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The working title for the Forbidden Desert was Danger in the Desert. Jackson Winter's onscreen credits read, "Written, directed and photographed by Jackson Winter." Although the onscreen credits list the main character as John Lewis Burckhardt (1784-1817), some historical sources spell the Swiss explorer's name as Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. He was also known by his Middle Eastern name, Ibrahim Ibn `abd Allah. Most of the film's dialogue consists of voice-over narration by actor Marvin Miller, who describes the explorer's surroundings and actions, while other voice-over narration provided by several unidentified actors provides different texts, including Burckhardt's journal and Emperor Aurelian's speech about Queen Zenobia.
The film was based on Burckhardt's 19th century journal of his travels through ancient ruins in Syria and what is now Jordan. The film's portrait accurately follows some of the explorer's expeditions into the region. Burckhardt had studied for several years to become proficient in the Arabic and familiar with Arab culture. Because of historical and cultural myths and customs in the areas in which Burckhardt traveled, he found it necessary for his safety and the benefit of his project to disguise himself as a man from Damascus. Egypt was Burckhardt's home base, where he went undisguised and from which he made several more Arabian Peninsula expeditions. After the Christian Crusades in the Middle Ages, the city of Petra and several other sites had been unknown to Westerners until Burckhardt's 1812 expedition.
As noted in the onscreen credits, the film was shot entirely on the Arabian Peninsula. According to the film's pressbook, shooting took place in the ancient cities of Palmyra, Baalbek, Gerasa and Petra. Information found in the copyright file on the film states that the cast, crew and equipment were sent to the Warner Bros. local office in Beirut, Lebanon. From there, the crew attempted to begin location shooting in Lebanon and Syria; however, the summer months in 1955 proved to be too hot to operate the equipment and shooting was postponed until spring of the following year. As noted in the pressbook, native Arabs who portrayed period villagers and nomadic tribes people in the film wore native dress that had not changed significantly since Burckhardt's early 19th century expedition.