The topography around the earth’s lowest point is truly striking: A broad valley runs north to south, seemingly interminable in the haze, while from east and west sharp escarpments and jutting mountain ranges loom above, cut by deep gorges that spill their hidden streams into the Dead Sea.
The valleys of the eastern slopes are much larger, and their waters more constant and voluminous than those of their western counterparts. This fact is in part due to the much higher mountains of the east side gathering significantly more rain as clouds rise along their slopes and the air cools; it is also partly due to the much larger watershed from which they collect, with groundwater flowing in from a large swathe of desert to the east.
Some of the most impressive canyons are (from north to south) Wadi Mukheiris; Wadi Zarqa Ma’in, not to be confused with the more northerly Wadi Zarqa; Wadi Hidan, whose upper stretches are called Wadi Wala; and Wadi Mujib, the greatest of all Jordan’s canyons, which joins with the smaller Hidan just before reaching the Dead Sea.
Unlike much of the region, these canyons (and others) offer not only shade and cool, but also water to swim in year-round, making summer hikes and canyoning trips feasible while the rest of the land boils under the sun.
There is ancient history around these streams – unsurprisingly, given that they have been reliable water sources throughout human history. Notably, Wadi Zarqa Ma’in is identified by some scholars as the “Nahaliel” mentioned in the Bible; Wadi Mujib is the biblical Arnon River; and another canyon further south, Wadi Hasa, is the ancient border between the kingdoms of Moab and Edom. Wadi Mujib in particular was home to many ancient roads, bridges, fortresses, and palaces, as both archaeological remains and recovered inscriptions attest; and its great breadth made it a natural landmark and border between kingdoms.
Wadi Zarqa Ma’in is known for its hot springs, and all the canyons feature waterfalls, pools, and cross-sections of the geology, cutting through millions of years of rock formations. The tight confines of the streambeds mean they are also hosts to flash floods when rain pours down on the highlands above – hike with caution, and never in rainy weather!