The Eastern Desert of Egypt lies between the river Nile and the Red Sea coast. It is composed of an almost uninterrupted chain of mountains running the length of the Red Sea coast, with a very complicated network of wadis as we move inland. Further inland is a fairly flat elevated plateau ending with small hills before the Nile valley. The width of the desert (east to west) varies between 120km in the north to more than 300km at the level of Bernice in the south. Both the Red Sea coast and the Nile river run roughly SE to NW. The sea shore is made up of fossilised coral hills and sandy beaches, these beaches or Marsas are at the mouth of a main wadi and are caused by rain floods over hundreds of centuries.

AcaciaThe main wadis in the mountains run more or less perpendicular to the coast and the Nile valley; these are caused by rain floods where very large amounts of water are channeled to the Red Sea on one side and the Nile river on the other, usually causing considerable damage. The rains are quite irregular in their occurrence; it might rain only once in one year, then wait for another 2 or 3 years to rain again and then the water may or may not run through the same wadis. It is interesting to know that one wadi, namely Wadi Shagra 20km north of Marsa Alam that was flooded in 1994 had not seen water in 70 years according to some elderly beduin. The only other source of water is wells that are usually more or less brackish as the well is located closer to or further from the sea; they are not very deep 5 to 12m in average.

The only vegetation present is plants, shrubs and trees that grow naturally in the wadis. In the months after rain, the wadis are all covered with different hues of green and yellow, excellent food for the herds of goats, sheep and camels. Among the shrubs, some like Hargl, Elfeen and others are used by the beduin for medicinal purposes, a small tree gives reddish berry-like fruits called Anab or grapes in Arabic, these are considered a delicatesse.
The bedouin living in this part of the Eastern Desert are the Ababda in the south and the Maaza in the north.

lizardGazelles, a variety of birds of prey and colorful lizards are fairly common. Other animals that inhabit the desert, among which the ibex, hyrax, jerboa, fox, desert hare, varaan (a large lizard) and viper are more rare to encounter. Their tracks in sandy parts of the wadis often reveal their presence and actions during the previous night or even foregoing hours.
The area is very rich in minerals and the extent of mining exploitation in ancient times is not yet fully known. We do know that gold, emerald, talc and iron have been extracted since early Pharaonic times.

The ruins date back to the Ptolemeic and Roman eras, with some evidence of Arabic settlement here and there. The sites are either old mines, quarries and villages, or parts of tracks, wells and fortresses which are inter linked. Their main purpose was for the easy passage of goods from the ports along the Red Sea coast who received goods from India, China and the Far East. The goods were bound for Turkey and Europe and would cross the desert by donkey or camel caravans to the Nile and eventually to the Mediterranean Sea. Goods from the Mediterranean area to the Far East would follow the same path in reverse.