The Judean Desert or the Wilderness of Judah is a small desert, approximately 1,500 square kilometers or some 600 Square miles and is very close to Jerusalem. Being so close to Jerusalem, it is no wonder that St. John the Baptist was able to have a large following.
The Judean Desert is bordered by the Mountains of Judea on the west and the Dead Sea on the East. It is considered a relatively small desert, spanning only 580 square miles, but it contains many fascinating nature reserves, historical sites, monasteries and primeval panoramas that make it an exciting and unique place to visit.
The Judean Desert is close to Jerusalem and relatively sparsely populated. The few settlements that are there were established at its perimeter. The desert is known for its rugged landscape, which has provided a refuge and hiding place for rebels and zealots throughout history, as well as solitude and isolation to monks and hermits. During the days of the Maccabees (about 2,000 years ago) large fortresses such as Masada and Horkenya were established in the desert. During the period of the great rebellion against Rome, the last battle of the Jewish zealots was fought on Massada, and during the period of the Second Temple, members of the Judean Desert cult lived there. - The Judean Desert
Here is where The Wilderness of Judea is located:
The edge of the wilderness is marked by 300 foot cliffs towering along the western shore of the Dead Sea and since its location is close to Jerusalem settlements can be found along its perimeters. Springtime in the wilderness is a time for blossoms, only for a very short season; for when the sun comes out in full force, it dries up again to become a dry wilderness. The Judean Desert wilderness in intertwined within scripture with some of the most significant events in Jesus’ life taken place in and around the Judean desert wilderness. It is located the southern province Judea in Israel; bordered by the Judean Mountains to the West and the Dead Sea to the East. Judea includes the territories of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Dan, Simeon, and part of Ephraim and contains the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Bethany, Bethpage, Emmaus and others. Since Jerusalem is located on a hill anytime someone is traveling to Jerusalem they are “going up” and anytime they are going away from Jerusalem they are “going down”.
“The Judean Desert wilderness is nestled up against the Jordan river on its most north-eastern edge near where it enters the northern end of the Dead Sea. John the Baptist lived in this desert wilderness until the day of his manifestation to Israel: regarding in the days of Jesus when John the Baptist appeared preaching in the wilderness desert of Judea. Jerusalem and all Judea and all the country about the Jordan went out to hear him and were baptized in the Jordan by him, confessing their sins.” (Matthew 3:5-6).
Wilderness of Judea
Part of Judah E. of the Hill Country, descending to the Dead Sea. The wilderness of Judea extends from the waters of the Dead Sea to the very edge of the central plateau (or hill country), thus travelers from the E had to journey from five to eight hours through a waterless desert. Three well-watered spots are on its eastern edge, Jericho, 'Ain Feshka (10 miles S), and 'Ain Jidi (or Engedi 28 miles S). Three roads into Judea begin at Jericho; another road into Judea begins at 'Ain Feshka; and still another begins at Engedi. The roads from Jericho run NW to Ai and Bethel, SW to Jerusalem, and SSW to the lower Kidron and Bethlehem. Just after this last road crosses the Kidron it is joined by the road from 'Ain Feshka. The road from Engedi breaks into two branches, one running NW to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, a wild and difficult road never used by caravans, the other branch turning SW to Yuttah and Hebron.
Authorities say that the three features of Judea's geography that are most significant in her history are "her pastoral character, her neighborhood to the desert, her singular unsuitableness for the growth of a great city." Two, at least, of the prophets were born in the face of the wilderness of Judea-Amos at Tekoa, and Jeremiah at Anathoth. The wilderness was the scene of David's refuge from Saul; here John the Baptist prepared for his mission; and here our Lord suffered His temptation. - Israel in the First Century
In 2015, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added the archaeological complex at Al-Maghtas, Jordan—dubbed the Biblical “Bethany beyond the Jordan”—to its World Heritage List. The site has been venerated as the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus since the late Roman–early Byzantine periods, when early Christians began making pilgrimages to the area. - Baptismal Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”