My mental map of the Middle East was gray, sandy, and flat. I was way off…for the most part.

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1. Egypt’s White Desert

In Western Egypt, this desert features thousands of chalk formations and is often visited by tourists on camping trips. For more shots, check out Touring Egypt’s White Desert. (1) walidhassanein (2) neiljs (3) Private Tours in Egypt (4) clockwise L to R: Cairo Photo Tours, Roland Unger, Wonders From Nature

2. Jabal Qara Caves, Saudi Arabia

The Al Hasa Oasis in the country’s Eastern Province is home to an area of limestone hills, beneath which runs a system of well-visited caves. (1) rickredds (2) Pinterest (3) clockwise L to R: AhmedSadoon, കാക്കര, Mashael Al-Shuwayer

3. Socotra Island, Yemen

Located in the Arabian Sea, far from any mainland, Socotra has evolved species that aren’t found anywhere else, such as the red-sapped dragon’s blood tree, seen above. For information on visiting, read How to travel to Socotra Island. (1) Valerio Pandolfo (2) Alexandre Baron (3) Gerry & Bonni (4) clockwise L to R: Gerry & Bonni, Joël Lodé, Rod Waddington

4. Mt. Ararat, Turkey

The 16,850ft Ararat stands in far eastern Turkey, where it borders Armenia and Iran. This is the view from ~40 miles north, in Yerevan, Armenia. (1) MrAndrew47 (2) i.embrace (3) NASA.gov (4) ArArAt Brandy

5. Dead Sea, Jordan/Israel/West Bank

Yup, the rumors are true — it’s easy to float in the Dead Sea. (1) Taras Kalapun (2) Jeremy Piehler (3) clockwise L to R: MarkGuitarPhoto, momo, tsaiproject (4) patrickneckman

6. Mt. Sinai, Egypt

At the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula is a region of granite and volcanic formations that includes the 7,500ft Mt. Sinai, as well as the taller Mt. Saint Catherine (8,625ft). Early tourists included Moses. These days, it’s a super popular spot to catch a sunrise. (1) Andreas Metz (2) Karl Schneider (3) Davidlohr Bueso

7. Rub’ al Khali, Arabian Peninsula

I’ve got a world map from the ’50s, and one of its cooler cartographic artifacts is the “Empty Quarter,” a blank white space with no names, roads, or features listed. One of the largest sand deserts in the world, it’s only recently been explored by scientists. It occupies a large chunk of southern Saudi Arabia and parts of Oman, Yemen, and the UAE. (1) mario rukh (2) NASA/USGS (3) javierblas (4) Land Rover MENA

8. Musandam Fjords, Oman

The Musandam Peninsula is the spike that juts up from the boot toe of the Arabian Peninsula, creating the Strait of Hormuz and separating the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman. Its fjords are sometimes compared to Norway’s, though they were formed tectonically rather than by glacial movement. (1) oh contraire (2) Panoramas (3) Oman Air Blog (4) Atalante.fr

9. Nile River, Egypt

The longest river in the world runs past several historic sites in Egypt on its way to the Mediterranean. (1) dorena-wm (2) (3) NASA (4) clockwise L to R: Tony Hisgett, Atamari, Dennis Jarvis, risastia

10. Wadi Rum, Jordan

South of Petra, near Aqaba, Wadi Rum is a desert valley featuring Nabatean petroglyphs and several sandstone climbing walls/routes. The shot immediately above was taken from Jabal Rum, one of the mountains that line the valley. (1) Anark75 (2) Guillaume Baviere (3) clockwise L to R: Lawrence Murray, Guillaume Baviere, Guillaume Baviere, Anark75 (4) polandeze

11. Tortum Waterfall, Turkey

The falls is found next to the lake of the same name, around 50 miles north of Erzurum in eastern Turkey. (1) alper4594 (2) Marko Anastasov

12. Egypt’s Black Desert

About 60 miles southeast of the White Desert (see #1 above) is its inverse. (1) neiljs (2) walidhassanein (3) my life, the universe (4) mariusz kluzniak

13. Red Canyon, Israel

This canyon in southern Israel is accessible off Highway 12, just northwest of the city of Eilat. (1) tiroy (2) Senia L

14. Cappadocia stones and houses

The Cappadocia region of central Turkey is a landscape dominated by fairy chimneys and multi-colored canyons. Starting in Roman times, people carved out many of the chimneys to form living spaces, some of which are now hotels. (1) Adam Rifkin (2) Igor (3) Frank Kovalchek (4) archer10

15. Western Asir Province, Saudi Arabia

The area around Abha in the southwestern corner of Saudi Arabia is mountainous and fairly fertile. Much of it is protected in Asir National Park, the country’s oldest. The figures in the first shot above stand looking towards Yemen. (1) krautarsch (2)(3) Wajahat Mahmood