Adding the Third Dimension

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

Some worldly sights are set to surprise, and unknowingly stumbling upon them have caused some of our favorite travel moments.

And then there are others where we worry that we already know too much – that its picture is all too familiar, its story too well known. The element of surprise is absent, and so the ultimate impact of finally seeing it in person becomes suspect.

We worried about Petra. Its images grace many well known travel stories, television programs, and popular movies. We were concerned that we had already seen or heard it all before, rendering our experience of actually seeing it entirely dismissive.

Oh, how wrong we were.

We vastly underestimated the emotional tumult caused by seeing Petra in the third dimension – running our fingers over it, gauging its depth, sensing its presence in world history by breathing in the air around it. Seeing the Treasury caused us both to gasp out loud, utter astounding expletives, and for Pete to admit to the tears which crept into his eyes.

I told him that he should be the one to write about this experience, having been drawn to the story of Petra since a child.

“I can’t. What could I possibly say? I don’t know the words,” was the only response he could give.

Instead, Pete did what he does best, and recorded the momentous occasion with a memory card full of photos…

We vastly underestimated the emotional tumult caused by seeing Petra in the third dimension – running our fingers over it, gauging its depth, sensing its presence in world history by breathing in the air around it.


Entrance to the city of Petra is via the ‘Siq’ – a long and sometimes very narrow passage surrounded by 80m cliffs. An astonishing glimpse of the massive Treasury can be seen near the end.


The industrious Nabataeans carved the Treasury in the early 1st century, as a tomb for an important king. The city itself was used for their caravan trade, and they controlled all the main commercial routes which passed through the area.


One of the best parts of visiting Petra is getting up close to view the various colors in the sandstone.


And after a sweaty day of hiking the entire length of Petra and back (approx. fifteen kilometers) in extreme heat, there was still very good reason to return for a second time in the same day. I cannot think of any other sight in the world more majestic than seeing Petra at Night and how the Treasury was lit up by candlelight. We sat at its base drinking tea, listening to traditional music, and soaking in two thousands years of history.

Many thanks to the Jordan Tourism Board for hosting us on this trip. As always, all opinions are our own.

47 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Kieu
    June 20 2012

    Incredible! Petra is a place I’d love to visit one day.

    • Pete
      June 21 2012

      It is incredible. And to think that everything was hand carved from the top down.

  • Cat
    June 20 2012

    I’m more and more astonished with your photos!

    • Pete
      June 21 2012

      Thanks Cat! Practice is starting to pay off I guess πŸ˜‰

  • June 20 2012

    Holy shit…. I really need to get myself a better camera!

    • Pete
      June 21 2012

      Thanks Hogga! yeah having a good camera and learning how to properly use it is starting to help. But I have sooooo much more to learn.

  • Gillian @OneGiantStep
    June 20 2012

    I, too, worried that Petra couldn’t possibly live up to the hype…and then felt the worry wash away with the tears stinging my eyes as I first gazed upon the Treasury. It truly is that amazing isn’t it?

    • Pete
      June 21 2012

      It is. Words, photos, film does not even come close to the same effect as in person.

    • June 23 2012

      Agreed, I live & work in Jordan and have been to Petra again & again. It is a true wonder every time!

      • June 23 2012

        Ah, I could visit it again and again as well. Something new to discover every time, I imagine!

  • Chrystal McKay
    June 20 2012

    No matter how many times I see photos of Petra – I am always drawn to it. These are cream of the crop Ruins here. THey aren’t ruins though – they are perfectly preserved. I understand the sentiment of seeing something already through photos and words – but to be there – I know I would be awe’d the same as you two were!

    • Pete
      June 21 2012

      I am the same. I never get tired looking at it, no matter what angle. But being there, that was a whole new element.

  • jan
    June 20 2012

    Seems like everybody has been to Jordan. The tourist board is really doing their job well. Your photos are insightful and words well chosen. I did not realize the entrance to the Treasury was through 80m high cliffs. What an entrance. A pleasure to read and see this post.

    • June 21 2012

      I was gonna say…Jordan’s Tourist Board knows the deal! Seems like everyone’s been going these days. Looks UNREAL!

    • Pete
      June 21 2012

      Yes, the JTB is doing a tremendous job by working with travel bloggers and from what I heard are thinking of other avenues to help best promote their country. Some really cool things to come.

  • June 21 2012

    We heard “Petra is overrated” and “It’s so expensive to get in”. Well we felt it was neither overrated nor too expensive. It was absolutely incredible to get that first peek in the Siq.

    And then I was blown away at the sheer size. We climbed all the way up to the Monastery – no Jordanian BMWs for us – and back.

    My only regret is being too tired to go back to see it by candlelight at night.

    • Pete
      June 21 2012

      We were definitely exhausted after a full day in the area (with no camel or donkey rides) and then returning for the same trek in the evening. Such an amazing experience. Thanks for your comment!

  • June 21 2012

    Wow. It looks just amazing. I must see it for myself one day as clearly it’s a place to be experienced first hand!
    Laurence recently posted..Sunset explosion

    • Pete
      June 21 2012

      Yes, totally different in person. No matter how good of photos I have seen, nothing comes close to capturing its true power.

  • Marie @ A Montrealer Abroad
    June 21 2012

    So beautiful – I bet it’s the kind of place that leaves you totally speechless, at loss for words. I wish I were there!

    • Pete
      June 21 2012

      Spot on. We were speechless when I came around that corner. I will never forget that feeling of when I first saw it.

  • June 21 2012

    I was in Jordan for 2 days with my cousin after we finished our Birth Right trip to Israel and we spent a full day in Petra. It truly is breathtaking and overwhelmingly fascinating all at once. I felt like I couldn’t absorb it all. We walked around the main sights there and then my cousin convinced us to do an “off the beaten path” mini hike which ended up being well worth and luckily 2 girls had hired a guide to do the same hike so we would check behind us to make sure they were following us along. When we climbed to the top of the cliff one of the Beduins there treated us to hot sweet tea and invited us to sit around and chat with him and the guide with the two girls. It was a great experience.
    Vicky recently posted..Flowers – Photo of the Week

    • June 22 2012

      What a great experience you had! It feels like being in a totally different world, hey? Now way to absorb it all in one day. Would love to spend a week poking around there!

  • June 21 2012

    gorgeous shots!
    Annie of TravelShus recently posted..A Day on Jost Van Dyke

  • Emily in Chile
    June 21 2012

    This is how I felt about Machu Picchu. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed since I’d seen so many pictures, but being there in person really is something special.

    • June 22 2012

      Even though we spent a year in South America (and never made it to MP- grrr!) I’m still dying to go, even though I’ve seen the pictures a million times. I suspect it will have the same effect on us as Petra!

  • June 22 2012

    OMG it looks wonderful – the sandstone and the candlelight! Really desperate to go there now and see for myself.
    Natasha von Geldern recently posted..Hungary: Budapest with kids

    • June 22 2012

      I hope you get there! It really is something special.

  • We’ve had the same fear on a few occasions (that a place wouldn’t live up to the hype), but thankfully we’ve never found that to be the case. Okay, well…. we DID think the Roman Colosseum was so much smaller than we had expected. It was still cool, though. πŸ™‚

    • June 23 2012

      Some places are just set to amaze, I think, no matter what. Glad I was able to learn that lesson in Jordan!

  • SVV
    June 22 2012

    Lovely. A destination I hope to visit one day too. Also, it’s refreshing to hear travelers admit to a bit of cynicism. Thank you for that.

    • June 23 2012

      I can’t NOT be cynical, I think. A bit of a flaw sometimes! πŸ™‚

  • June 22 2012

    just stunning photos!!!! Petra is def. in my bucket list!

  • June 24 2012

    So glad to hear that it is not overrated. I tend to try to travel blind some of the time to defeat the over-hype of things. What I don’t know can’t underwhelm me. It does lead to a “darn I missed that” moment sometimes.
    I’ve heard and seen so much about the treasury (admittedly mostly Indiana Jones fueled). Again good to see that it overdelivers on the expectations.

    As others have said, wonderful pictures. Night shots can be difficult to get.
    Andrew recently posted..Ios, Greece – Walk with Photos

    • June 25 2012

      Thanks Andy. I am like you – I typically don’t read a lot about a place BEFORE I go because I prefer to go in not knowing anything and have my own reaction. But with some places (like Petra), they are too hard to completely ignore! No matter though, we were both still completely blown away!

  • Erik
    June 24 2012

    It’s a remarkable place, despite all of the hype that sometimes ruins other places.

    I didn’t see it at night, but it sounds amazing. Love your night photos!

  • June 25 2012

    Stunning photos. Cannot wait to visit Petra one day soon!
    We felt exactly the same when we visited Egypt. Luckily everything far surpassed our imaginations πŸ™‚

  • Ali
    June 25 2012

    I’d really love to go to Petra, and looking at your gorgeous pictures is making me want to go even more. I’m glad you weren’t disappointed by it, I understand that feeling of being let down because you know too much about a place or have already seen too many pictures.

  • Laura @Travelocafe
    June 26 2012

    I would so much like to go to Petra someday!

  • so so so so so so jealous

  • Rich
    July 8 2012

    Ridiculously good photos!

    And your words have also heightened my expectation – more determined to get myself out there now!

  • Susan
    July 9 2012

    We are spending two days in Petra next March as part of a 9-day private tour. I hesitated on committing to two days, but I feel that we will have plenty to see, at a more leisurely pace, over two days instead of one. We will also definitely be doing the Petra at Night and will even have the chance to do it a second time if we so desire. Your photos are amazing!!! Love your site!

  • Leah
    July 18 2012


  • June 6 2013

    That sounds like quite an adventure! It is a place I would like to visit, but I am waiting for my boys to be older, so they can truly enjoy such an amazing place.
    Marina K. Villatoro recently posted..Pioneers in the travel blogosphere #1

  • Karen Cunningham
    December 13 2014

    wow! That looks amazing. Is Petra a day trip from another town or can you stay there?

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