In Arabic, "Wadi" means "valley", and "Rum" means "elevated place". So you can imagine that this would be a very scenic place indeed. And you would be correct. This place is also known as "The Valley of the Moon". Very romantic, but I didn't have the good fortune of sighting the moon, as it was a late-phase old moon and moonrise was at 3.30am!
The best time to see Wadi Rum is definitely during the "golden hours" i.e. the couple of hours after sunrise and before sunset, when the sand and the rocks light up like they're on fire. There's an otherworldly beauty about this place. In fact, it is so otherworldly that Hollywood has come here repeatedly to film alien landscapes. Some recent examples include Red Planet, Prometheus and the upcoming The Martian by Ridley Scott. And of course, the famed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen desert battle scene where the filmmakers passed this off as Egypt. How insulting!
There's not much in terms of history, except that the rock formations we see today were formed millions of years ago. Then again, so are most rock formations. What makes the rocks in Wadi Rum so special is the way they seem to erupt from the sands of the desert. And the geology is a bit weird too - instead of the typical "rocky" angular shapes, some of the mountains here have almost a liquid-like look to them, very much like the layers of candle wax in old churches which have accumulated over many years.
The people of Wadi Rum are of Bedouin descent, a nomadic people who used to inhabit the Syrian and Arabian deserts. In fact the word "Bedouin" means "desert dweller". Their traditional occupation was goat or camel herding, but many tribes have been urbanised and now dwell in the cities instead. Wadi Rum is one of the few places in Jordan where you can experience Bedouin culture and cuisine by spending a day or two in a semi-traditional Bedouin camp. These days throne-toilets are provided in lieu of a digging instrument. But many camps have yet to be equipped with electricity, internet, hot water and "modern" amenities. A great way to get back in touch with the basics. Or an ideal place to bring the spoiled kids for a bit of good old-fashioned suffering.
I'm not super happy with the photos this time. Wadi Rum is a very big area to cover, and it can only be done in a hired 4x4 which is expensive. Most of the camps are within 2km of each other, but the major sights are 6km to 14km away, making walking there and back (in the summer) a bit suicidal. So the only option for me was to join a group tour where they bundle you in the back of a bouncing pick-up truck and you don't get much time on the ground. My advice for those who want good photos? Spend the money - it's about USD80 for a 4x4 per 4 hour session and you'll need at least two sessions (morning and afternoon). Also, a good guide is essential - budget another US50 per day.
Some photos from my bounce-abouts:
Disclaimer: If you notice some differences in the style of these photos, well done. I've bumped up the colour saturation substantially in post-processing (except the very first pic). Most "professional" photos of Wadi Rum are treated this way because it's impossible to simultaneously make the mountains, sand and sky pop. Some go waaaay further than what I've done for these shots. Not quite the way I like to do it, but I thought I'd try something different for a change.