This is part 2, for the part 1 go here
After wading into the Dead Sea, I proceeded south on Jor 65 along the Jordanian side of the water. A few miles past the resort area the road returns to 2 lanes and lazily mirrors the shoreline. It’s a striking drive and the views are worth it.
10 minutes later is a turnoff for Mt Nebo, the burial site of Moses. From the top of Mt Nebo you can see Jerusalem, the Baptism Site and the Dead Sea.
Had I done a better job of planning, I would have visited Mt Nebo first, because it required an hour’s worth of backtracking. But the initial climb was freshly paved switchbacks and breathtaking views. By now it was 91 degrees. I was working the Explorer hard, using the auto shifter to hold gears with the AC set on max. The engine temp needle never moved from its midpoint. The all-seasons were clearly not up to the task, but the Explorer held neutral until the limit, then gently under steered. A slight lift of the throttle would rotate the rear a tad and put it back on the line. The size was apparent, especially in some of the villages, but never an issue.
Returning along the same route, I discovered the Fortress of Mukawer, also known as Machaerus. The hike from the parking lot to the fort was gravel and a bit loose, so I elected to walk mostly atop the wall bordering the path. On my return, I saw the tail of a medium sized snake slithering between the stones. While I managed not to emit my normal squeal, I decided to walk the rest of the way on the path. I was solo and no one could talk me away from my thoughts of spitting cobras. (I have since affirmed spitting cobras do not live in this region, but you can’t be too safe.)
I returned to 65 and kept following the Dead Sea. Away from populated areas, traffic is sparse. There are several passing breaks to keep things flowing, but like most of this region, people drive where they want. I am overtaken on a blind turn by a new Land Cruiser. I keep the metric speedo around 120 KPH without taxing the truck, or spoiling my drive. It’s decent pavement, and the Explorer does a great job of soaking up the thumps and irregularities.
More sites along the road include the Wadi Mujib Biosphere. 1,350 feet below sea level, this gorge empties into the Dead Sea. According to the literature, the Wadi Mujib is the world’s lowest nature reserve; home to over 300 plant species, 10 species of carnivores as well as unique species of permanent and migratory birds. I took their word for it; it is over 85 square miles, you are only allowed in on foot and I just didn’t have that kind of time.
Also is the Prophets Lut’s cave. He is recognized as a prophet in Islam as well as Lot in Christianity. This cave was his refuge for him and his two daughters after the destruction of Sodom. Wishing to stay out of a religious argument, I’ll let you research and decide what may or may not have happened among the three.
By the time I reached Al Mazraa at the end of the Dead Sea, it was late afternoon. The sun was casting long, warm shadows across the landscape. It had been a good day; some of the roads were good enough to have me longing for my Suzuki GSX-R. The traffic was light enough I would have felt safe enough to ride it. The views are truly unique to this part of the world. I had checked several items off my bucket list and even penciled in some new ones.
When you read about explorers, the story that you rarely get is the trip home, probably because they have already told you what happened. My drive home was uneventful and allowed me to take full inventory of the Explorer. Edmunds tells me true market value starts at 7 grand for 2006. Carmax has over 100 in their national inventory at the moment of writing. They start at $11,998 for an XLT with over 100K up to over $20 thousand for low mileage examples. The Explorer’s sheer production numbers ensure that if you wanted one, it could be had in almost any condition from Craigslist. Carmax also offers comparable 4Runners starting at $13,998. Having driven several examples of both, it really comes down to taste.
After a week in traffic and a day exploring, I can’t say I love the Explorer. I will happily say it was a very good companion, capable in every way that matters. Either ignorance or confidence kept me from worrying about any major issues and the Ford never missed a step. When the sun set across the valley I began the climb up the mountains back to Amman. As the temperature cooled, I turned off the AC and dropped the windows. The Black Keys popped up on my iPhone; and I had a moment of connection with the Explorer. However brief, I can honestly say I have never felt that with a Toyota.
W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, a Philosophy degree and a gift for making Derek and Jack wonder if English is actually his first language.