Above the village of Rum, which sits in the valley called Rum, there is a spring in the cliffs of the mountain called Rum. Fortunately, the spring has a different name in Arabic – Ein Shalala. It’s better known in English as Lawrence’s Spring, after the British military commander T. E. Lawrence, who operated in this area in his alliance with the Bedouin tribes against the Ottomans. Nevertheless, the confusion of names does not end here; there is another spring also going by the name of Lawrence in English – Ein Abu Aina, a few kilometers to the south. The northern one near the village, though, is the one described by Lawrence with characteristically poetic verbosity in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
A healthy dose of time in the desert is key to understanding the lavish way in which Lawrence discusses this unassuming spring: it is not a gushing waterfall, but a modest seep. Still, as one of the few significant water sources, it has always been key to the lives of the people who have lived here. This is attested in the inscriptions in the sandstone near the spring and at the nearby ruins of a Nabataean temple. Located closer to Rum village, along the route to the spring, it is one of relatively few that are still existing, other well-known Nabataean ruins being largely tombs or trading posts. Writings left in the area also evidence some of the linguistic history of the region: inscriptions appear in an Arabian language known as Thamudic, now extinct (though several other tongues related to but distinct from Arabic still survive in the south of the Arabian peninsula). Nabataean script, a separate alphabet, ultimately evolved into the Arabic writing system, though the Nabataean language was more closely related to Aramaic.
The awesome size and intricate ornamentation of Mt. Rum, from which the spring emerges, are thanks to its composition of sandstone – a jagged, purplish-red below and a smoother, dome-forming white above. This pile, in turn, sits on a foundation of granite – actually, the upper portions of a mountain buried in the ground, a relative of the granite coastal ranges just to the west. Further east from here, the purple-red sandstone also sinks lower relative to the sandy plains, and the white sandstone comes to prominence, forming a softer-looking desert.
In neither direction, though, are there springs. They appear here (and in several more places to the south) because of the meeting of sandstone with granite. Sandstone, composed of relatively large particles, is porous and absorbs rainwater, which then filters down through its mass; granite is more solid and impervious, and water runs off of it. When the groundwater in the giant body of Mt. Rum meets the granite below, it runs outward instead. It emerges from the cliffs in numerous places along this boundary of rock types, but in only a few places do these flows amount to more than small seeps.
Water from the spring is of decent quality, though for foreigners treating it before drinking is always the safest option.