Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Shepherds tend flocks under a rare tree near a spring in Wadi Rum.
Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Shepherds tend flocks under a rare tree near a spring in Wadi Rum.
WADI RUM, Jordan — In the desert of the eastern Holy Land, pilgrims encounter horrible beauty. It’s harsh, vast and red.

Standing in southern Jordan on a pinnacle overlooking Wadi Rum — Arabic for “Valley of Heights” — it’s possible to grasp the Israelites’ conception of God as a mighty desert warrior. In a place like this, you need a protector with some grit. Western Oregonians might not get it. Eastern Oregonians would.  

Wadi Rum was one setting for the 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia” and this year’s move “The Martian” was shot there because of the resemblance to the red planet.

Tracks from an Ottoman Empire railway still line parts of the Wadi. Trains would bring phosphate from mines in the north to Aqaba for transport around the world as fertilizer for crops or additives for pharmaceuticals.  

There is an occasional spring, often marked by a single tree under which goats and shepherds luxuriate in shade. One spring is marked with writing on rocks that pre-dates Hellenistic influence, meaning it goes back about 2,500 years.

Visitors can travel in by tour jeep or on camels. Bedouin-style desert luxury camps are available or campers can use their own tents.