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Wadi Rum's Otherworldly Landscape, Perfect for Filming Lawrence of Arabia—and Star Wars

Updated: Jan 27

Alright, so you're a filmmaker planning a movie about a Mars mission and want it to look convincing, but shooting on-location is too expensive, dangerous, and time consuming to attempt (with the 14 month roundtrip travel time and poisonous atmosphere and what not). What do you do? The next best thing, of course—go to Wadi Rum in Jordan!

Wadi Rum and its red sand and sandstone make it ideal for film of the Red Planet Mars
You can see why the dramatic red sandstone landscape and sea of abundant colorful sands make Wadi Rum an exceptionally ideal place to film movies about Mars and alien planets.

On the fringe of the Arabian Desert lies Wadi Rum, a vast, arid valley crowned with dramatic towering sandstone. It's epic. It's expansive. And it's so alien looking! This is why movie-goers may recognize it from some of their favorite alien-world scenes; Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Dune (2021), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and of course The Martian, Mission to Mars, and The Red Planet all feature it, just to name a few. Disney's live action remake of Aladdin and the classic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia also feature this giant red sandbox.

It's epic.

Once upon a time, T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) appreciated Wadi Rum as his "private resort" where he could soak in its "serene beauty" during his hard journeys and perilous adventures in the Middle East. Today, tourists from around the world get to enjoy its greatness and glory for themselves. Businesses like Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp make for fantastic experiences.

Like a giant playground, numerous sandstone features offer unique places to explore and climb around.

Austin climbing and bouldering on red sandstone in Wadi Rum
Lots to climb around on in Wadi Rum

It's expansive.

In his autobiography, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence describes Wadi Rum as magically haunted, saying "Rumm was vast and echoing and God-like." It is huge! Covering about 278 square miles, it's nearly the size of New York City, and the carved sandstone cliffs inspire awe.

Glorious sun rays reveal the vast expanse of Wadi Rum
Look at the teeny tire tracks disappearing into the distance!

It's so alien looking!

If the wild shapes and colors of Wadi Rum remind you of something out of science-fiction, you're not alone. Its mostly-lifeless terrain suggests earthlings are mere visitors here. Is there anywhere else on earth that is quite like it?

Wadi Rum sandstone borders on alien-looking.
Don't some of the rocks look fake?

Visiting Wadi Rum

I'm grateful I got to join friends for this excursion into Jordan and Wadi Rum from Israel (via car instead of spaceship). Wadi Rum followed the wonderful Ma'in Hot Springs, Dana Biosphere, "Little Petra," and Petra on our road trip along the western Jordanian countryside. It made for something a grand finale despite catching us fresh out of the magnificent sites of Petra.

I expect Wadi Rum will always stand out in my mind as alien, as imposing, and as a place I would eagerly return to. There's a lot I didn't get to explore there, including fun activities like sand boarding!

What would you do in Wadi Rum? Let us know in the comments!

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