The Eastern Desert: Burqu’, Wisad, Maitland’s, Gurmeh

The pan handle section of the eastern desert is stark, barren, hot and absolutely stunning.   It’s particularly worth visiting if you like very very very very old stuff.

We combined visits to several sites on our farewell trip to this part of Jordan.  We aren’t going to post our tracks for this trip, since you can visit all of these places separately or in a different order.  So instead we are just posting some essential GPS points, which will help getting to whichever site you’re aiming for.

But before taking these points and embarking on an adventure to the eastern desert, there are some important things to bear in mind:

  1. You must have a 4×4
  2. You should always have more than one car on this trip, because this is a really empty part of Jordan if something happens, it’s a couple of days walk to get help
  3. Make sure you carry extra petrol with you; you will need to refill during the trip
  4. Have with you the equipment to repair tyre punctures, not only a spare tyre (ie an air pump, the magic foam that you can buy at petrol stations, an extra spare, etc.)

So, having said all that, these are the places we said goodbye to on this trip:

Map East
Map showing the places we visited.
Map East 2
Same map but showing where the petrol stations are located.

Burqu’ Castle

A visit to Burqu’ can be done as a day trip from Amman.  We visited and continued straight to Wisad afterwards.

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Burqu castle and the lake that surrounds it

Approaching Burqu’ castle you won’t be able to see much more than the remains of one tower, so from a distance its hard to spot.

The view of Burqu's tower from afar
The view of Burqu’s tower from afar

Getting to Wisad

You can reach Wisad either from Azraq or Ruwaished.  It’s a longer drive from Ruwaished but we did it for a couple of reasons: we were already at Burqu’ so it made sense to continue south; and the drive is spectacular.

You’ll pass through a series of vast mudflats, stretching as far as the eye can see and only broken by mirages.

Endless mudflats

You’ll also pass by an old landing strip, marked by piles of stones. With the heat rising from the ground it seems as if the stone piles are floating on the surface of a lake.

Hard to see clearly, but the piles of stones fading off to the right are the landing strip

Wisad Pools

Wisad is a collection of structures which were used during the Neolithic period and through to the Bronze Age, all constructed around a series of pools which fill with water during the winter season.   The area has been studied and excavated and if you want to find out more about it, we’ve included links to different articles that you can find at the end of this post.

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Our camp at Wisad
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Endless basalt
An excavated neolithic house
w (2)
Even in July flowers are blooming
A little reminder of what you might encounter.

There are also some beautiful rock carvings around the pools. They are more recent that the tombs and structures, but we’re not experts so you’ll have to read up about it to find out more about them. Check the links at the end of this post.

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Onwards to Maitland’s

From Wisad we drove west towards Maitland’s Mesa. It’s a short distance but a really long drive because the road is rough (not the wonderful smooth mudflats that you get between Ruwaished and Wisad) and you move between washboard surfaces and deep soft sand.

And if the GPS isn’t working you can always follow the markers of the old post route from Amman to Baghdad. These are piles of stones that are scattered along the route.

Road markers (rujm) that line the old post road. You can follow these easily between Wisad and Maitlands
towards m
Another type of route maker – not always so easy to spot.
An entirely different type of desert
Re-inflating the tyres after a sandy spot
Lunch.  Not a tree in sight for miles around.

Maitland’s, the Mesas and our camp

The Mesas are not volcanoes but basalt-topped plateaus and the amazing thing about them is that they are covered in ancient structures – top, bottom and sides.   For actual authority on what these sites are, and even an explanation of why one of the plateaus is called Maitland’s, here is an article written by the experts:

Mateland Camp
From Google Earth you can see all the structures on top of one of the Mesas. This is also where we camped (but this Mesa might not be Maitland’s itself – its just how we referred to it).

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View from the top of one of the Mesas, and some of the tower structures that you find on top.


Graphic rock art on top of the Mesa
A 1994 addition to the gallery at the top of the Mesa.

A quick stop at Gurmeh’s rock art gallery

Jebal Gurmeh is a basalt hilltop roughly 30 minutes from Azraq, so very possible to visit this in a day trip from Amman.  Sadly, the proximity to civilization also means that some of the rocks are being taken away.  We definitely saw less rock art than the last time we visited a year or so ago.

A herd of ostriches

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Gurmeh (5)Gurmeh (4)Gurmeh (3)Gurmeh (2)
Desert Kites

Desert kites are ancient hunting systems, so called because they look like kites from the air.  Two stones walls are built in a funnel shape and end in a circular enclosure.  Hunters drive the prey towards the opening of the funnel and the animals move down towards the enclosure where they become trapped and then are easier to kill.

We didn’t visit any of the kites on this trip, but we thought we’d include some GPS points in case anyone is interested.  Kites

Map Kites
GPS points to all the kites in this part of the desert. Through the link above, you can download them all
Kite 2
Aerial view

Kite 1


Links to relevant studies:





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