Tag Archives: hike

Photo of the Week – Zavitan on Golan

Because Israel is a small country (the size of New Jersey) the relatively large expanse of the Golan makes it one of my favorite areas and it is a great place for hiking. One of my favorite hikes was Nahal Yehudia but that trail was closed and only a shorter section of it recently reopened. So when clients were looking for a place to hike I chose Nahal Zavitan, also a great place for photographs. This is a photo taken just past the hexagonal columns on the trail where it opens onto a small pool.

Nahal Zavitan on Golan

Clicking on the image will display it larger. Please share this post with your friends by clicking on the icons at the end of this message.

The technical details, shot with a Lumix point and shoot camera, ISO 80, 4.1mm, F4 at 1/320 sec.

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

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Hiking the Makhtesh

Even from space Makhtesh Ramon appears as a masterpiece of the spirit of the earth.
(from Space Shuttle Columbia monument)

This week I did a very nice 13 km hike in the Har HaNegev reserve to Har Ramon, the highest mountain in the Negev at 1037 meters above sea level. After the winter rains we saw many plants blooming even though this area is a desert.

DSC_0286

Along the way we passed a number of tumuli, piles of rocks that are ancient tombs, and a 4.6 km stone wall running between the mountains Ramon and Romem estimated to be from the Intermediate Bronze period, more than 4000 years ago. Further along the red trail we reached a lookout on the basalt hills of Karne Ramon below, where a monument has been established to the 7-person crew of the space shuttle Columbia that disintegrated on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2003. One of the crew was Israeli, Ilan Ramon, who had taken his surname from this area.

From Karne Ramon lookoutFrom there we descended in a winding path to Nahal Ramon at the bottom of the makhtesh. We then joined the green trail through the Canyon of Prisms and ascended the trail out of the makhtesh.

Canyon of Prisms

It’s hard to capture the expansiveness of this “hole” in the earth because the makhtesh is so large. The makhtesh is 40 km long, 2–10 km wide and 500 meters deep, and is shaped like an elongated heart. I took a sequence of overlapping photographs with the intention of stitching them together to try to give you an idea of the view. Click on each of these images to see it full-size.

The image below is made up of 2 photos “stitched” together.Makhtesh Panorama1This image is made up of 3 photos.Makhtesh Panorama2

This image is made up of 4 photos, a pan of 180º, overlooking Karne Ramon at the southern end of the makhtesh.Makhtesh Panorama

Photo of the Week – Red Canyon Colors and Textures

When driving down to Eilat you can turn off of highway <90> and drive along highway <12> that runs along the border with Egypt. There’s a great family hike on the way, watch for Wadi Shani and hike the Red Canyon. This photo was taken at the entrance to the canyon. Clicking on the image will display it larger. Please share this post with your friends by clicking on the icons at the end of this message.

Red Canyon

The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon D90 (digital SLR) camera with a Nikkor 18-70mm lens in February (ISO 400, 18mm, F10 at 1/160 sec).

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

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Hiking Nahal Mikhmas

On Monday we drove out of Jerusalem on highway 437 past Pisgat Zeev to get to the starting point of our hike in the northern Judean desert. On the way, about 5km north of Jerusalem on the left along the watershed ridge at 839m above sea level is Gibeah (of Saul) or Givat Shaul usually pointed out as the location, Tel el-Ful, where King Hussein of Jordan began construction of his Royal Palace in the 1960s.

The site has a number of important Biblical/historical references:

• The Concubine of Gibeah, and the ensuing Battle of Gibeah between the Israelite tribes against Benjamin (Judges 19-21)

• Israel’s first king, Saul, reigned from Gibeah for 38 years (1 Samuel 8-31)

• Prophetic mention during the period of the Divided Kingdom (Hosea 5:8, 9:9, 10:9; Isaiah 10:29)

• The encampment of the 10th Roman Legion in their assault on Jerusalem in 70CE (Josephus, War of the Jews)

Just before we arrived at our destination on the right we passed another site, Qubur Bani Israel (Tombs of Children of Israel), 4 large narrow rectangular walled structures measuring 15 by 3 meters which rise from a rocky plateau overlooking Wadi Qelt. The megaliths still have two or three rows of gigantic, rough-hewn stones carefully in place. The name refers to the site being an ancient Jewish burial ground in the territory of Benjamin; archaeologists estimate the date as 2000BCE. A theory proposed by Noga Reuveni (who also established the biblical gardens of Neot Kedumim) is that in fact this site marks the tomb of Rachel who was buried “on the road to Efrat, now Bet Lehem (Bereishit 35:19)”. There is a city Farah settled near the spring Ein Farah that is mentioned among the cities of Binyamin (Joshua 18:23) and it is not unreasonable to posit that it was alternatively called Efrat (same Hebrew root). Since the city was in an area of wheat and barley, it was later renamed (like other cities) Bet Lehem. This also matches the description to Saul before his return home to Gibeah.

When you leave me today, you will meet two men near the tomb of Rachel in the territory of Benjamin (1 Sam. 10:2)

This should have been a clue that this was not going to be just a nature hike.

We started hiking from Geva Binyamin, also called Adam. Because the area is in Judea and Shomron/the West Bank we had to arrange clearance with the army and get the security officer to open the gate from the settlement. Geva Binyamin was founded in 1984 and in 2007 had a population of 3500 people. It sits between the Arab towns of Jabah and Mikhmus that recall the towns of Geva and Mikhmas mentioned in the Bible.

Open a TaNaKh and read 1 Samuel, chapters 13 and 14 for the account of the battle between King Saul and his son Jonathan against the Philistines. The Israelite forces are camped at Geva and the Philistines are on Mikhmas with the wadi separating them. Jonathan sneaks out of the camp at night and hidden by the deep walls of the canyon makes his way to the Philistine garrison… We were standing on the ridge reading the account of the battle, overlooking the area where it took place.

The black trail follows the ridge above Nahal Mikhmas. Hidden among a pile of rocks is the spring of Ein Suweinit. Many caves can be seen and we stopped at two of them, El-Jai is one of the largest in the Shomron.

From there we descended the steep cliff to the nahal, actually quite challenging because of the slippery rocks and mud.

Because of the rains we saw two flowers, the tiny purple Grape Hyacinth, in Hebrew, Kadan and bunches of white Desert Bulbs, Bezalziya.

Dark Grape Hyacinth (Muscari commutatum), also bulb, cluster of tiny flowers like jugs that hang upside down to protect the pollen from rain.

A rosette of grey-green leaves emerges before the flowers, 6 petals with a stamen on each, blooms for 5-6 weeks which is long for bulbs, grows among rocks to protect the bulbs from being dug up by porcupines and other animals.

Where Nahal Mikhmas joins Wadi Qelt the trail changes to red and we followed it to the left/east to Ein Mabu’a/Ein Fawwar. This spring is an artesian or karstic fountain, which flows from a cave into a round concrete pool built by the British in the 1920s. Until the Six Day War, the water was pumped to East Jerusalem, but today it is no longer used. In the Second Temple period an aqueduct brought water to the fortress at Cypros and there is a mosaic floor from a Byzantine church. If mosaics interest you then visit the nearby museum at Inn of the Good Samaritan.

Hiking the Makhtesh

Approximately 50km from the development town of Dimona named after the Biblical city of the same name mentioned in Joshua 15:21-22 are two examples of makhteshim or erosion cirques, unique to the Negev and Sinai deserts. So far geologists have only identified 7 makhteshim, Makhtesh Ramon, Makhtesh HaGadol, Makhtesh HaKatan and two even smaller ones on Har Harif in the Negev; there are two in the Sinai. One of the special things about the Makhtesh HaKatan is that because of its small size you can view it in its entirety, a 5km by 7km oval shaped bowl with steep walls of resistant rock, in this case limestone and dolomite that covered a softer layer of chalk and Nubian sandstone that comes in colors of pink, purple, yellow and green.

There are two access points into the makhtesh, Maale Hatzera on the northern wall is more gentle, an ancient camel pass and Maale Eli. We started our hike from Maale Eli a route originally discovered by local Bedouin that traverses the steep limestone (from the Cenomanian epoch 100 million years ago) walls of the makhtesh connecting the floor of the makhtesh with Hatzera Ridge. I’ve heard various reasons for the name – Eli means upper from the same root as ascend; Eli means pestle to the bowl-shaped mortar of the makhtesh. In fact, it is named after Eli Ben Zvi, son of Rahel Yanait and Yitzhak Ben Zvi who was the second president of Israel. Eli was wounded during a training exercise with the Palmach in the makhtesh in the 1940s and this ascent was discovered in evacuating him to the nearest road joining Beersheva to Maale Aqrabim, the Scorpion Ascent built by the British. Like Masada the Makhtesh HaKatan became a symbol of knowing the desert and the land of Israel by a people who had come home after 2000 years of exile.

We descended the steep walls of the makhtesh on a serpentine trail with the aid of rungs and railings, 400 meters to the floor of the makhtesh. From there we followed the red trail east (also marked as part of the Israel trail) passing hills and cliffs of colored sandstone to the mouth/exit of the makhtesh. The colors are produced by iron oxides, the sand from erosion of the Arabo-Nubian Massif carried all the way here by riverbeds. The hike is suitable for good hikers and should take about 4 hours.

By the paved road that leads to the exit is an electricity tower and piled at various levels are branches that look like the nest of some large bird – they were deposited there in 1994 and 2004 when there were torrential rains and the water reached that high.

For those looking for a long day hike you can follow the Israel trail starting at the Tamar fortress and descending into the makhtesh at Maale Hatzera. You walk south on the blue trail to the mouth of the makhtesh and when you get to the water pumping station you take the red trail west across the makhtesh climbing up at Maale Eli. Continuing another 10km to the Makhtesh HaGadol will take you past the spring of Ein Yorqeam, definitely worth a visit.

The British figured that it would be worth drilling for oil in the makhtesh, erosion has already gotten rid of the hard rock and hundreds of meters of sand. They did not find any but for the same reason it is worth drilling for water. The sand in the makhtesh acts as a large aquifer though the water is quite salty. The water is piped to a reservoir on Mount Tzafit from where it is used by industries on the Rotem Plain.

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.

Gamla – Nature, Archaeology and History

Gamla is both a nature reserve and archaeological site making it a great place to visit. We started with an easy hike, through a field of dolmens, prehistoric megalith tombs erected in the early Middle Bronze period about 2200BCE. A dolmen is made up of three large basalt stones, one lying on two other stones standing vertically. The hike takes us across a wooden bridge to the other side of Nahal Gamla for a view of the waterfall, at 51m the highest in Israel.

Gamla Waterfall

Take the trail past a Byzantine town to the Raptor lookout – the nahal is home to a large nesting population of Griffon vultures (that Israel has successfully resettled there) who did a fly past for us over the valley, it’s an incredible sight to see them gliding on the thermals.

The ancient city is situated on a steep hill (a horst like Masada) shaped like a camel’s hump, from which it derives its name (gamal means ‘camel’ in Hebrew). Jews inhabited it from the last quarter of the 2nd century BCE, and it was annexed to the Hasmonean state under Alexander Jannaeus in about 81BCE. Josephus Flavius, commander of the Galilee during the Jewish Revolt against Rome fortified Gamla as the main stronghold on the Golan. It’s fascinating to compare Gamla, a city and one of the first to stand against Vespasian’s legions with Masada, a fortress and the last to fall to the Romans.

Josephus provides a detailed description of the Roman siege and destruction of Gamla (like at Masada). Vespasian and his son Titus led the X Fretensis, XV Apollinaris and V Macedonica legions against Gamla, built a siege ramp in an attempt to take the city but were repulsed by the defenders. Only on the second attempt did the Romans succeed in breaching the wall at three different locations and invading the city. There they engaged the Jewish defenders in hand-to-hand combat up the steep hill. Fighting in the cramped streets from an inferior position, the Roman soldiers climbed onto the roofs that subsequently collapsed under the heavy weight, killing many soldiers and forcing a Roman retreat. The legionnaires re-entered the town a few days later, eventually beating Jewish resistance and completing the capture of Gamla.

According to Josephus, some 4,000 inhabitants were slaughtered, while 5,000, trying to escape down the steep northern slope, were either trampled to death or fell or threw themselves into the ravine (perhaps exaggerated by Josephus, the number of inhabitants has been estimated at less than 4,000 – at Masada 960 lost their lives).

Abandoned after its destruction, Gamla lay in ruins for almost 2000 years and was only identified in 1968 by Itzhaki Gal who was doing an archaeological survey of sites in the Golan after the Six Day War. It was excavated by Shemaryahu Gutmann (who did the original survey at Masada and who excavated there with Yigal Yadin) and Danny Syon for 14 seasons from 1976. The excavations uncovered 7.5 dunam, about 5% of the site, revealing a typical Jewish city.

The Gamla excavations revealed widespread evidence of the battle, about 100 catapult bolts, 1600 arrowheads and 2000 ballista stones, made from local basalt, 200 artifacts of Roman army equipment, quantities unsurpassed anywhere in the Roman Empire. Most were collected near the wall, placing the heavy fighting in the vicinity of the wall and the Roman siege engines to the northeast of the town.

Only one human jawbone was found during the exploration of Gamla, raising a question about what happened to the bodies of the Jewish defenders (like Masada). A tentative answer is suggested by archaeologist Danny Syon – he suggests that the dead would have been buried at nearby mass graves that have yet to be found (as at Yodfat).

One of the most interesting finds is the remains of a typical “Galilean” style synagogue inside the city walls, with rows of columns, tiers of side benches, heart-shaped corner pillars and an alcove for Torah scrolls in the northwest corner. A mikveh (ritual bath) was found nearby. Interesting to compare this to the synagogue found at Masada. The synagogue is thought to date from the late 1st century BCE making it one of the oldest synagogues in the world.

Also found were six coins minted at Gamla during the Revolt, with the inscription “For the redemption of Holy Jerusalem” in a mixture of paleo-Hebrew and Aramaic that shows that the defenders of Gamla saw their fight against the Romans as no less than a struggle for national independence.

The Golan Archaeological Museum in nearby Katzrin displays artifacts from Gamla and other sites on the Golan and a moving film about Gamla – definitely worth a visit.