Tag Archives: Hiking

Desert Wildflowers

If you are going to be in the south of Israel, there is a nice hike from the Timna valley through Nahal Mangan climbing onto the Milhan ridge; from there you can descend and camp at the Milhan well. This area gets less than 100mm of rain per year but in March we saw a lot of plants in bloom for a desert.

The Silon Kotzani (Zilla spinosa) is a perennial but only lives a couple of years dying from drought or flash floods. The plant grows into a sphere of stems and thorns that is typical of thorny plants in the desert. The peak of its flowering is March, afterwards it dries up. The small purple flowers are edible and have a mild cabbage taste. When dry the stems of the bush can be used as kindling to start your campfire.

The White Broom, Rotem HaMidbar (Retama raetam) was blossoming, bunches of small, delicate white flowers. This is the bush under which the prophet Elijah sat.

But he went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom-bush. Kings I 19, 4

The Broomrape, Yahnuk HaMidbar (Cistanche tubulosa) is a parasite that grows on and gets its nourishment from the roots of other plants. There are no leaves, just a spike of yellow flowers.

Parosheet Galonit (Pulicaria desertorum) is a low-lying plant with yellow flowers that grows in desert areas. The leaves and flowers can be used to make tea, the plant has a pleasant scent.

Lotus HaMidbar, Desert Lotus (Lotus lanuginosus) is a low-lying perennial with small red flowers that grows in desert areas.

Fagonia Rakah (Fagonia mollis) is one of the typical and most widespread plants that grows in the desert.

For other posts about wildflowers click on “Wildflowers”  under Categories in the right hand column or https://israeltours.wordpress.com/category/wildflowers/

Israel Trail Encounter

The Israel Trail or Shvil Yisrael is a national hiking trail inaugurated in 1994 that zigzags the entire country from Tel Dan in the north near the Lebanese border to the southernmost tip of Israel at the Red Sea, approximately 940 km. You may have seen sections of the trail on other hikes (the Israel Trail was created by connecting some of the existing, favorite hiking trails), for example, if you’ve visited the Small Makhtesh from the western lookout point the trail descends and crosses to the mouth of the makhtesh and then north via Maale Hatzera. You can recognize the trail by its 3 colored stripes, white (signifying the snow on Mount Hermon, north), blue and orange (like sand or south to Eilat).

I have Zvi Gilat’s excellent guidebook to the Israel Trail in Hebrew; there is one guide book, Israel National Trail by Jacob Saar, including topographical maps in English. The official website is at http://www.israelnationaltrail.com/ which includes a forum that enables you to connect with other hikers to discuss the trail.

I just got back from 8 days hiking on the southern part of the trail from the border crossing with Egypt at Taba to Shaharut in the Negev (incommunicado with the outside world, walking the desert landscape – which is why there was no blog post). Walking for a number of hours through a narrow canyon, climbing a ridge or mountain for a 360 degree view of your surroundings and watching the changing forms of the sandstone cliffs as you hike by is a different experience than driving up to a site by car.

The trail lets you experience nature throughout Israel with the opportunity to relate to the history of the country. I joined the annual Avi B’shvil Yisrael, an incredible project that brings together a third component, encounter with Israelis from throughout the country, young and old, religious and secular. There is a daily group discussion about the significance of kibbutz and an evening guest who talks about his/her experience related to kibbutz (the subject being examined this year). They also handle a lot of the logistics, you can pay 10NIS for fresh fruit, vegetables and bread to have for lunch and 10NIS for a communal dinner, the organizers ensure that there is enough water for the next day, provide a guide and arrange transportation (back to where you left your car, car pooling or a main road where you can get a bus). They are hiking the Israel Trail until Thursday, April 28, 2011 when they reach She’ar Yeshuv so if you can find the time, check out the itinerary at http://www.avi-beshvil-israel.org.il/luz.php and join them. I strongly recommend it.

The project is in memory of Avi Ofner and 72 other soldiers who died on February 4, 1997 when two IDF Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters collided in midair over She’ar Yashuv. The helicopters were hovering waiting for clearance to cross the border into Israel’s “security zone” in Lebanon.

For recommendation on some dozen other hikes, click on “Hiking” under Categories in the right hand column or https://israeltours.wordpress.com/category/hiking/

Archaeological Ruins at Cypros

The site of Cypros above Wadi Qelt occupies a commanding position overlooking the Jerusalem-Jericho highway and a spectacular view of the Jericho Plain and the Dead Sea (a good place to take photographs). Originally a Hasmonean fortress, Pompey destroyed it in 63 BCE and King Herod rebuilt it as a palace-fortress and named it for his mother, as recounted by Josephus. After 1967 the Israeli army used it as an outpost of bunkers, today it lies deserted.

In 1974 Netzer and Damati did preliminary excavations and then left it in ruins. Cypros consists of 2 parts – a palace-fortress on the mountaintop and additional buildings 30 meters below the summit (perhaps Herod got the inspiration for the palace-fortress at Herodium from this site). It’s a short hike from the parking lot entrance to St. George’s monastery in Wadi Qelt to Cypros.

The ruins are not in good condition but there is something special to exploring a site the way an archaeologist might see it as opposed to a site that has been prepared for visitors. The remains of 2 bathhouses are still exposed, one on the mountaintop and the other below that suggest the grandeur of the site in Herod’s time. The remains of a simple white mosaic floor and pieces of plaster with red and yellow from the wall frescoes and the stone pedestals from the hypocaust floor of the calderium can be seen. There are also some sections of columns, one with some of the original plaster.


Click on the above thumbnail photos to see larger images.

Beside a mikve (ritual bath) the most unusual element found in situ, is a large stone bathtub – today its position is marked by a concrete recess, the bathtub is at the Rockefeller museum.

Down below in the bathhouse pieces of ceramic pipes that were attached to the walls of the calderium and broken ceramic discs that were piled one on another to hold up the hypocaust floor can be seen.

Walking around the site I came across a few broken pieces of terra sigillata (the first examples that I’ve found at an archaeological site), a type of fine, red-gloss Roman pottery that would have been imported from Italy or Gaul, additional evidence of Herod’s grand lifestyle.

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

Hiking Nahal Dragot

Driving along the shore of the Dead Sea on our way to Masada and Ein Gedi, I usually point out the cutoff to Nahal Dragot – there are some great hikes here if you are up to the challenge. In fact, Nahal Darga as it is also called, is a kind of test for Israelis.

Nahal Dragot

From the center at Metzukei Dragot, there is an unpaved road (if you were to continue north you could go as far as Herodium), take the turn to a lookout point with a great view of the canyon, the deepest part of Nahal Darga and a hint of what awaits.

IMG_1055

Returning to the main road and continuing westward we come to the start of the black trail. From there it is a short hike to the Murabat Caves, 3 caves, side by side on the northern cliff. It was here that letters signed Bar Kosiba were found, evidence that the mythical leader of the Bar Kochba Revolt against the Romans in 132-135CE did in fact exist.

Letter of Shimeon bar Kosiba to Yehonathan, son of Be’ayan:
Peace! My order is that whatever Elisha tells you, do to him and help him and those with him. Be well.

From here it’s about a 150 m. descent to the start of the canyon. It will take 4-6 hours (4 km) to hike this part of the narrow canyon with more than 50 meter high walls, dry waterfalls and pools of water in natural craters (note there are places you will have to swim across). At the end of the hike the wadi widens and crosses highway <90> about 1½ km from the Mezuke Dragot cutoff, estimate that to complete the hike will take a full day. There are metal D-shaped rings hammered into the rock in places to help you on the descents but it’s probably also worth having at least 20m. of rope. A guide is recommended.

        

Amitai in Nahal Darga, photos AdirChai Haberman-Browns, used with permission.

You should also read this article http://www.jpost.com/Travel/AroundIsrael/Article.aspx?id=135713

Katlav

Katlav

Katlav is the Hebrew name of a striking, red-barked evergreen shrub or small tree native to the Mediterranean region (grows as far north and west as France and Ireland), the Strawberry tree or Arbutus Andrachne. The bark is smooth and sheds during the summer, leaving a pistachio green color, which changes gradually to a beautiful orange brown. The small red berries, tasting a little like tart strawberries, ripen in November.

There is another related tree, Arbutus unedo, that also grows in this region. The leaves have a saw-tooth edge and the fruit is bumply, orange-red when ripe. The name ‘unedo’ is explained by the Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, as being derived from unum edo “I eat one”, which seems appropriate as most people find the fruit bland and mealy.

One advantage of hiring a local guide is that you get the opportunity to get inside, to be initiated into what the locals do, things that most tourists never experience. In and around Jerusalem there are some very special hikes and one in particular is Nahal Katlav in the Judean Hills, named for the abundance of strawberry trees growing there. There is also the possibility of hiking to a maayan, a natural spring that fills a pool cut into the rock, that is just the perfect solution to a hot summer day. Before we head out we will pick up some artisan bread, cheese, salads, etc. for a picnic, drive into the hills, hike to our destination and enjoy. These are outings for the whole family.

Nahal Katlav is a tributary of the Sorek river which is biblical Hebrew for a choice grapevine. Over the years, this region was known for its grapes, and today there are a number of fine boutique wineries in the Judean-Yoav region. For those interested in wine, these outings can be combined with a visit to a winery in the area. There is even a winery called Katlav.

It is very impressive to stand in the presence of an ancient tree. Near Kibbutz Tsuba are 2 very old trees, a 1200 year old olive tree and a 800 year old oak. Although I am not aware of such an old strawberry tree there is a magnificent specimen that is about 80 years old at the Jerusalem War Cemetery on Mount Scopus.

Katlav in cemetery