Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon as climbers call it, stretches
around the sandstone and granite heart of Jabal Ram. A strong
-jawed Zalabia man, who has the aspect of Abdullah, stands
on a jagged outcrop and stabs his leathery hand into the biting
air: the Khaz’ali Canyon is beyond this range. From my elevated
vantage I can observe my guide’s home, strands of goat hair thatched
into a tent. A harras of Arabian mares graze scant grass around
an acacia and the Seven Pillars of Wisdom rise like steps behind
the camp. Difallah informs me that on clear days we can see
the Saudi border and the Red Sea from here. We walk
against the spiralling sand and gale toward the gorge and I tell
him that even a glimpse of the petroglyphs will be enough.
My guide gestures his palms to the sky: if these gusts stop
we will reach our goal. I drop my eyes and shield
them with my hands. He drapes his keffiyeh
about his face. We trek out to the Khaz’ali Canyon and the callous
wind turns to whip our tunics and shirsh. Difallah sketches
in the turbulent air and sand: the etchings are over that ridge.
Ancient graffiti of antelopes and strong young men appear,
stamped onto cave walls in thamudic times. I pause to trace
the outlines with my forefinger. The khamsin subsides.