Hailing from the rough coast of Eastern Maine, I always assumed I understood the term “rugged beauty.” Vast forests of evergreen rise up to oppose the never-ending blue of the Atlantic Ocean. The bold coastline was my home for many years, so forgive my slight bias when I proclaim there is nothing more beautiful than the Maine coast.
Any desert is as alien to this native of Maine as the deserts of Mars, itself. Needless to say, I was completely unprepared for what was in store for me. Simply describing Wadi Rum as a “desert” does not give justice to its vastness, its loneliness, its emptiness. Spires of sandstone erupt from the glistening sea of red sand, interspersing the simple peacefulness with something much more dangerous. If the Atlantic Ocean could envelop you in a chilled embrace, than the desert of Wadi Rum could wrap you in an endless inferno.
Our group was led to a pack of camels, patiently waiting to carry us away. It would be impossible to describe these creatures as anything less than awkward. Their knobby knees coupled with their rather aloof demeanor conjured an image of an ugly duckling who finally found where it belonged, the desert. In their own quirky way, they were appealing. At the very least, their constant, guttural grunts were amusing. Even more appealing was the fact that we did not have to walk through the ever shifting sands, a challenge in and of itself.
Our small caravan slowly made its way towards a large sandstone hill. Hand holds and paths snaked their way up the side of the sheer rock face. The climb was deceptively simple, almost as if this staircase was something other than just natural erosion. If the path could be likened to the stairs at a theatre, then the top of the hill was the theatre itself. The summit’s single purpose was to act as a viewing platform for our own intimate show.
As I looked to the horizon, the orange sea of sand challenged the crimson infinity of the sunset, neither showing signs of wavering. Slowly, the sun faded away, and took with it the colors, the sights and sounds of day. If anything, nature is fair in its ways, and the beauty it stole it quickly replaced.
The stars ripped across the inky blackness of the desert night. Without the toxicity of light pollution to hinder their luminescence, they shined brighter than I thought possible. A brilliant mosaic was painted above us in hues of startling white. Reaching for my camera to attempt to capture the scene, I quickly decided against it. No photo could ever possibly capture the perfection of the scene above, least of all a non-stabilized point and shoot camera. Any attempt would be a cheap imitation. These words themselves seem utterly inadequate, as if I were tasked to describe a rainbow in shades of gray.
It is easy to imagine staying there forever, to simply waste away. Alas, real-world commitments negate any hopes of simply wandering the desert like the Bedouin tribes who call Wadi Rum their home. Perhaps it is for the best. Knowing how temporary the experience was only made me appreciate it more.