You may remember that back in May, when I celebrated my 50th birthday, we planned to go hiking in Ein Gedi, the biggest oasis in Israel. Well, it turned out to be too hot that week but Mister Handmade in Israel suggested that we go on his birthday instead. June actually felt cooler than May this year, so when his big day came around, off to Ein Gedi we went!There are two major nature reserve hikes in the Ein Gedi area. Nahal David and Nahal or Wadi Arugot. Nahal Arugot seems to attract less visitors, which can be advantageous during a pandemic, so we set off very early on Mister Handmade in Israel's birthday and were at the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, by 8am!
Judaean desert with water all year round. It has a number of springs that provide water throughout the entire year. It is also the longest running river on the western coast of the Dead Sea and flows into the Dead Sea, passing through Ein Gedi. The water is fresh and very drinkable (there is a free of charge cooler for filling up any half empty water bottles next to the ticket office). Kibbutz Ein Gedi, on the hill to the south of the river mouth, uses the water for its own consumption but also markets it as a bottled mineral water.The Hebrew name Nahal Arugot means "flower beds". It is based on the Arabic Wadi Araja, "the ascending brook". This area is where David hid from the pursuing King Saul (1 Samuel 23 29: "And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi"). Nahal Arugot was also one of the sources of water to the ancient site of Ein Gedi, which dates back to the Chalcolithic period (approximately 5,000 years ago).
There are two paths to choose between at Nahal Arugot - a dry hike on the river banks, overlooking the river from a high steep cliff, or a walk in the water. We chose to walk in the water, which turned out to be a little harder than we expected since it includes some climbs against running water and river crosses with slippery stepping stones. It also took us longer than the 1 hour each way that we had been advised, but the scenery was beautiful and there was a lot to see and enjoy.
Due to the fresh water and the high temperatures of the region there is vegetation such as oleander, Capparis, Calotropis Procera (the poisonous Apple of Sodom) and saltbush in the valley. There are also a lot of tamarisk trees. These are evergreens with small scale-shaped leaves. They blossom during the summer with a white-pink flower. These trees were frequently planted by the Jewish National Fund in arid conditions for shade - in the Negev, in the Jordan Valley and by the Dead Sea - but the trees at Nahal Arugot are natural. Most botanists and bible scholars believe that the Eshel tree planted by Abraham in the Book of Genesis, was Tamarix aphylla; "And Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba ..."
There are also many acacia trees. The Acacia raddiana is a thorny tree that has a single trunk and round branches and is the most common acacia in Israel. It grows in the Negev, the Arava and Judaean desert. The Acacia tortilis is a another thorny acacia tree with a number of trunks. It is easy to recognise because of its multiple trunks and umbrella shape. This tree also grows in the Arava Valley and on the Dead Sea shore up to Ein Gedi.
The path, which alters between wet and dry, leads all visitors to The Hidden Waterfall ("Mapal Nistar"), above. It is the highlight of the hike! We started to wonder if we had walked right past it, since the hike had taken us longer than an hour, but once we saw the pool and waterfall at the end of the lower path, we knew that we were in the right place. It was a beautiful sight and a wonderful way to cool down! I stood under the pounding water for a natural massage. (Yes, I have a photo of it. No, I am not posting it here!). There is another pool and waterfall higher up but it was recommended to only walk as far as this waterfall in the summer heat and, truthfully, it was enough for us.
Just as a matter of information, the waterfall is one of only two places on the route where eating is allowed and it was the perfect spot for a lunch break.
I was excited to see Nubian ibex, below, as we hiked back to the starting point. They roam around the cliffs and steep slopes which are its natural habitat. At one time the ibex almost became extinct but were rescued thanks to stricter enforcement of the nature reserve laws and strict prohibition on hunting. One might also see rock hyrax, Golden spiny mouse, porcupine, river crabs, Agama Lizards, striped hyena and more. The most exciting would be footprints of the single Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) that once survived at Ein Gedi, though the last time it was spotted was 2007. The species is now presumed to be extinct here.
We had originally intended to take the dry path back from the waterfall to our car, to enjoy the spectacular views and dry off, but the stream and shallow pools were once again irresistible. We were soon splashing in the water and an hour or so later were back at the trail head. We had hiked a distance of about 7 km and spent around 5 hours in the canyon.
Nahal Arugot had proved to be an amazingly beautiful hike and it was just about the right time of the year to do it. Any later would have been too hot. The hike is apparently lovely during the winter months and if you happen to be there at the right time, you get to see some beautiful flowers like the desert tulip and other rare species. I'll definitely be going back!
* This post has been shared on The Good. The Random. The Fun., Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday), Sharon's Souvenirs, Our World Tuesday, Nature Notes, Travel Tuesday, My Corner of the World