rocks. Your photos remind me of that, with the exotic flavor thrown in. this also looks like a magical place to visit and photograph.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I too am someone smitten by the dessert. I do have a challenge trip planned in my head regarding one of the more famous ones at some point…..

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    All this talk about Jordan and now I want to go! This sounds like a cool experience. We got flooded out once while camping in Big Sur, CA. By the time we hiked out with all our stuff we were wading up to our knees through puddles. Sometimes it’s fun to get wet though.

  • jade

    great photos! Never been to Jordan but Bob really wants to go- his Mom flys there sometimes and talks about how awesome it is.

  • Anita

    wow. I’m glad there was someone there to wake you up in the middle of the night to prevent you from dealing with the massive flood in the morning! Sounds like whilst it was inconvenient, it added to the memory of the place!

  • Angela

    Wow, you really need good luck to catch such a rain where it never rains and in one of the best seasons 😀 But you’re right, much better story than just a night in a tent 😉
    I caught a sand storm when I went to Al Ain, in the UAE, nothing thrilling though, I stayed in the city…

  • cats & dogs

    Exceptional post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Bless you!

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