In recent years, Jordan has seen the appearance and rapid growth of a local trekking scene, but it's always drawn a small stream of hikers to explore its small but amazing canyon country. The Dana to Petra route is a classic, for reasons that became obvious to me as soon as the sun rose the morning after our late-night arrival. We followed the route as guided by Murad Arslan - without waymarking or an established trail system, the exact routes are open to some variance on each trip. I then put together a map set and put it in the online guidebook as the Dana Region of the Abraham Path. At 4 days, it's a perfect length for many vacations, and packs in plenty of scenery worthy of the American southwest.

Day 1
Dana Canyon drops through four climate zones, from Jordan's high eastern desert, down through a Mediterranean climate full of olive and juniper trees, to an Irano-Turanian steppe, to the searing plains of the Rift Valley

The Dana Reserve features a number of trails and wildlife observation posts; it's part of the reserve system of the Royal Society for the Conservation of nature

Downhill, over a kilometer in elevation, makes for a pretty mild hike and plenty of time to enjoy the natural surroundings

Junipers on the heights

Down into the steppes

The desert hardly seems like the haunt of elves, but this tree does, to me. I don't think I'm alone in conjuring fantastical stories about the denizens of wild places, who dwell just beyond vision's range - the Bedouin have a wealth of tales of the jinn, ghoula and other mysteries. I wouldn't learn about this folklore in earnest until later in 2014, on my first trek in the Sinai

At the mouth of Wadi Dana lie the ruins of Feinan. This ancient mining colony served as a gulag for Christians in exile from pagan Rome. The memory of the many who met their deaths toiling in the mines brought later Christians to build monasteries here. Feinan is also one of the most obvious pieces of evidence of the drift of the Arabian plate to the north, relative to the African plate. Geologically, Feinan "matches" with Timna, in Israel, 105km to the south. Since the geology in the area gets more dramatic as you head south, and Jordan has a 105km head start (as it were), its landscapes are accordingly more vast in scale

Down in the Sudanese climate, where there's only enough rain to support the odd acacia and the meager shrubs in the tiny watercourses. The acacias are the only trees that live here, and bristle with vicious spikes in an attempt to dissuade animals from browsing their hard-built greenery

Down in the plains of the Araba...

...with the peaks of Edom looming above. A luxurious Bedouin triclinium awaited at camp. We did this hike in wimp mode, which I have to say is awfully easy to get used to. To make sure you don't lose your grit, it's good to do some real backpacking in between supported trips

Day 2
Looking over toward the Negev's much lower plateau; despite its overall gentler topography, it can support far fewer people, for lack of water. Why is it so dry compared to Jordan's mountains? Read on...

These stark granite peaks have been split from their counterparts across the Rift and the Gulf of Aqaba. On top of them sits a thick layer of sandstone, and above that, limestone

These great heights bring air moisture falling as rain, where it had simply drifted over the lower Negev. This, and the massive watershed that drains into the eastern edge of the Rift, mean canyons as forbidding and evil-looking as this one actually run with water, and contain thickets and woods!

After an afternoon and a morning tramping across the blasted plains, we begin an all-day climb, the rejoinder to yesterday's easy descent down Wadi Dana

As we climb, we return to green fields - a specialty of springtime

Then, we crest a pass to view the sandstone and limestone jumble beyond the granite ranges that line the southern Araba on the Jordanian side

Geometrically-shaped rocks collect water in hidden, beautiful pools

Within minutes, we've gone from a desert canyon to a lush, chirping jungle

But before long, it's back to the dry promontories to camp in a place where many have camped before - Bedouin over the years have built basic stone shelters in places sometimes visited, so that anyone passing by can find some kind of haven from the wind

Day 3
This morning we climbed Mt. Safaha, and looked back down at the ravines we'd crawled up from

Wind-blown ridgetops, a much tougher place to grow

Looking back down Wadi Abu Sakakin, which we'd looked up the previous day. Its name means "Father of Knives," in reference to its sharp granite rocks. Heading back down it could make for a fantastic canyoning trip

One of the trek's best examples of mixed geology - pick your favorite color scheme

The soft-looking, greenery-tufted domes come straight from a rosy fantasy land. The grim peaks behind must be from a darker imagination; surely orcs brood in the notches

Good luck approximating this with a digital elevation model. When it came time to produce the maps, I realized how tough it would be to draw accurate contour lines of this jumble


Reaching civilization again: the water collected in this valley supports traditional agriculture, but a modern water treatment plant doesn't hurt either

This beautiful valley, named simply "the basin" in Arabic (the word can also mean "mattress") was where I wanted to camp, but we were already nearly at our day's destination of Little Petra

Day 4
Little Petra is, as the name implies, a less-stunning but also beautiful suburb of the ancient Nabatean capital. For some reason, I can't find any of my pictures of it. This is around on the corner from it, on the back route into Petra

Navigationally, it's a difficult route. GaiaGPS apps on smartphones helped.

Monochrome but enchanting

Eerie black granite, gorges lost in its depths; and views from an ancient path around a cliffside

Perhaps not all the lining of the path dates back millennia, but there are several Bronze Age habitations along this trail

Rounding a corner to the edge of Petra. The site has a very steep entrance fee, which is annoying enough; worse, tickets are only sold at the front entrance. Through-hikers on this route (now part of the cross-country Jordan Trail) would need to make a detour to get their tickets...or just sneak in, and buy tickets later if they're honest

The Monastery, one of the elaborate Nabatean tomb facades that gives Petra its reputation. Minutes after I left this spot to head down into Petra, my co-hikers caught a video of a Bedouin boy climbing up the central spire of this one, risking death to look like a boss for nobody in particular. Below, his brother proudly explained that he'd taught the kid how to climb like that, and opined, "Crazy is better than lazy!"

Some of Petra's royal tombs have not fared quite so well

Nor has this rider on the main monument, the Treasury. Contrary to Indiana Jones, there's nothing inside but a big square burial chamber

Obligatory shot

Bonus set of photos from a first attempt to scout a hiking route south from Wadi Rum and down to the Gulf of Aqaba:

Dawn after a wondrously starry night in the high desert of Rum. In the shelter of a huge cliff face, there's no place more peaceful

From Ein Qattara, the southernmost natural water source on the route between Rum and the coast

Continuing to explore by truck. For some reason, these hills are always more or less how I pictured the Red Mountains of Dorne in the Song of Ice and Fire novels (adapted into "Game of Thrones"). Watch out for rogue Daynes

A dog that followed us for 30km. It looked suspiciously like one I saw napping under a bush, far away to the north, on a previous trip here

It was as delighted as I was to see this herd of roaming camels. There are no wild camels - the females are generally just left to graze and even breed in the desert. When an owner needs their camels, they'll rely on word passed between travelers (who can recognize camels' owners by their brands) to home in on their location

The sandstone heights to the right begin to give way to the rough, granite coastal mountains at left

Dogs enjoy tuna as much as hikers do

The stripey, utterly barren granite ranges. The stripes are dikes of much younger volcanic rock intruded into ancient basement granite

Desert nights, a long-standing addiction

The next day, I scrambled up some ridiculous gullies to try to cross the first of two high ridges between us and the coast. I managed to get up, but it was in no way the makings of a hiking trail, despite the immense views

This is one of a few spots I may ever have stood in where no human had ever been before

The climate is as inhospitable as the terrain: Powerful winds up from the sea hit me as soon as I reached the pass

I did not successfully cross the second ridge. Down below is the Gulf of Aqaba in the haze, but the steep ravines, filled with loose rock and devoid of any established trails, would be a death trap for anyone carrying a full pack

Old Toyotas, the Bedouin's choice

Eventually, someone did find a hiking route down the mountains. It was not this one...