Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve is a gem of freshwater springs by the Dead Sea with recreational picnic and swimming options. Home to endemic & rich wildlife, some parts are restricted.
Mitzpe Ramon – Me’ever
I started the trip from a wonderful accomodation in Mizpe Ramon called Me’ever. This is a combined event center and camping/hostel, set in an old hangar. [See more about Me’ever in my post about Ben Gurion’s Tomb and National Park].
This is my tent, and the hammock:
Enjoying myself at Me’ever, Mitzpe Ramon
National parks and corona days
Due to corona rules, we now need to reserve slots for the national parks in advance. I reserved a slot for Ein Avdat National Park from 8-10 in the morning and intended to continue from there to the Ben Gurion tomb and museum. The lady on the phone recommended an early start before it heated up. Unfortunately, I had a problem falling asleep. So at 1 o’clock in the morning, I changed my reservation to the 10-12 slot…
The southern entrance
The turnoff to Ein Avdat was abuzz with bullzoers pushing the soil, creating dust. The noise and the pollution did not deter this Bedouine lady with her flock of sheep, straight out from the Biblical stories:
My GPS led me to the so-called Mitzpor – a bird’s eye viewpoint over the spring from the south. You can, theoretically, walk down to the spring from here – a fairly arduous walk over ladders that can only be climbed in the upward direction. Hence, this trail is closed from this end, but the viewpoint by itself is worth the trouble.
Once I got the ticket, I was told that the actual trail (you can see people walking in the canyon from the mitzpor) started near Ben Gurion’s tomb estate, requiring yet another short drive to the Midrasha (university complex).
Ein Avdat National Park - The Mitzpor (Bird's-Eye Lookout)
The view was magnificent. I sat and watched it unfolding around me, taking this marvel in.
By the time I was ready to start the hike, I almost exhuasted my alloted time, but this is Israel. I was granted another 45 minutes, and in reality stayed another hour…
Despite all the delays, I managed to get up all the way to point 7, the poplar grove, before turning back. A longer route is possible if time and energies permit.
Ein Avdat National Park - The Tree
Once you get to the parking lot of Ben Gurion’s Tomb, finding the road going down to the wadi can be a bit tricky. I recommend seeing the tomb after the hike for a more relaxing interlude.
The registration booth is at the bottom of the drive, and then you start walking on a very easy and clearly marked trail.
Immediately the view starts opening up. The floodwater of Nahal Tsin does its erosive work on the limestone cliffs and the clay walls, and the results are magnificent.
Just a little bit ahead, a 250-year-old Pistacia atlantica tree has been giving its shade indiscriminately to all visitors for two and a half centuries. According to the brochure, the Pistachia is an Irano-Turanian species which sheds its leaves in the winter – evidence of a rainier climate in the area in the past!
Ein Avdat National Park - The Canyon and the Cave
Not much after the start, an amazing huge cave appeared on the right. Visiting Negev site says the cave “could accommodate a symphony orchestra”.
The cave is so big, it could accomodate an orchestra…
Israeli eagles (griffon vultures?) were flying overhead but, lamentably, I could not capture them on video or camera. It was good to see them fly grandiously about, alleviating concerns about poisoning.
Some caves in the area were inhabited by monks.
As the river keeps digging into the rock, the picturesque layered stratification of the sediments is revealed.
The geological history book
In the geological past, Wadi Tsin drained into the Mediterranean in the West, but once the Syrian-African Rift was created, the streams started moving eastward to the deeper basin. That caused a phenomenon known as “watercoure capture”, where the upper tributaries of Wadi Besor now intersected with Wadi Tsin. High waterfalls were created, followed by erosion and collapse of the harder white limestone layers overlying the softer colorful clays and marls.
Ein Avdat National Park - The Spring
The huge surprise
Water-carrying clay strata feed a chain of springs, of which Ein Avdat is one. In its current form, the canyon has existed about 45,000 years.
Lonely Planet describes Ein Avdat as “a huge surprise in the otherwise bone-dry desert”. The freshwater spring miraculously flows year-round. To protect the habitat for fauna such as the ibex, swimming and wading are prohibited in the park.
The surprise unfolds gradually as you walk down the canyon (wadi) and water starts mingling with the rock to create beautiful visual patterns:
How green was my valley
The vegetation is rich and diverse. The water itself is green with algae. Reeds and other plants grow in the water and around it.
Water, reeds and algae downstream from the spring
Then comes the actual spring – a mid-desert fantasy.
Swimming is not permitted, to keep the water clean and fresh for the ibex and other animals who come to drink after 4pm when the park closes to visitors.
Ein Avdat National Park - The Stairs
As above, not as below
My guess is that the monks who lived here during Byzantian times sculpted the stairs, but I could not find a definitive information regarding that. At any rate, short flights of rock-hewn steps preamble the “big one” – 120 stairs leading to a higher viewpoint over the spring.
The stairs to the upper part of Ein Avdat spring system
I climbed those without difficulty (it was fun, actually), but once there I had another problem. A park ranger was standing right where I wanted to take a picture, preventing me from approaching that spot. I tried to ask him questions about the eroded bedrock, but he was more into policing than into informing. I guess they put the fiercest guys up there to monitor the visitors and make sure nobody falls. He told me his job depended on my compliance. In the end, we compromised a bit and he took my picture.
The poplar grove
I kept on walking to the poplar grove, an amazing phenomenon by itself. The brochure says: “These are deep-rooted tropical trees, rare in the Negev.”
The way down was nice and easy as well.