Red Desert Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum desert is a large arid area listed by UNESCO for its natural and cultural significance. From satellite photos it can be seen that about half of the region has a dark red colour. These red parts are mostly in the north and west, and is called the red desert. The red desert hosts the majority of Wadi Rums tourist attractions. It is famed for its steep cliffs and unique colours.

The ochre red colour is caused by the iron oxide in the sandstone. The geologic composition has a metamorphic granite base and hundreds of metres of sandstone above it. These were deposited over millennia while the area was below sea level at the edge of the African plate. The sandstone has since eroded and formed sandy valleys and exquisite sandstone formations. Some of the attractions within the red desert include rock arches, narrow canyons, steep cliffs and sand dunes.

From the  Wadi Rum tourist map, you will see that the entrance and major sites are all in the north-west of the Protected Area. Comparing this with the satellite images of Wadi Rum, it is clear that these are within the red sandstone area. These sites are concentrated here because of the uniqueness of the red colours, a visual appeal of the area. Additionally the high levels of iron oxide in the sandstone provide a hard compound that is fairly resistant to erosion. This has ensured that the cliffs remains high and almost vertical. It has also provided interesting honeycomb textures and varied rock formations.

clouds cast shadows over wadi rum desert with red sand and rocky cliffs

Inscriptions and natural springs

The high sandstone mountains with their dramatic cliffs also provide the best sources of natural water in the region. The most productive natural springs in the area are all on Jebel Rum, namely Al Shallaleh Spring and Lawrence Spring. These water sources have led to human development of these areas. Both the Nabataean Temple and recognised Lawrence of Arabia Sites are located within the red desert.

Petroglyphs are spread throughout both the red and white desert. These provide a testament to the importance of these trade routes and livestock grazing areas throughout human history. However, the two best inscription sites are both in the red desert. Khazali Canyon has inscriptions from every era of human inhabitants. From Neolithic, through Thamudic and Nabataean as well as Arabic. Anfashieh Inscriptions is the best site of Thamudic inscriptions. Inscriptions from this period were mostly of camels.

Although the red desert has become increasingly busy as tourism has developed in Wadi Rum, it is a must visit area. The unique red colours and steep cliffs, enclosing long sandy valleys should not be missed as well as other top sites. Stay in the protected area to ensure you are surrounded by these rock formations that draw visitors to Wadi Rum!

The red desert is contrasted by the white desert. The white desert has more common light yellow colours and makes up the south and east of the Protected Area. Although it does not receive the same fame as the red desert it has stunning scenery. It is worth exploring for visitors who are fortunate enough to spend more than one night in the desert. See our list of the best things to do in Wadi Rum to decide how long you will need.