Nature & landscape

Wadi Gweir (southern Jordan)

INTRODUCTION

Approaching the Queen Alia Airport we fly over the green valley of Jordan River, forest and grasslands of Jerash. But after landing as we travel from the North to the South the landscape gradually changes from the green to increasingly yellow-beige. Certainly the South Jordan is today drier than North of the country but this difference doesn’t necessarily mean the change in the attractiveness of the area. The nature differs significantly also from the West (Wadi Araba and Northern Highlands) to the East (Central Desert). All it means is that we will not be bored during our trip – we only should stop and look. Let us find the most promising places to contemplate the nature and culture of the Southern Jordan.

Entering the territory of South Jordan we can use the old road – the King’s Highway (no 35) or choose the modern and much faster Desert Highway (no 15). Both of them go through the Highlands of the Eastern Rim of the Wadi Araba – Jordan Graben. This Mountain Ridge is also known as Northern Highlands. In its Southern part which will be our target area it is called the Hills of Moab and Edom Mountains. To the East of this geographical spine extends the Central Desert Area of East Jordan and to the West the landscape cut Wadi Araba. Its morphology changing from flat sand dunes, rolling hills and shallow valleys, through sharp and inaccessible mountain ridges (up to 1100-1400 m a.s.l.) to deep, steep canyons with cliffs as high as tens of meters. Then comes the very hot and dry, salty and as flat as a flounder world’s deepest depression of the Dead Sea (down to -150-300 m b.s.l.).

The aforementioned mountain ridges are formed by the monocline and in geology we call them fault-block mountains. These tectonic blocks dip is gently towards the East but their fragments are slided and tilted forming very perplexed escarpment. The Moab and the Edom Mountains formed the Eastern border of the graben – the regional depression in geomorphology known as the Dead Sea Rift or Wadi Araba. It is connected and forms the northern continuation of the Red Sea Rift and the continental system of East African Rift/Great Rift Valley. The Dead See Rift itself is the boundary visible on the land surface between the two tectonic plates – Arabian and African one. It started to form about 35 Million years ago. The geological transformations in this area form the horst-graben geomorphology and cause the numerous earthquakes as well as magmatic activity – intrusions. The latter form the big magmatic rock monoliths called sills, dykes, batholiths etc.

The Moab and Edom Mountains are built of the thick complex of rock layers having over 1500 meters. All these rocks could be grouped into two general types: the lower one formed mainly of sandstones and the upper one of carbonates (limestones etc.). In the described area the sandstones were formed from Paleozoic up to Early Jurassic (approx. 500 to 200 Million years ago) and the carbonates rocks from Jurassic to Early Tertiary (approx. 200 to 23 Million years ago). Should anyone find this description too monotonous we should add that contemporary morphology is influenced by several faults (perpendicular to the rift zone of the Wadi Araba) and contemporary canyons and valleys. In the gentle slopes, steep hillsides and rocky walls the extremely interesting patchwork of rock layers is visible. The thin and thick rocks of various colors from white, through yellow, beige, rose to red, violet, brown and even green and black interweave formed by undulating, faulting, and volcanic intrusions. Perfect opportunities of observing the geology are possible due to the scarcity of the flora cover.

Although the majority of the Jordan territory is dominated by arid and semi-arid climate its biozones are not as monotonous. The South Jordan provides for the unique opportunity to see various biotopes over quite short distances. The area of our trip is the transitional zone between Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian biogeographical regions. It is defined as the Semi-Arid to Arid Mediterranean bioclimatic zone. This region, called steppe (or semi-steppe) seems to be the most convenient for agriculture and contemporarily is populated in 90% by the Jordanian population. The area at first glance deprived of life is covered with several genera of plants and inhabited by various genera of animals. They are concentrated along the stream beds but also appear on the hill slopes and even the mountain ridges. From decades thanks to biological and ecological studies as well as from the historical texts we are constantly surprised with the presence of endemic or relic species of plants and animals. There is still a lot to discover.

To facilitate the journey through the South Jordan territory and make it more interesting, we will here propose several stops which in our opinion are the most interesting and allow to understand the culture and nature of this country giving the complex picture of the area.

FIRST STOP

Approaching the at-Tafilah city we should focus our attention. In 2016/2017 the big detour was built over the city. Thanks to this investment we will have the insight into the local geological history through the fresh and complete cross-section.

Coming to at-Tafilah from the North (road no 35) we pass the campus of Tafilah Technical University. At the roundabout near it (named the Arab Revolt Square) one should go down (toward the city, or to the West) and after about 200 m gently turn left on the crossroad. At first on the left side and after one-two kilometers on both sides of this road, we will see the rock outcrops – cross-sections. On the 5-6 km stretch we can stop in any convenient place to see the details of layers.

The dominant rock types around us are various kinds of carbonates: limestones, marls, chalk. Especially interesting are the numerous layers of chert (perfectly visible at the beginning of the detour). They form over twenty beds 5 to 25 cm thick (FIG 1, 2). The dominant color is black and dark grey however some pale variants can be also find. The chert is the siliceous (SiO2) rock usually formed in the marine reservoirs and is biogenic or chemical in origin. The mechanical proprieties of chert are excellent and this stimulated its common use in the prehistoric tools. Whole complex with chert is about 30-40 m thick. In other parts of profile we can recognize the layers of sandstones and sandy mudstones (FIG 3).

Described sequence of sediments is of Tertiary age (65-3 Million years) and shows the changes of the climate and landscape. The area was covered with the shallow, warm sea which periodically shallowed more allowing the sandstone rocks to form in the beach or terrestrial environment. The whole complex was the area of dynamic tectonics. The faults together with the magmatic activity of the Dead Sea Rift Zone resulted in building up of the thick basalt sill and the batholite. They can be visible as dark/black rock layers within lighter carbonate rocks. The boulders and blocks of weathered basalt are dispersed all over the area rolling down the slopes, valleys and canyons.

Next we continue through the at-Tafilah city with the road toward Shawbak (no 35). Just after passing the City Hospital we will come onto the important junction where we should turn right towards the Dead Sea. The road will go slightly up and after 4-5 km we will reach the edge of the horst after which the road will go steeply down. On the left side of the road the prominent hill should draw our attention. We can stop on the quite convenient country parking place and go up to the summit using the old (Roman?) gravel road (FIG 4).

Sitting on the hill-top we can start our contemplation with realizing the general character of the landscape. The first characteristics which draws attention is the significant denivelation of the Wadi Mashra (FIG 5). The difference of over 1200 m strongly affects the communication possibilities along Wadi stretch as well as hydrology, geomorphology, pedology, and agriculture. The Wadi Mashra extends from the Dead Sea Plain (-200-300 m b.s.l.) to the East into western edge of the Mountains of Moab up to 1050 m a.s.l. The Wadi forms a deep canyon in which geological section of the Late Cretaceous down to the Late-Middle Cambrian age is clearly exposed. Additional short trip to the area of the Wadi mouth in the West will provide an excellent possibility to see the geological and ecological differences along the Wadi stretch (FIG 6, 7, 8).

 

The Eastern (upper) end of the Wadi Mashra is located in the rocks of Cretaceous age. They extend to the West, being underlain by the Cretaceous and Cambrian complexes of very distinctive cross-bedded sandstones in the area where the Wadi slopes sharply to its bottom with cliff walls. From that line the sandstone complexes analogous to the Petra ones dominate along the Wadi mainstream (see also the SECOND and the SEVENTH STOP). The thickness of the complexes is about 1000 m. They are cut with numerous faults which generally go in the NNW-SSE direction.

The lower complex is petrographically quite homogenous but the upper one consists of various rock types, such as limestones, dolomites, marls, sandstones, siltstones, mudstones, gypsum, nodular and bedded cherts, hornstones and laminae of limonite. The whole complex ends with very interesting mudstone and fibrous gypsum layers. It was the sources of archaeological ochre, i.e. red and yellow pigments (FIG 9, 10). The gypsum forms several beautiful crystals (FIG 11, 12). The most common here are white fibrous polymorph and very characteristic translucent, honey-colored fishtail gypsum crystals. Over these layers there are dolomitic limestones, limestones and dolomites which form the uppermost culminations around the Wadi Mashra.

All around you there are siliceous rocks in form of cherts (FIG 13). But far more interesting and nice are these silicates which were formed by hydrothermal conditions. These are here in form of the blocks and boulders up to 3-4 m thick, originally located high in the layers sequence (FIG 14). They have parallel, stripped texture underlined by rainbow colors: from white, grey, through beige, brown, red, to purple and black. You can find a really beautiful samples (FIG 15).

The geomorphology of the area is shaped by local geology, temporary rains and human activity (FIG 16). The ondulation with sharp slopes and flattening depend on the basal rocks (sharper in case of the limestones and flatter in case of the shales). Several small and medium streams cut very tortuous and deep beds which seems to be very young (Holocene-Late Holocene in age). Where the soft rocks complex ends, about 400-500 from the asphalt road, there is a high cliff (FIG 17). Walking along its edge you can admire some spectacular waterfalls formed by seasonal rains (FIG 18). The water going down in rainy season gives unbelievable effects. In one place the water formed elongated rock-shelter similar to Arizona-Colorado ones. As at that territory by Pueblo Indians also here the rock-shelters were transformed into settlement facilities for people and herds (FIG 19).

 

In the Southern part of the area there are very nice examples of the paleo-karst. The fragments of old caves, corridors, halls uncovered by water and rock avalanches and landslides. You can see here the speleothems and fragments of cave voids (FIG 20, 21).

The natural geomorphology was and still is modified by the human agricultural activity. The Eastern and South-Eastern parts are the area of contemporary intensive mining activity. Several quarries made the original geomorphology invisible. They are located in the limestones and dolomitic limestones, above gypsum layers. In other parts of the area the walls, field rock-cleaning and old roads are well visible. The shale outcrops-water sources, fields and settlements can also be observed. Despite the apparent dryness the area was and is suitable for agricultural and herding activity.

What can be particularly interesting for the visitors are numerous fossils present in the Cretaceous rocks between contemporary asphalt road and the edge of the cliff. There are here: Bivalvia (e.g., Caprinula sp., Requienia sp.) Cephalopoda – Ammonoidea (Turrilites sp., Pseudotissotia sp. and Thomasites sp.), Echinoids (Micraster sp.), Mollusk (Terebratula sp.). Some of that fossils form whole layers which results in amazing view (FIG 22, 23). There are also plenty of contemporary land snails shells. It shows how the local climate varies through the year.

All aforementioned complexes and layers are the Jordanian part of  the Arabian-Nubian plate. According to the definition the plate sediments lie horizontally however because of local tectonic changes they can be inclined in various directions. At the edge of the Wadi Araba (Dead Sea) the described layers are in general slightly inclined to the West. Several local faults modify further this situation causing the perplex view of the layers with varying  inclinations. The strike and dip of geological beds is also affected by the landslides and  non-marine olistoliths.

The Wadi itself and its dendritic network have the character of V-shaped valleys or canyons. The lowest part of the Wadi Mashra bottom has not more than 100 m width and is very difficult to use for agriculture. However the water current serves for the herds and as the source for modern aqueducts. The middle part of the Wadi is inaccessible, with very deeply cut, narrow bottom and steep sides or rock walls. In this part the water current disappears from the surface.

In the Eastern and South-Eastern part the Wadi is strongly transformed by the contemporary mining activities (quarries) which exploit the limestones and dolomitic limestones. Beside the quarries the area was, probably from ancient times, evened and cleared for agricultural purposes. The terrace fields were and are built for cultivation, pasture and olive grove. There is a water source located on the faults’ crossing zone. It is the Eastern part of the olive grove and the water there is collected by the artificial drains, pipes and basins (FIG 24).

In the whole area trampling and animal paths not only follow the local morphology but also are the factor of its formation. Till today the sheep-goat herds pass through the area several times a day. This small influence causes visible changes in geomorphology. The slopes are usually formed in step-like flanks which can be found especially in the Northern part of the area. The human communication uses foot tracks, not-paved roads, and contemporarily asphalt road (in the Eastern part of the area). The trails of old roads are visible across the whole area.

From September there is a beautiful opportunity to see the blooming of this arid area (FIG 25, 26, 27, 28). Walking the slopes you can admire everywhere the small violet flowers which are various kinds of colchicum. They are accompanied by less numerous yellow ones – a sternbergia genus. There are also high stalks of sea squill (Urginea maritima). In winter they will flourish with small white flowers. The plethora of other flowers will appear later in winter, as for example Syrian eryngo (Erynginum creticum) or globe thistle (Echinops sp.).

Wandering across this area be aware of pastoral dogs – they are really  a nuisance. It is also not the best idea to go into the mines. The local people guarding their olive groves may invite you for the dinner – for example vegetable lecsó and special bread – it is good to accept it.

SECOND STOP

After visiting the Wadi Mashra we should go back to the main road (no 35) and turn right on the crossroad heading toward Shawbak (i.e. to the South). Our next goal will be Sela City located westward of the road, approx. 5 km from the aforementioned crossroads. There are road-signs leading to it but you should be very careful as they are not well located – it is better use GPS in this case.

Going to Sela City we enter the kingdom of red rocks (see also the SIXTH and SEVENTH STOP). This ancient settlement is built on the isolated hill in the deep and steep wadi. Already the walk from the parking place is astonishing. The analysis of how the city was built and supplied (for example with water) could be the subject of a quite extensive publication. However let us concentrate only on the nature in this place.

We are surrounded by rock walls, cliffs, pillars, monkstones, cracks, crevices, gullies and boulders. The same sandstone formation, we already saw on our FIRST STOP, give us here the perfect opportunity to observe from very close various types of weathering. The contemporary activity of water is very intensive despite the fact that the rains are only seasonal. Instead they are extremely dynamic and destructive – we call them torrential rains. In this situation it is not surprising that the erosion of the rocks is very fast. These rains form several waterfalls going down through the canyon walls, rock cracks, tectonic faults and morphology depressions.

The beautiful rusty-red rocks which surround us seem to be solid, hard and convenient for building or sport activities. But approaching them we discover that after centuries or thousands of years of the exposition to the sun, the water and the wind they transformed significantly. Sandstones are built mostly of quartz grains – what is not a surprise as this rock is lithified sand. In the rock formation described here these grains are “glued” with calcium carbonates and ferrum minerals. The latter are responsible for its reddish-brownish colors.

Water percolating the rocks enters into chemical reaction with several minerals. All begin with the dissolution of chlorides and carbonates which in form of a solution are transported toward the surface of the rock. There the water evaporates thanks to the changes in pressure, temperature and because of wind action. The thin layer of crust called sometimes duricrust crystallizes on the sandstones’ surface. It is like the precipitation of speleothem – specific kinds of stalactites, columns, sheets of flowstones, curtains and other dripstones are formed on the rock walls.

The dissolution phenomena has also other consequences. The rocks deprived of the “glue” (as the geology calls it “matrix”) – become soft and friable. The crystallization of salts on the rock surface starts the processes of salt weathering. The newly growing crystals brake the rock structure weakening it. When the duricrust breaks, the fast action of granular disintegration begins. In consequence the tafoni forms appear. These are smaller and bigger, negative and positive formations. We can observe here rock windows, shafts, pillars, columns, hollows, pits, stone curtains, straws, mushrooms and the honeycomb weathering (alveoli). As in longer periods tafoni can be developed also in the form of caverns, small corridors or even caves it can be also described as pseudokarst (FIG 29, 30, 31, 32).

Here in Sela and all around the city there are plenty of tafoni and pseudokarst examples. The sandstones are soft thus causing the inevitable destruction of the archaeological and historical monuments (as famous Sela inscription – bas-relief).

The caverns and other tafoni hollows which destroy human constructions at the same time form the perfect caches for numerous insects, reptiles and some birds. Sitting in Sela and quietly observing the surroundings we can meet several local animal inhabitants.

 

The first to observe will probably be the gecko (FIG 33). There are several species of this lizard in the South Jordan. The most popular are spotted fan-footed (Ptyodactylus guttatus) and southern fan-footed geckos (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii). They are cautious but when behaving gently we can observe them for a long time and even take photos if approaching them with caution. The lizards will appear on the rock walls, in the cracks, and stone roofs, usually preferring the shadowed places. Thanks to special structures on their toes they are walking with no effort on the vertical and hang-over surfaces.

We will meet some other lizards in our next stops (see the SEVENTH STOP) but one should mention here the fringe-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus sp.). This inconspicuous animal is very brisk. When meeting other lizard it can fight, chasing and going after each other for quite a long distances. Having a little luck and patience we could witnesses the interesting lizard life-tale (FIG 34, 35, 36).

Unfortunately the places like Sela are also inhabited by oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). These flying insects built their nests in the rock cavities or in the ground forming colonies with one queen and the army of males. It is very characteristic to hear the loud whirring of the approaching hornet. However they tend not attack the big animals unless closely approached.

Having a lot of luck we can finally observe the fastest snake in the Eastern Mediterranean – the schokari sand racer (Psammophis schokari). It is non-venomous and very flighty (runs away 16 km/h). Its color resembling the rocks makes it quite hard to see. This snake is very good in climbing the trees and sometimes the rocks. It feeds with lizards, rodents and birds. Sometimes it takes advantage of sun warming up the rocks.

THIRD STOP

Traveling with the King’s Highway from the Sela not far before Qaddisiya we will pass the forest outstretching on the both sides of the road – let’s stop there. The only problem which will be very acute for the so called western tourist are “tons” of garbage scattered around. This is as characteristic for extra European territories as unacceptable for tourists. However one should simply get used to it.

If you manage to ignore the filth you can stay there for a picnic (do not forget to buy the big slice of the kanafeh or some other sweets you can enjoy here). The shadow and wind playing through the branches will compensate you the dread of the ever present rubbish. Otherwise just walk for some time into the small forest. It is still today a very popular place for local people to go and rest. Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis), Phoenician juniper (Juniperus phoenicea), Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) and even jujube (Ziziphus sp.), firat poplar (Populus euphatica) or Atlantic pistacia (Pistacia atlantica) will surprise you with their presence. Some of these species are very rare or unique in the whole Near East as the specialists claim.

The forest is attractive for plethora of birds and other animals. Perhaps it is one of the most convenient places during our trip for bird-watching. Living here or passing over forest several genera of birds can be met. You need time and peace but it will be gratified with the view of the hoopoe (Upupa epops) walking around and feeding on the ground insects. In the autumn season European scops-owls (Otus scops) pass through the South Jordan. They can be seen on the trees contemplating the neighborhood and looking for some delicious mice. The experienced bird-watcher could see much, much more here.

The forest is surrounded with the agricultural fields. As in other terrains of Moab and Edom Mountains they are located on the specific geological layers. The mix of mudstones, claystones, finely layered marls and gypsum are in this area the aquifer. In the same time these very soft rocks are easily erodible and form the planar forms in the geomorphology. The perfect examples of it may be found just around our forest.

FOURTH STOP

Beside the Petra city, Dana Nature Reserve and Dana Village are the most renown places in all trip sources concerning the South Jordan. However it is usually seen as half-a-day or one-day stop. It is the total misunderstanding of the character of this area.

Certainly if we will decide to run down and up the Dana Valley the nature will not be generous for us. Additionally during European holidays (June-early September) the climate here is dry or extremely dry. Almost all plants deprived of water hide on the reddish-yellowish backcloth of the surrounding rocks. This could be discouraging but it is also a justified reason to slow down and stop for a while. It is really worth to observe the Dana nature from very close.

Almost all tourist guides propose to start the visit at the Dana Nature Reserve just in Dana Village. We advise to take a completely different route. After visiting our the THIRD STOP just pass the proposed mirador over the Dana Valley and drive forward for some 1-2 km. When you see the cement factory buildings on your left, turn right, leave the car and head towards the private buildings (to the West) slightly upward. After approx. 200 m there is the semi-open building constructed as the view point, however, we can omit it and go right along the small cliff edge. Between the aforementioned building and the mobile transmitter station there are several possibilities to go down the cliff using herders’ paths (do it carefully). Our goal will be the bottom of black rocks underneath the transmitter station.

Choosing a convenient place to rest or walking along the rock-wall we can admire the very special rock formation. It is the wall built of columnar basalt lava, i.e. the outcrop of basaltic sill intruded into Tertiary carbonates and forming today the cup of local plateau (FIG 37). This peculiar rock structure is formed during the process of cooling of the lava flow. Its polygonal (hexagonal) texture gives the impression of artificial making though it is completely natural. Judging from the size of columns we can assume that the process of lava cooling was very slow. The stability of basalt pillars, so called tombstones, varies from place to place. There are fresh and stable parts as well as completely dismembered basalt columns (FIG 38, 39, 40). Below the described rock-wall the slope is covered with several basalt blocks and boulders which sometimes rolled down to the Dana village or even lower. The whole basalt rock-wall is also excellent area for free climbing. There are several possibilities for 5-15 m long trade routes of 4a-6b grades.

 

After visiting the columnar basalt continue down with one of the numerous herders paths. The slope is very steep, everywhere there are traits of sheep and goats (FIG 41, 42). You should watch your steps and be careful during the whole way down but it is worth to try it. The color of the rocks will change immediately after you leave the basalt area. The whitish-yellowish carbonate base rock is covered with thin layer of initial soil. It is usually reddish in color and gives the possibility for trees to grow on it. Surprisingly from the basalt thill almost down to the level of Dana the escarpment is covered with forest. The dominant species growing here are the Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis), Phoenician juniper (Juniperus phoenicea) with minor admixture of other trees and shrubs such as for example the thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum) or the soldier thistle (Picnomon acarna) among others (FIG 43, 44, 45, 46).

This forest is also the perfect place for a picnic.  Sitting there on the carpet of long, delicate pine-needles you can feast yours mind and senses on the wind blowing through trees branches, the smell of pine-cones, the chirp of cicadas, the shadow and sun, the silence and loneliness. Here you can feel the Mediterranean climate of the past epochs. As you can read in the ancient and medieval texts as well as the archaeological proofs show us, the Transjordanian territory had benign climate allowing not only the growth of the olive trees and pasture lands but also the vineyards and cornfields. After our THIRD STOP this is another place in which you can “touch” the climatic past of the area.

Sitting in the forest it is worth to admire the perfect panorama extending to the West (FIG 47, 49, 49, 50). Depending on the weather and the clarity of the air you can even see the western horst of Dead Sea Rift. Having this aerial view, just “below your feet” you see the traditional, stone buildings of Dana village. It is the old Ottoman settlement with even more ancient traditions. Today Dana is purely a tourist location as the local population moved to Qaddisyya city looking for work in the nearby cement factory. The village is located on the rocky promontory over the valley or rather the canyon. The slopes over Dana are built of limestones. They are steep but it is nothing comparing to the rock walls and abysses below Dana. There the “sandstone kingdom” begins. It is clearly visible due to the change of the color from white-yellow-beige to red-rusty-brown. Your eyes will skip over the sharp edges and ridges of lower an lower, farer and farer sandstone mounts. There, in the haze of Wadi Araba, there will be the Dana Valley mouth. Flat terrain will lead to worlds deepest Dead Sea depression (-300-400 m b.s.l.). From that distance some bleary agricultural fields and the rectangles of salars will be seen, as well as winking lights of farmers’ villages. On the horizon line the terrain will rise again in the hills of the Negev.

Depending on your choice you can start the trip on the afternoon planning to reach the Dana village after the sunset (make the hotel reservation in advance). That way you can admire the breathtaking sunset over the Wadi Araba (FIG 51, 52, 53, 54).

Going down the steep slope head toward the Dana buildings. On the way you will cross consecutive carbonates layers. They have various characteristics: they differ in color, thickness, hardness, mineral composition etc. All this is visible in geomorphology as cliffs, walls, slope and rock shelves (FIG 55). The slope from the top to the bottom is cut with several gullies. There are also numerous boulders, small and higher rock walls almost inviting you to climb (FIG 56).

 

Just over the asphalt road which cuts through the slope under the hanging rock (FIG 57), there is a spring. Today it is a very popular place for local people to spend free time (especially during the weekends). The water is gathered in the cement basins and goes down with the pipes and concrete canals. It is the vital water source for Dana. The here water also comes from the same aquifer that was already described earlier (see the FIRST and THIRD STOP). The basins where designed as a kind of pergola, nevertheless the effect is not very admirable. But over them we can see very interesting example of the tilted packet of the limestones. The layers of the rock have almost vertical orientation which stays in contrast with the surroundings built of normally lying monocline. The interlaced layers of limestones, marls, chalk etc. bear quite lovely concretions of cherts with the rock crystal (FIG 58). In other places there are examples of big nodules of zonal chert (comparable with famous Polish “pasiasty” i.e. banded or striped chert) (FIG 59). You can take the path along the base of stone wall to find these formations in situ.

Especially from August to June you can observe in Dana the morning fog coming with the wind blowing upward in the Dana Canyon (FIG 60). Contemplating sunrise over the valley brings about specific atmosphere and will be an unforgettable experience. At first the blur is everywhere covering even close trees. All the time thrust with the wind the haze will run up, dissolve, and the landscape will appear fragment by fragment as in the classic Romantic fairy tale. The whole phenomenon lasts for about two hours. During winter it could be longer but remember that the temperatures are under 10 Celsius degree and you can also encounter rain or even snow.

All around your way to the village (you can go by asphalt road or take small path following the water canal which goes through the pomegranate trees, fig trees and the olive groves; FIG 61, 62, 63) there are black blocks of basalt-andesite. They originate from the basalt intrusion you saw earlier uphill. After passing the village the no-asphalt road will take you to the abyss. Please take a look on rock walls on both sides. At the entrance to the Dana canyon you will clearly see the transition from calcareous formation to sandstone one. All phenomena described already in STOPS ONE and TWO can be observed here as well (FIG 64, 65). Concentrate on the effects of water or fluvial erosion. Because of aforementioned aridity of the area the rocks here are very vulnerable to water cuts. The seasonality and dynamic of water flows cause the erosion to occur very fast and its results can be very clearly seen. All over the place there are small and bigger rills, gullies, arroyos – wadies, channels converging finally to the Dana canyon. Simply speaking you can see here all the developmental stages of water cut negative landforms. They are accompanied with rock steps – waterfalls, hollows, niches and other evortion erosional forms. The surface is covered with the silt, sand, gravel and blocks of limestones, sandstones, conglomerates and other types of local rocks.

At the first glance the Wadi Dana is very hostile but it has very rich fauna and flora. It is not very hard to see the millipedes (Archispirostreptus Syriacus). The living animals have the nocturnal activity so it will be hard to meet them (FIG 66, 67). Another insect genera seeking food here are boxer and praying mantises (FIG 68). These interesting animals are not very fast and having a little bit of patience we can find and observe them on the way down the canyon. The insects are accompanied and sometimes eaten by various lizards. During this stop we can concentrate our research on the chameleons. They have almost hypnotizing aspect. Being at the same time not very fast the chameleons are very lightsome object of observation. Sitting next to one of them you can analyze the eye movements, the delicate changes in color – camouflage, the extravagant limbs, the dancing movements, and if you will be lucky the long glue-tongue catching the insect.

Over our heads and in the rock walls there are plenty of birds. With the good binoculars you will perhaps see the Alpine swift (Apus melba) and the rock martin (Ptyonoprogne fuligula). But also some predatory birds are usually circling over you. During the evenings the bats (especially Mediterranean horseshoe bat – Rhinolophus euryale) will “appear”. The rich bird world also attracts snakes among others predators.

 

For the most tenacious at the end of the Wadi Dana there is one more attraction – the Wadi Feynan. Both wadies converge in the mouth of Wadi Dana and open to the Wadi Araba flatland. There is recent attraction down there – the Wadi Feynan Ecolodge. This locations is promoted as an opportunity to spend a night in natural and traditional conditions. The hotel is rather expensive. The offer is, however, interesting. It includes cooking experience, local population meeting, relaxing, hiking, biking, canoeing. Here you also change the biota – around you there will be several genera of hyacinth, gladiolus or acacia and much more (FIG 69, 70, 71).

The last but the most important target here are the famous Wadi Feynan ore mines. This canyon is known from the bronze age as the prominent source of copper, gold and silver in Transjordan. The ore minerals were formed due to percolation of post-volcanic hydrothermal waters. Today its resources have no economic value but it is worth to see the ancient mining and metallurgical area. There are a lot of ore minerals, slags and other natural and anthropic debris. However remember that it is the area of special archaeological interest and collecting “souvenirs” is not recommended.

FIFTH STOP

Our next stop will surprise most of tourists and will rise the question “why to go there “. It is however the ideal example to show the sense of the term “slow travel”. It seems to be as good for us and our sensitivity and experience as “slow food” is. Leaving Dana Nature Reserve and passing Qaddisiya city we should continue with the road no 35 and after about 20 km direct left down toward the road 814. Than on the crossroads turn left (to the East) and after 4-5 km right to the small, asphalt road to Faysalliah. On the third kilometer the road will go to the valley bottom – it is our stop.

The contemporary landscape of Faysalliah area is dominated by rolling hills, gentle slopes cut with shallow seasonal rivers and stream valleys (FIG 72). Comparing to the previous STOP one could describe it as flat, or planar area. The main valleys here are parallel to one another and all head East. The surface sediments are dominated by poorly to good rounded gravels (pebbles, cobbles and boulders; up to 500-800 mm in diameter) and the desert pavement. The rocks are usually cherts with very small number of limestones. The source of the rivers is located about 6-7 km to the West but today they are supplied only with surface water from seasonal rains.

On the top of the hills the cultivation areas are located used during the rainy season (mid-October to late-April). The whole-year agriculture is based on the deep well irrigation and provides vegetable and fruit. This type of cultivation is not very popular and covers only small areas. The camel and sheep-goat herding and grazing are very common (FIG 73, 74). In the last years the wind farms are built consuming increasing areas.

The bedrock is formed mainly of carbonates and some conglomerates. All rock layers are the part of the Edom Mountains monocline. The older sediments are more visible in the West, toward the source area of the rivers. The younger layers (various limestones and chert limestones) form the bottom of valley knickpoints, rock walls (up to 10-15 m) and are also visible in the hills culminations (sometimes areas as quite large as several tens of square meters). The youngest rock formation is present in the form of fluvial and lacustrine conglomerates, compacted (well cemented), gravels-boulders (up to 400 mm in diameter). In these formation the pseudokarts were developed forming rock shelters and small caverns. What we are walking on are the Pleistocene and Holocene fluvial terraces built of gravels with layers of sands and clays. Very interesting are the limestone layers with thick beds of black and grey cherts. There are at least six levels with this rock so interesting for archaeologist and the perfect material for tools knapping (FIG 75, 76).

On this bedrock the calcareous soils were formed in the form resembling terra rossa and rendzina. They allow several plants to grow. Contrary to appearance this area is quite rich with flora, covered for example with white wormwood (Artemisia herba-alba), Anabasis syriaca, thorny saltwort (Noaea mucronata), yellow flowers of mullein (Verbascum sp.), goldy-locks (Varthemia iphionoides), yarrow (Achillea sp.) and ferula, various garlic species, Moab cousinia (Cousinia moabitica), sandwort (Minuartia picta) and these are not all (FIG 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83). They are concentrated along the stream beds but also appear on the slopes of the valleys.

We should mention here that from the 90. onward the precipitation rises significantly. The average annual rainfall is probably twice as big as in the former decades. These changes are not evenly dispersed over the whole year. In contrary the rains have the sporadic but torrential character. It provokes the specific events called flash floods and sheet floods. They are observed also in other Jordanian territories – see the spectacular and very dangerous accidents in Petra and Wadi Musa in 2018. These catastrophes already started the significant modification of the morphology. As we have already seen it in other places (i.e. the FIRST, SECOND, FOURTH and SIXTH STOP) the water cuts the river beds very quickly and deeply. The older terraces (fluvial material sedimented along the stream courses) are heavily eroded.

 

Other weather phenomenon is caused by the winds. They come from the Rift Valley and direct towards the desert. Very often you can observe small dust devils “dancing” on the close hills or just beside you (FIG 84). The everyday blows take up and move the soil and ground particles in suspension or saltation. The wind force changes daily and monthly but it is big enough to make economically possible for the wind farms to be established. Today there are more and more wind-mill towers in the whole region. From time to time the area is subjected to the dust storm. Usually they occurred in the winter time but in recent times they are also observed during August to October. All these cause the typical arid environment formation – the desert pavement (FIG 85). The big blocks and gravels cover the whole area with the continuous layer. To be fair we should say that aforementioned sheet floods influence this situation by moving also the bigger particles and the process begins again.

The dust storm or sand storm is the dangerous and very unpleasant phenomenon. It is connected with pressure changes. The dust is everywhere and gets everywhere. It is necessary to be well prepared – the scarf, hat and glasses are indispensable. Be cautious with contact lens and if you are asthmatic try to avoid the open spaces. The dust storm is mentioned here but it could happened in any place in the Near East.

Sitting in Fayssalliah in complete peace and silence you can witness the real life of the semi-arid areas. The animals in this biotope are very overmodest and their coloring will not facilitate their observation. Concentrate on the ground and … perhaps at first you will see the starred agama (Laudakia stellio). It is really the small dragon (up to 25-30 cm with tail), black in color with orange-yellow stripes and spots (stars) on the back (FIG 86). This genus lives in the vicinity of streams or the seasonal river beds using the eroded terraces, gravels, rock shelters, small caverns and corridors to hide and nest. It is harmless but disturbed it could be very “convincing” in the attack.

These lizard will be as interested to you, as other settlers of this area. Among plethora of insects one should point out the scorpions. They are as famous and characteristic as timid. These nocturnal animals hide under the rocks, in cracks, and in the gravels during the day. It is really by accident we can met them. There are here for example the Leiurus sp. or Buthacus sp. Certainly it is not advised to touch or take them. However in case of bite their venom is dangerous for children, persons with allergies and heart problems and the old people.

In Faysalliah area there are also numerous grasshoppers, crickets and cicadas (FIG 87, 88, 89). The camouflage of these insects is so good that usually you hear them having the impression of being very close but you cannot see them. You can follow the desert ants or darkling beetles. Not only agama feed on them. There are also various birds “standing in line” to catch the dinner. The most characteristic are the hoopoe lark (Alaemon alaudipes), desert lark (Ammomanes deserti), bar-tailed lark (Ammomanes cincturus). If you will scrabble in the ground like they do you will find the other form of insect – the pupa, in hard calcareous tubes.

The animals far harder to observe are the foxes (fennec, sand fox or red fox). This small fox has very characteristic ears and usually hunts during the dusk and night. It uses the cavern and water eroded corridors to build its nests. Farther in the desert live the stripped hyenas, golden jackal. However today they are at the edge of extinction. It is very hard to see them here because they do not look for human company but because of sheep-goat herds and their accidental deaths these scavengers visit from time to time the neighborhood of the Fayssalliah.

Over you circling in the sky there are long-legged buzzards (Buteo rufinus), ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), barbary falcons (Falco pelegrinoides), brown-necked raven (Corvus fuficollis), and fan-tailed raven (Corvus rhipidurus). They circle sedately on the sky looking for the dainty like golden spiny mouse (Acomys russatus).Having enough patience you can see (better with the binoculars) the barn owl (Tyto alba) appearing out of nowhere from the shrubs and disappearing the same mysterious way. In turn very popular, active and brave is white wagtail (Motacilla alba).

The effort of the Polish HLC Project shows that over the Pleistocene and Holocene and even earlier in Tertiary, the area was the scene of several climate fluctuations. Certainly during Paleolithic it was intensively used by hunter-gatherers using the permanent rivers that head towards the contemporary desert, flora and fauna. From the Neolithic era onward the area became more arid but it was still possible to use it for agricultural purposes. The drought episodes of later history made the life there more challenging. Finally in the Late Antique, Byzantine and Medieval time the climatic optimum allowed the agriculture to reappear (olive groves, vineyards etc.). The later human impact (see the SIXTH STOP) and contemporary desertification “promote” the pasture land here.

SIXTH STOP

For the next stop just follow the common guide to the Shawbak castle. As during this trip we do not want to enter the monument itself – please find next to the road-sign to Ghuweir gully the convenient place to stop the car and admire the castle panorama (FIG 90). It towers above the system of deep V-shaped valleys and ancient ancillary settlements and fields. We have already met the forest on our slow journey through the South Jordan. But we still do not realize this well enough because it is hard to imagine that this biotope was very important and widespread over the area as recently as Medieval time. According to historical text in the second half of the 12th Century the ruler of the Shawbak castle (called at that time the Montreal castle) – Reynald de Châtillon – started his diabolic plan to build the ship flotilla here on the land and transport it to Akaba harbor for blitzkrieg attack on Mecca. Before the plan was completed Saladin burnt the ships around the Shawbak castle and took the castle two years after. What we want to show by this episode is the richness, woodiness of the Transjordan still in the 11th-13th Centuries. It seems to be that beside the climatic changes (see FIFTH STOP) the anthropic factor was the important cause of biotope and landscape changes.

Next continue towards the Ghuweir gully, called also Wadi al-Nakheel. The road passes the small settlements of Masjid al-Muqariyah and Al-Mansoura. However, the road is complicated and it is worth to give here the GPS coordinates. The road ends in: 30.595806 N / 35.560045 E; and the path down the canyon begins at 30.596260 N / 35.565903 E.

When you will go down the canyon make the first stop in the provisional parking on the right of the road (it is impossible to omit it). Already, here the adventure begins. The whole area is completely unpopulated. Gazing at the landscape you could admire the savage, arid, empty mountain ridges (FIG 91, 92). They stay around as silent witnesses of the past. Looking North you will clearly see the tectonic fault over the Wadi Ghuweir. It cuts the rocks obliquely from NW to SE forming the natural rock shelf (FIG 93).

The summits around seem to be unreachable. They rise up sharply to over 1600 m a.s.l. and are completely covered with rock debris, colluvia, scree cut with gullies and small canyons. There are no tourist routes, or even paths visible here. You can wander if they were ever touched by human feet. Staying here you should also watch under your feet. The rock layers around are rich with interesting petrographic samples. Carefully sniping on this hill you can find chert, druses, the crystals of quartz, or even amethyst, jasper etc. There are also very interesting examples of shell-limestone. Do not forget to look on the living nature as for example common asphodel (Asphodelus aestivus).

After the first parking go down with the car and prepare yourself for the very steep line with breathtaking curves just over the abyss. Be very careful because in the 2018 the asphalt road was severely damaged by the flash and sheet floods. There are gravels sedimented in numerous places and finally the last 1-1,5 km of the asphalt was washed down. You should park here – in 2019 there was some space to do it (for 3-4 cars). It is possible to make this trip with “normal” car but going with 4×4 or off-road car will be less stressful and safer.

In the aforementioned parking place it is worth to admire the water activity. Going down to the starting point in the canyon you are walking on the fresh (2018) rolled down blocks of rock, gravels, V-shaped incisions of the tortuous ephemeral water streams and their alluvial fans.

 

The canyon itself starts with quite modest slopes and flat, 5-10 m width bottom (FIG 94). The sand-mud sediments and lush flora will accompany you for the next 1-2 km. The surrounding rocks – limestones – form the slopes and walls. Sometimes they are undercut by water streams forming the hangouts and roofs (FIG 95, 96). Please go quietly and observe not only the walls but also the water stream and its alluvial plain. In the Wadi Ghuweir you will meet the small green tree frogs (Hyla savignyi) (FIG 97), as well as nice deep green crabs (Decapoda sp.) (FIG 98). Sometimes the green toad (Bufo viridis) will observe you from the distance. It is a perfect habitat for them. Around you there are plenty of butterflies, dragonflies and some other flying beings. Sometimes in the water there will be visible the shadows of small fishes or pollywogs. The microclimate is very soft, with delicate breeze, moderate humidity, and pleasant temperatures.

You are walking down the canyon along the stream bed, with no path, in complete savageness and the surroundings and ambience will change with your each step (FIG 99, 100). Concurrently with the new geological layers – the sandstones, you enter the kingdom of silence, quietness, penumbra, and natural “art” – you cross here the timeline of 250 Million years ago. The rocks will stand up forming at first steep slopes and then, very quickly the walls. They are up to 100 m high (FIG 101, 102, 103). In Internet you can find akin photos from the Petra but it is nothing in comparison to this place. The Wadi Ghuweir is outside the common tourist roads, outside the settled areas. It is completely savage. The impression of loneliness and isolation will be magnified by the rock walls “approaching” you from both sides, and finally hanging over you with no sky visible. The bottom of this gorge narrows to less than two meters. You walk on sandy sediment and water. Around you there is the rock wonder – breathtaking, incredible, marvelous never-ending picture of liesegang banding as we call the sand waves, lines, rings, fan-shaped patterns, figures, crossbeds, fractals in reddish, brownish, yellowish, whitish colors. You can photograph them, touch them, contemplate them – it is only for you – it is the incredible experience (FIG 104, 105, 106). They were formed by groundwaters saturated with minerals of iron (giving red), manganese (black), copper (green), and sulfur (yellow).

Passing the whole longitude of the Wadi Ghuweir you have the rare possibility to make the complete crossection from the high of the Edom Mountains, through their body, down to the rift plain. From the desert, through the humid valley (FIG 107) to sweltering depression of the Dead Sea (FIG 108, 109). At the end, almost on Wadi Araba plain it converges with the Wadi Feynan and the Dana Valley. On your trip down the Wadi Ghuweir and especially at its end observe the tree biota. There are here several rare or endemic species such as Atlantic pistachio, Indian rosewood (Dalbergia sissoo), sumac (Rhus tripartita), and beside the steam reed (Phragmites australis), and cattail (Typha sp.).

When taking a trip to the Wadi Ghuweir, please take into consideration that there is no mobile network there – from time to time on the rock walls you can find painted signs directing you where to go. However it is not sure you will get a good mobile phone connection. Second warning is about water. Preparing for this excursion check the rain predictions! Entering the sandstone gorge for next 5-7 km you will have practically no way to escape except going down which can prove to be a lethal danger – you have no chance with water current. The rain causing the rise of water level may provoke in the gorge the flood wave of up to 3-5 m high (judging from the erosional signs on the rock walls).

The whole tour could take 4-5 hours but you can shorten it modifying the path. If you do not want to go the whole way down in some places you can turn left (on the right side of the canyon there is no easy way up, and after you should cross the canyon again going back to your car). But all these options require more demanding trekking with the climbing fragments – the 1-3 UIAA grade. Watch carefully your position and check the direction you go after leaving the canyon. The orientation is difficult, there are no evident orientation points, and the morphology is severely eroded, cut with water. Other possibility, much more easy and safe is to go the whole way up.

SEVENTH STOP

The Petra archaeological site is the historical highlight in Jordan. It was popularized by the Indiana Jones movies and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Walking through the Petra canyon beside the monuments the texture of the rocks may draw your attention (see also SIXTH STOP). The waving layers of black, brown, red, beige sandstones reflect the past climates and landscapes (FIG 110, 111, 112). In geology they are called the liesegang banding. They formed as sand dunes and sand sheets of hot and vast Pangea deserts. The scarce but torrential rains were accompanied with very strong winds – hurricanes and numerous fires. These extreme continental conditions were the home place for the ancestors of dinosaurs and some of their early species. During late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic that kind of climate and landscape extended on vast territories of our planet. This is why the analogous geological profile can be documented not only in the Petra region in Jordan but also, as far to the West as in the Asuan area in Egypt – where some pharaoh tombs were built. Today the colors of the rocks as well as the pictures on them are admirable.

Despite the popularity of Petra and great quantity of guides at this place you van very rarely hear about at least one more interesting feature. After the walk through the narrow rock corridor (as-Siq) the path is broadening and leads to the open space of Petra city. The area is covered with the monuments varying in age, dag by the archaeologists and reconstructed for a long time. This reconstructions give the possibility to imagine the original appearance of the city. However, the destroyed part is as much interesting. It was already said at the beginning of this text that we are in the seismic zone of the Arabian Tectonic plate. In the Dead Sea Rift Zone the earthquakes are very numerous. All the cities established in these terrains from the dawn of human settlement were touched with these catastrophic events. The archeo-seismologists analyzing the place and the character of the destructions were able to reconstruct the magnitude and even the date of particular earthquakes. The seismological research over the Petra city was so effective and promising that it stopped the reconstruction of some parts. Thanks to this you can admire now the evidence of some catastrophes.

The most characteristic are some of the Petra city columns – colonnaded street. They were erected with the stone round tablets – we can call them pastilles – over 50 cm in diameter. Some of these columns are already rebuilt but several still lie down on the ground – please look at them. Every column element lies on another as the vertebra of the dinosaur backbone (FIG 113). Carefully analyzing the direction of the demolished columns and the general character of destruction it was possible to argue that they were the consequences of the AD 363 earthquake. It is without any doubt that Petra as all other cities in the Near East, Eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia was touched by several episodes like the one described above and carefully analyzing their stratigraphy we can reconstruct them quite clearly. Not only the city was destroyed in 4th century AD, moreover it was never entirely rebuilt especially that the next natural catastrophes hit it in AD 551 and AD 749, not mentioning the political changes.

 

Today Petra is inhabited by several flora and fauna species as other valleys and canyons of the South Jordan (see FIRST, THIRD, SIXTH and SEVENTH STOP). We have not mentioned yet some of the interesting animals living here. The most famous and spectacular are the Sinai agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus) (FIG 114). This rainbow lizard has little fear and is easy to find on the Petra rocks. Especially going the way to Monastery watch the surroundings. They are very nice to photograph but do not try to touch them. Another lizard here is toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus arabicus) which is perhaps less spectacular but it is harder to spot so its encounter is even more satisfactory. This animal is also popular in the Wadi Rum (see the EIGHT STOP). During the entire  visit to Petra you will be accompanied by the birds “watch”. Among them nesting on the rocks will be very characteristic common swift (Apus apus) and little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis). Long-billed pipit (Anthus similis) and blue rock-thrush (Manticola solitarius) are also quite common.

EIGHT STOP

On our journey southward there is another important place. It is the Wadi Rum – the most prominent cultural, natural, sportive target of Jordan visitors. This area is widely described in various tourist guides and it is not worth to provide here its detailed description. We can state only that the Wadi Rum (or Valley of the Moon) gives the perfect opportunity to see the sandstones and magmatic rocks outcrops. There are there also numerous petroglyphs, ruins, and other archaeological sites.

From historical point of view it is the interesting place for Arab Revolt – Lawrence of Arabia’s adventures. In the area the desert dunes, eolic weathering and other arid environment phenomena can be observed. The plant cover is scarce but from the close observation it is as interesting as in other parts of Jordan. Observant eye will see chamomile (Anthemis sp.), gold coin (Asteriscus sp.), eryngo star-thistle (Centaurea eryngioides), taily weed (Ochradenus baccatus), eyelash plant (Blepharis ciliaris) and many others (FIG 115, 116, 117). This flora and also insect fauna (FIG 118) attract the birds blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), hooded wheathear (Oenanthe monacha) and other animals (see previous STOPS, FIG 119).

The Wadi Rum is a very popular place for trekking, mountaineering, climbing, ballooning and other outdoor activities.

NINETH STOP

The South Jordan trip should end in the port of Aqaba. It is completely different from the rest of the proposed locations. The last stop will offer you the rest on the beaches of the Red Sea. The ancient port is also very important today. It is the Jordan “entrance to the world”. You can pass a pleasant time walking in the littoral environment and having a meal in one of numerous restaurants serving fresh sea food. You can also swim in the sea and dive in the reef. The harbor ambiance – should anybody be interested – is for free here.