Tag Archives: family hike

Hiking Nahal Og

This is a real gem of a hike. Nahal Og is less than a half hour from Jerusalem in the Judean desert. It’s picturesque in a rugged, desert kind of way so it’s a good opportunity for taking photographs of the scenery and of course your family/group.

You might find that parts of the hike are challenging but this is a hike that is doable by parents and kids. There are three places where metal rungs have been hammered into the rock to give you hand and foot holds to help you traverse the steep rock faces. In the winter months there will be parts of the trail that have filled with water that you will have to cross.

The trail is a loop so you end back where you parked your car and in fact, you can do the trail in either direction, depending on whether you want to ascend or descend the rungs. Most people find that climbing up the rungs is easier than going down. The hike itself should take you about two hours.

To fill out your day combine the hike with one of the many other attractions in the area, the mosaics at the Inn of the Good Samaritan, St George’s monastery in Wadi Qelt, the archaeological site at Qumran, a float in the Dead Sea.

Springs in Jerusalem Hills

Around Jerusalem there are some special hikes that let you combine nature, history and archaeology. Two that I’ve already written about are Nahal Katlav and Shaar HaGai. Before heading out pick up some artisan bread, cheese, wine, hummus (you can find zatar growing wild) and salads for a picnic, drive into the hills, hike the trail and enjoy. In Psalms it says

הַמְשַׁלֵּחַ מַעְיָנִים בַּנְּחָלִים בֵּין הָרִים יְהַלֵּכוּן God sends the springs into the valleys, between the mountains. (Psalms 104:10)

A hike to a maayan, a natural spring where water finds its way out of the limestone hillside, is a great outing for the whole family. At some point someone cut into the bedrock to make a pool, perfect for a dip on a hot summer day. There is even a trail, Shvil HaMayaanot, from just before Even Sapir that goes by a number of springs and pools. Drive out to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo near Malcha (itself a fun destination for the whole family) and park the car at the farthest parking lot, a road with a blue trail marker continues west to 2 springs (it’s also possible to drive it but then it won’t be a hike).  To your right the hill above the trail is called Rekhes Lavan (White Ridge) because of the kirton (chalk, a soft kind of limestone) and the valley below to the left with the train tracks is Nahal Refaim (Valley of Ghosts). After following the winding road you will come to a small parking area, a green Parks sign and steps on your right. Climb the stairs to Ein Lavan that fills 2 pools, a shallow one for smaller children or for cooling your feet and a deeper one, about 1.5 meters, great for swimming. After your picnic follow the spring back towards it source to find a burial cave from the Second Temple period. The second spring, Ein Itamar (also known as Ein Balad), is farther and more challenging to find. Our youngest son, AdirChai, who is the family expert on maayanot told me about it.

From Ein Lavan descend the steps and continue along the road. At the fork stay right, you will see that the blue trail joins the black. The road becomes paved again, there is a gravel path that forks to the left (don’t take it, follow the black trail). When the road turns right and is climbing there’s a dirt path to the left that leads down (marked with a blue trail marker), follow it until it turns sharply to the left. Look for the ruins of a stone building, the pool is below it. If you need a guide contact me.

Jewish Hirbet Midras

About 45km south of Jerusalem in the Ella valley, where David fought Goliath, are the ruins of an ancient agricultural settlement beginning in Iron age II, Hirbet Midras. With the recent discovery of a Byzantine church thought to be the burial place of the prophet Zechariah* people may lose sight of the fact that the site also contained a large, important Jewish settlement that dates from the Second Temple period (3rd century BCE) until its destruction during the Bar Kokhba uprising.

The site is part of a JNF park and nature reserve covering about 5000 dunam with typical Mediterranean woodlands, Kermes oak, Atlantic pistachio, terebinth and buckthorn. When I visited there were pink cyclamen (rakafot רקפות), red anemones (kalaniot כלניות) and Common Asphodel in bloom. With the recent rains, hyssop (zatar) had come up.

There were also many clumps of mandrakes (dudaim) in bloom, the fruit, which is reported in the Bible to be an aphrodisiac, will be ready late summer, at the time of the wheat harvest.

וַיֵּלֶךְ רְאוּבֵן בִּימֵי קְצִיר-חִטִּים, וַיִּמְצָא דוּדָאִים בַּשָּׂדֶה, וַיָּבֵא אֹתָם, אֶל-לֵאָה אִמּוֹ; וַתֹּאמֶר רָחֵל, אֶל-לֵאָה, תְּנִי-נָא לִי, מִדּוּדָאֵי בְּנֵךְ

Reuven went out and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother, Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Give me, I pray thee, of your son’s mandrakes”.  Genesis 30:14

Among the remains at the site are various buildings, agricultural installations and an extensive complex of caves and tunnels, including a columbarium and tombs.

Cut out of the soft limestone is a bell cave with square and triangular niches carved in the walls that was used as a columbarium (dovecote). The pigeons were raised for food and the dung used as fertilizer. Other bell caves were used for storage and hiding during the Bar Kokhba revolt – a collection of chambers were quarried and connected to each other by tunnels. For those who like spelunking you can walk and crawl (about 20 minutes and you’ll need a flashlight and a map) from the bell cave through a circular maze of tunnels through some dozen chambers that takes you back to where you started.

At the top of the hill with a great view of the coastal plain is a stepped, pyramid-shaped structure of dressed stone, the only one of its kind in Israel. The base is about 10 meters and the present height is 3.5 meters but 3 rows of stones are missing bringing the original height to 5 meters. This structure is a nefesh or monument marking a Jewish burial cave.

There is a wall of dressed stones up the hill near the stepped pyramid and nearby part of a niche which leads scholars to identify the building as a 4th century synagogue.

On the way back down you will pass a system of subterranean burial chambers cut in the limestone. The original opening of the cave was from a square patio, the tomb opening was sealed by a large stone disc that rolled on a track in the rock.

Nearby on the western side of highway 38 is a site with Roman milestones from the third century CE, from the days of Marcus Aurelius, with inscriptions of one of the caesars names (Septimius Severus) and his achievements.

*According to Jewish and some Christian traditions the burial place of Zechariah, along with Hagai and Malachi, the last three Hebrew prophets who are believed to have lived during the 5th-6th centuries BCE is in a large catacomb on the Mount of Olives (31.783333°N 35.250833°E). Archaeological research shows that the complex dates from the 1st century BCE, when this style of tombs came into use for Jewish burial. Some Greek inscriptions discovered at the site suggest the cave was re-used to bury Christians during the 4th and 5th centuries CE.

Nubian Ibex

Wild goats are very agile and hardy, able to climb on bare rock and survive on sparse vegetation. The Nubian ibex (Capra ibex nubiana) is a rocky desert dwelling goat found in mountainous areas of Israel and throughout the Middle East that eats mainly grasses and leaves. Archaeologists have found evidence of the ibex on cylinder seals and painted on pottery. You can find rock drawings of ibex on a hill above Carmei Avdat, a family farm where grape vines grow on original Nabatean terraces.

Ibex rock drawings

Across from the farm is the En Avdat nature reserve. I was hiking with a client in the canyon mid-morning and the sun was perfectly backlighting a grove of Euphrates poplar trees for a great photo. Near the entrance is a large Pistachio Atlantic tree with gnarled branches and strong roots anchoring it in a field of rocks. This tree was ablaze in reds and yellows – one of the things I miss is the beautiful autumn colors I used to see in Canada. As I looked up among the branches I saw an ibex that had climbed 10 feet up into the tree. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera.

There is a good chance to see ibex at nearby Sde Boker, overlooking Nahal Zin. Farther south, you can see ibex in the parks and on the edge of the makhtesh at Mitzpe Ramon.

Ein Gedi is a great place for a hike, to take a family to experience springs, waterfalls and pools in the desert. Today as we pulled into the parking lot, we saw a male ibex on the roof of a Eldan rental car so that it could reach the leaves of a nearby tree. I know ibex are good climbers and the ibex in the Ein Gedi reserve are used to people but that was certainly a surprise.

Ibex at Ein Gedi on car roof

Red Canyon

Rather than driving all the way down to Eilat on highway 90 you might want to consider a detour, taking a right onto highway 13 and then a left onto 40 which follows the Israel Trail. After 38 km you’ll come to Shizaphon Junction where you’ll find an organic, vegetarian restaurant run by the folks of Kibbutz Naot Smadar, a lovely place to take a break.

At the Pundak you can also buy products from the kibbutz, artisan goat cheeses, bread, jams, fruit leather, dates and wine – everything you’d need for a picnic. I highly recommend that you try their goats yoghourt ice cream with the homemade apple cake. Mmmm, delicious.

From the junction if you continue on highway 40 you’ll come to the kibbutz itself, like a magical kingdom appearing out of the desert. Many of the kibbutznikim are artists and they’ve built a studio space and gallery that you can visit.

Afterwards retrace your steps and take highway 12. After about 3 km there will be a dirt road to your left that will take you to Shaharut where you can sleepover and go on camel trips. Afterwards retrace your steps and continue on highway 12 south for about 50 km until you see the cutoff for the Red Canyon – Wadi Shani on your left. Follow the dirt road to the parking area.

From there you follow the green trail markers and descend into the small canyon, no more than 3 meters in width with a height of up to 30 meters, created over years by water erosion of the sandstone.

Red Canyon

The dominant color of the rock is red with shades of pink and purple. It reminded me of a smaller version of the canyon at Petra. The hike is suitable for families. To return either retrace your steps through the canyon (if there aren’t a lot of people) or climb up out of the canyon where the streambed widens and take the path with a great view of the canyon below. The Red Canyon is one of the places that I recommend to people who are interested in a tour focussed on photography.

If you are continuing to Eilat there are 2 lookout spots that are worth stopping at: Har Hizqiyahu at 838 meters for a view east to the Edom Mountains in Jordan and west to Moon Valley in Egypt and Mount Yoash at 734 meters from which you can see 4 countries on a clear day: Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Aqueduct at Caesarea

The first aqueduct was built by Herod at the time the city of Caesarea-Maritima was founded and brought water from the Shuni spring, south of Mount Carmel, about 10KM to the northeast of the city. The water flowed on a single raised channel.

When this was not sufficient, a second “lower” aqueduct was built by the Legions of the Emperor Hadrian (2nd C CE). It brought water from Tanninim (Crocodiles) river. This section, with a tunnel of about 6KM long, was tapped into the older aqueduct, and doubled its capacity and its width. The builders used the same building materials and style, so it may be difficult to see that the pair of channels were built at different times. The aqueduct continued to supply water to Caesarea for 1200 years.

Just past the entrance to Beit Hanania you can find the northern section of the aqueduct and the second aqueduct (Hadrian) connecting to the older one (Herod). In this section there are two stone tablets that were placed into the wall by its builders, the legion of the Emperor Hadrian. The right tablet clearly shows: “IMP CAES(ar) TRIAN HADR(ianus)”. The other tablet is of the Tenth Legion (the Imperial eagle without its head standing on a wreath).

The Israel Trail winds its way beside the aquaduct, through the Arab town of Jizr a-Zarka and then south along the coast to Caesarea. On the beach closer to the Caesarea archaeological park there is another section of the aqueduct. In fact it makes a great hike with the whole family from here along the beach north to Dor or a little further to Habonim.