John Muir once said “of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt”.
Whereas most of his dirt paths were in the green vegetation of California, mine are in the Middle Eastern deserts. Nonetheless, the outcomes are one; endless joy and many discoveries; the best components of an adventure 🙂
My latest was in the Southern Badia desert on the Jordanian Saudi Border. The target was reaching a mountain unknown to many Jordanians and tourists alike. The mountain is called Tawil Shehag or “Jabal Atweel Shehag” in the local dialect of Al Hweitat Bedouin Tribe that resides in the area.
My friends and I took the desert highway to Ma’an in the South leaving Amman at 3:00 am. It took approximately 3 hours to reach our starting point.
Once we departed our bus, we faced an extremely low temperature which is the norm in the desert, freezing in the early and late hours of the day, and extreme heat during daylight.
Walking helped me warm up a little bit but did nothing to my runny nose. I looked ahead and saw the mountain in the distance. It would take us approximately 14 km to reach.
Many friends ask me what is it that I find so appealing about the desert that keeps me searching for such hikes. They tell me that there is nothing to see but vastness of nothing and I tell them this where they are wrong.
There is everything to see in the desert but one has to really look. The desert is alive and not a single moment passes without me encountering a creature, or a new flower, or a rock that looks amazing. If I am not busy investigating the flora and chasing the fauna, I allow my mind to relax and enjoy the open spaces surrounding me from all directions and my imagination runs wild 🙂
Hours passed by in such state until I finally found myself looking straight ahead at Jabal Atweel Shehag. The Bedouins were standing on top; they quickly descended and offered to escort us to the top. Going up and down is a short walk in the park to them. To us, it would take long precious day light hours that we couldn’t afford to lose.
We apologized and rested near the mountain. Atweel Shehag which was known in the past as “Jabal Al Nar” or “Mountain of Fire” is located 50 km North East of Al Husaineah. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, wind and erosion sculpted its unique cone shape. If you are an avid mountaineer, this mountain is a great challenge to climb.
Traces of nearby mining can be seen everywhere. I am not sure if its cement, phosphate or something else that is being mined but one can see how mining is taking chunks of the mountain.
Shortly after, we continued our hike to Al Jafr. Qa’ Al Jafr or “el Jafr Basin” is part of the Saharo-Arabian biogeographic province that makes up all of eastern Jordan. It is considered the largest hydrologically closed drainage system in the entire region covering approx. 15.000km2, and is the lowest elevation in Jordan plateau. The area is extremely arid, very hot in summer times with temperature rising between 40-50 degrees C and falling to -10 in winter time.
My footsteps on the playa and mudflats were soft. I looked closer and saw the many shells and mollusk scattered everywhere, some might date back to the Ice Age 🙂
Looking at the nearby escarpments, one can see the geological strata of marl and limestone.
If that is not enough to peak your interest, then the fact that during rainfall this area turns into fishing ponds for the Bedouins, should. In summer times, when it dries up, the fish is hiding in the mud and if you know the right spots and dig deep enough you can have your first meal of mudfish.
The farther we got away from the mountain, the harder the ground became. By now it was mostly covered with flint stone. We continued that way until we finally reached the highway where our bus was waiting.
With this, our 32km amazing hike came to an end. During this adventure, I saw a beautiful mountain that can be seen from all directions in the middle of the desert, locals that thrive in the desert, I saw a desert that was once an ocean, now dry yet covered with sea shells, hiding fish in its belly, beautiful oases in the middle of nowhere, plants that adapted to arid atmospheres, animals and insects that run wild here.
Yes I chose a path of dirt, but I promise you it is the best path to take 🙂
Writing and Photography
Some more photos from the desert:
For the full trail visit Wikiloc member Dr. Mustafa Azzouqa from Hiking Jordan:
Some good reference if you want to read more about AL Jafr Basin:
-From Flint Mine to Fan Scraper: The Late Prehistoric Jafr Industrial Complex by Q
-Jordan; a Geographic Study by Al Behairi
-تحليل رواسب قاع الجفر في الأردن محمد قرالة
Click on the link for more about Mudfish Digging in Africa:
PS: This blog reflects my personal opinion and my personal take on many issues. Its not a scientific paper, the information used is based on internet searches and some scholarly articles. Its purpose is to entertain and everything mentioned is open for debate and correction.