National Geographic : 1935 Feb
PETRA, ANCIENT CARAVAN STRONGHOLD tents. Silhouetted against the sky, a plow man drove his yoke of oxen as if intent upon plowing the rocky brink of a yawning abyss. Before we knew it, we were flying through and up a large valley. At its head were terraced gardens and orchards, with El Kerak perched above. We circled the town several times, looking deep into its Crusader moat and seemingly flying level with the castle walls that had kept Crescent and Cross apart in many a long-fought siege. Presently the ravine-cut terrain changed into vast expanses of desert plateau. We were flying over the Syrian Desert, the northernmost extremity of the Arabian Peninsula, now the British protectorate of Trans-Jordan. This treeless desert was tan and yellow, with blue tints shading into black and broad ivory-colored wadi beds. We picked up the Pilgrim Railroad, laid from Damascus to the Prophet's shrine at Medina.* The desert rolled away to an interminable east; to the west a low range blocked the view of the Araba (see map, page 133). This westerly range presently heightened and became covered with a scrub-oak thicket. We had been flying 5,000 feet or more above sea level; still, as we sud denly turned westward to cross this wooded range, we seemed just to escape scraping the gnarled tree-tops, so high is this plateau. With breath-taking surprise a view burst upon us, never to be forgotten, probably never to be outdone! CHROMATIC PETRA FROM THE AIR We were now above the jagged, dazzlingly colorful twin ranges between which Petra lies and of which it is a part (see text, page 135). Beyond, westward, stretched the deep expanse of the Araba, blue-tinted, remote, and forbidding. Here the sandstone held more of the yellow, tan, and ivory tints; but as we traveled south toward the Petra ruins, the colors changed to more vivid reds. We flew between these ranges, gigantic piles of fascinating shapes and color. First to be recognized of Petra's monuments straight ahead was Qasr el Bint, the Roman masonry temple standing alone in the valley at the base of El Habis, the "Acropolis" hill (see text, pages 134 and 138). About the same time the larger classical monuments in the facades of El Khubdha * See "Mecca to Damascus Railway," by F. R. Maunsell, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1909. flashed by on the left (p. 142). We crossed the western range and Ed Der seemed to look up at us. When climbing up to it from the valley bed, one seems to feel that the top of the range has been about reached. The air view changes this impression. Through Wadi es Siyagh, amid wisps of clouds we flew, and emerged with a full view of the Araba. Following along this western range, we soon sighted its highest peak, Jebel Harun, dominating its southern extremity. We circled thrice at very close range the white dome of Aaron's tomb, as if imitating the Moslem tawaf, the pilgrim's ceremony of circling the Kaaba (see text, page 141). SCANNING "INACCESSIBLE" PEAKS As we swung back we passed over the Petra Valley again, the flat top of Umm el Biyara, Petra's most ancient stronghold, lying close to the left. We circled so low over the highest peaks that every detail could be noted (see illustrations, pages 130-1, 149, and 163). I now felt that my youthful aspirations and longings to climb every inaccessible peak to be sure that there were no new discoveries to make had been fully satisfied. Flying over the Great High Place of Sacrifice, Captain Mahoney piloted the plane so low that the court, altars, and other details could be clearly pointed out. In circling, we repeatedly crossed and recrossed the Siq. We could see straight down into this most romantic of fissures, once the high way of desert caravans. The day's ride had been fairly comfort able, but over Petra we experienced some severe bumps. Part of the time the wind blew so violently that it became dangerous to open the window to take pictures. The novelty of flying over the Siq was to me possibly the most thrilling. One might see and geographically place any of the monuments by climbing to them, but of the depth and character of the Siq no adequate conception could be had except from the air. I was enchanted and kept calling out, "Look down at the Siq! There is the Siq!" only to look back and find my two young nieces really sick. Since then they have never ceased to chide me about it. As we flew from the High Place eastward, we could distinguish our horses and Bedouin escort at the police post at Elji waiting to take us to Petra. Down the mountain road rolled the car carrying our camp, well timed.