Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve
All That Magnificence
Ein Tzukim Natural Reserve is set in the Syrian-African Rift Valley against the backdrop of magnificent eroding cliffs of the surrounding mountain range. Springs which feed the pools and ponds at Ein Tzukim derive from rains falling over the Judean Mountains and percolating deep into the ground. The water reappears as springs at the feet of the cliffs along the beach above the groundwater level of the Dead Sea.
Spring water is brackish due to a mixture of freshwater with ancient salt deposits in deep rock layers. Aditionally, there is mixing with Dead Sea water retained when the sea receded. Interestingly, due to the Dead Sea water’s heaviness, the spring water generally floats above it.
Another interesting fact: Einot Tzukim is the largest unutilized natural water reservoir in the country.
Due to the receding of the Dead Sea, the springs are moving eastward and southwards and the danger of sinkholes is looming. The shoreline has moved back about 2 km! It is currently dangerous to walk from the reserve to the sea in the sinking mud.
A Nature Reserve in Time Of Pandemic
I visited Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve many times before to enjoy the place with friends and family, but I also came here to take water samples from the pools. At the time I was conducting research about the fascinating algae and aquatic miniflora of the Syrian-African rift.
These days, with the corona, our temperatures had to be taken at the entrance. The bathrooms were extra clean and there was alco-gel for disinfecting the hands. To avoid crowding and to maintain social distance, we had to register in advance for a 3-hour visit slot. This is plenty of time to swim, walk around and even picnic.
The secret ancient treasure of the Dead Sea
Lamentably, the archeological site was closed due to works. The Jewish villa dates to the most interesting and intense period between the first century BCE and the first century CE, and was destroyed twice during the two main Jewish revolts against the Romans. The settlers cultivated and processed persimmon, a treasured high-value plant used for perfume extraction and production. Archeologists believe the perfume was shipped from Gaza to countries around the Mediterranean. Persimmon was also grown around Ein Gedi and Jericho.
Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve - The Human Element
The video above was taken on my post-lockdown visit on May 7th, 2020. Most of the pictures in the gallery below were taken during a recreation visit in February 2019, before the Corona pandemic struck. They demonstrate how the Arab population enjoys the national parks for recreation.
The area, at the northern section of the Dead Sea used to be under Jordanian rule until 1967.
Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve - The Marvel of Palm Trees
The pictures below demonstrate the beauty and diversity of naturally-growing palm trees at Ein Tzukim Nature Reserve.
Also shown in the video above and in the gallery below are the date palms grown commercially all along the Syrian-African Rift by various Kibbutzim in the area. Kibbutz Kalia in the northern Dead Sea area owns the largest date palm plantation in Israel.
Click on any picture to see the photos in gallery lightbox view.
Israel is world-renown for developing unique strains of dates, epecially the medjool, which are sold all over Europe for their juiciness and sweetness.
Scientists at the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, where I did my algae research, are developing special instruments to measure the soil moisture around the roots of each individual palm tree in real time. This way it is possible to supply the tree with the exact amount of water needed at any given moment. This, of course, is crucial in the extreme deserts of the Arava and the Dead Sea valley.
Ein Tzukim Nature Reserve - The Wild Life
Click on any picture to see the photos in gallery lightbox view.
Plants of the salty zones
I was making a sincere effort to identify the desert and wetland plants in my photos, but admit to the difficulty. Nothing in the data bases looks quite like the specimens in the pictures…
I still wrote in some close guesses. Readers are welcome to correct me if you are in the know. Use the comments section below.
The dry part of the reserve was particularly interesting floristically. It also hosted a rich diversity of local insects.
Specifically, the Middle Eastern Jewel Beetle looks like a piece of shiny copper crafted by a jeweller and makes long cavities in the branches of the Tamarisk Tree.
At night time
A sign tells us that there is more to the reserve than meets the eye at daytime. Many wild animals roam the reserve at night after the humans go home.
The mammalian scene includes wolves, hyenas, foxes, jackals, caracals, porcupines, gazelles, sand rats, spiny golden mice and mongoose. It is sometimes even possible to see leopards…
When I entered the Tamar Pool this time, I was bitten by vicious little fish even as I stood on the pool steps. And it was painful!
That did not recur in the smaller Reed Pool, where I waded happily around (there were corona instructions not to swim). On my previous visits I swam around at Tamar without a problem.
The Dead Sea navit (Aphanius dispar richardsoni) is an endemic fish species that exists only in a single pool in the “hidden” reserve and is categorized as highly endangered.
Einot Tzukim Natural Reserve boasts several species of fish and amphibians, and a large bird population – both stable and migrating. Reportedly, half a billion migrating birds land here seasonally.
A sign gives an idea which larger animals lurk around, usually at night, in the reserve:
A sign describing mammalian presence in Einot Tzukim Natural Reserve
“The hidden reserve”
The “Hidden Reserve” is the pearl of Einot Tzukim. It hosts several beautiful ponds, and a large swath of largely undisturbed natural habitats.
A peek into the hidden part of Einot Tzukim Natural Reserve
And Some History, Too
Hiding, recreating and privatization
Aviva bar-Ram wrote an enthusiasitic visitor’s account about Einot Tzukim with an historical emphasis. The writer described how Ein Feshkha, as it is called in Arabic, served as recreation for Jews from Beit Ha’arava Kibbutz prior to its takeover by the Jordanians in 1948. It also served to hide Palmach fighters who participated in the blowup of the Allenby Bridge…
At a certain period, the site was privatized. That had disastrous consequences. Now, it is beautifully and careully run and monitored by the Israel Nature and Park authority.
Nature as a “tool of war”
In 2008, a large fire has burned away vast areas of the reserve. Thanks to the abundance of water and the sunny warm weather, the renewal was quick, and the damage could hardly be traced several years later. Unfortunately, yet again, in 2018, an alleged hostile arson event devastated large sections of the Hidden Reserve. Experts say it will take years to recover. You can see a video and photographs of this event in this Hebrew article from Ynet.
As a result of the recurrent fires, reeds dominate the reserve. They grow rapidly at the expense of the other flora. Many animals died in the fires.
This is not the only nature reserve in Israel to have been arsoned and vandalized for political “reasons”. I’ll never understand why people behave that way whatever their “righteous cause” is.
Here is evidence of that fire:
The burned sections of the Hidden Reserve are seen through the fence separating the two parts of Einot Tzukim Natural Reserve
This and That in Northern Dead Sea
The poppy field
On February 23rd this year, Haaretz, like other newspapers, invited Israelis to “rush” and see the marvel: a poppy field by the Dead Sea. Thanks to our extraordinarily wet year, blooms occured all across the country, including in extreme desert areas which hardly ever see spring abundance. This is the image from the article:
Unfortunately, I could not make it “in time” for the bloom due to the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic and the restrictions on travel. I did not dare to try and see if a policeperson will deter me from driving to my beloved Dead Sea. That would, for sure, ruin the day.
Once out of Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve, I tried, against all odds, to check if by chance a single poppy prevailed in the promised land around Ovnat. This is what I saw:
Even this impoverished landscape can be considered “flourishing” compared with the default of the land around here.
From Ovnat, I drove north on 90 to the Lido, where I made some interesting discoveries:
Good and bad graffity
First, I found yet another section of the British-Jordanian abandoned army base. You are welcome to enjoy my exhibition of Gallery Minus 430 in this blog, and my gallery, Syrian African Rift in Clouds, where some other interesting graffity on abandoned structures in the area is displayed.
The building in question, though, was unique in that somebody copied the one-of-a-kind Madaba Crusader’s map meticulously on the walls. The map shows the settlments and the flow of the river back in Crusader’s times. The original map is in Jordan. Again, “thanks” to vandalism, some folk smeared their own graffity on top of this precious project and defaced it almost entirely.
You can see the hybrid murals in the pictures below.
Click on any picture to see in lighbox gallery view:
The hidden salt flats
The other stunning discovery I made that day was that beyond the Lido, the northbound road continuous with route 90 was now open to the public. In the past, there were signs notifying the public that this was a security road, used exclusively by military vehicles.
Today, the mystery was dispelled.
I cautiously drove the section past the Lido and soon enough it turned into an iffy dirtroad I wasn’t sure my car could safely handle. However, what I discovered inadvertently was astonishing: muddy salt flats just north of the road, a moonscape imported from another planet…
The awesome salt flats north of the Lido Junction
Dead Sea, Dead Business
This is a view of the dead part of the northern Dead Sea as viewed from the old military base. My tears over what is happening to this beloved lake could actually solve the problem by filling it up…
The woe of small business
Even prior to the coronavirus crisis, the Dead Sea area was hurting. Badly!
Due to the shrinking of the sea and the sinkhole problem, thriving businesses like Mineral Beach have already gone under. Ein Gedi’s palm plantations are endangered. Kibbutz Kalia’s lovely Atrakzia water park, where my daughters used to have a lot of fun in the summer, was folded years ago due to reduced people traffic in the wake of terrorist attacks along route 90.
Thanks to the lifting of restrictions, people are coming back and will continue to flock to Einot Tzukim and the other nature reserves. The flow might even get larger than usual since tourism abroad is halted.
But nonetheless, small business, and even medium and large business are having extreme difficulties.
The Malabi Joint
Walking around Ovnat, I saw signs of the economic devastation caused by the virus scare. Below you can see pictures of a small joint by the side of the road that used to supply travellers with fast food, fresh malabi and drinks.
I was also fascinated by the look of laundry abandoned on the fence by workers who most probably were stranded at home due to the lockdowns.
The “sea level” camel
When driving down Road 1 to the Lido on my way to Einot Tzukim, I noticed that the famous tourist-serving “Sea Level Camel”, was not there by the famous sign.
Driving back, I did discover the camel, tied up elsewhere, out of business due to a tiny virus he understands nothing about…
The meaning, of course, is that a Bedouine family, which was making a decent living off the tourists, is now left to make do…
I hope my beautiful country recovers from this pandemic, and from the economic pandemic which followed – all of us, from camel riding tour guides to top businesses. We have all worked hard to make this country prosper.
AND MORE THAN ANYTHING, I HOPE ISRAELIS AND JORDANIANS WILL FINALLY COOPERATE TO DO THE RIGHT THING AND DIG THAT SEA-TO-SEA CANAL, the ONLY WAY TO SAVE THE ONE AND ONLY DEAD SEA.