March 26th: Banias Falls Nature Walk

I did not post about my days in Jerusalem because despite the fact that we did a TON of walking all over, there wasn't really any hiking to speak of. In case you are curioius, though, here is what our days looked like in between. These are only SOME of the things we did in Jerusalem:
Friday, Mar 23 – Jerusalem
Haas Promenade – Panoramic view of Jerusalem

Welcome & ice breakers with Israeli peers
Jewish Quarter – Old City walking tour

The Kotel – Reflections at the Western Wall
Machane Yehuda – Colorful Jerusalem marketplace

Saturday, Mar 24 – Jerusalem
Group activity & Walking tour
Political seminar – The Situation Today in Israel
Ben Yehuda Street – Pedestrian Shopping Center

Sunday, Mar 25 – Jerusalem & The North
Yad Vashem – Holocaust Memorial & Museum
Har Herzl – National Memorial

But after leaving Jerusalem, we drove up north to the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee. The north of Israel is insanely gorgeous and a huge contrast to the South. It was incredible to know we had just left the Negev Desert merely days before and were now in a lush, green, rocky, mountainous part of Israel that looked completely unrelated. For a country the size of New Jersey, the amount of geographical diversity in unbelievable. I never wanted to sleep on the bus, no matter how tired I was, because of how beautiful it was.

    The Banias Falls nature walk was not at all difficult, but beautiful and the falls/rushing water was powerful and invigorating.  The wildflowers up north were in bloom all over, especially my favorite red flowers I'd been in love with since the beginning.

You started at the top and worked your way easily down into the valley, where a white-water river was raging powerfully. It was very noisy, you could hear it in your chest rumbling, and the water looked deadly as it rushed over the rocks.

Which lead to the waterfall...

This was the last hike we took. There was lots more walking, lots more city exploring and beautiful pictures, but this was the last nature-based activity we had and I was truly sad about that. I could have done three times the amount of hiking we did on this trip... not that I would have said that in the beginning after those first two or three days. But by this time, I would have done a repeat desert hike in a second. However, I also appreciated the other days where I saw some beautiful cities and learned a lot. 

I may post more about Israel, but these were the main hiking events during my ten day trip, and I thought it was worth sharing.

March 22nd: Sunrise Masada Hike and Nahal David Waterfall

Wake up for March 22nd was at 3:45am. And keep in mind this was the day AFTER the 8 mile hike in the Negev Desert. By 4:30 we were on the bus and heading to Masada, not far away from Ein Gedi Field School Hostel where we had spent the night. It was still mostly dark when we arrived and started ascending Masada from the base using the Snake Path (the two other options being the easier Roman Ramp or a gondola ride to the top). Let me just say this is no easy feat. Once again, my self-image as somewhat in shape was challenged as I huffed and puffed and rested my way to the top. But the views were so beautiful in the pre-dawn light that it made it worth it.

 I don't know exactly how long it took me, but I didn't quite make it all the way to the top for the sunrise... but I was only one flight of stairs down from the top when I watched the sun come up over the Jordanian Mountains and the Dead Sea below. It was truly an amazing sight. And I still had time to get up the last flight to enjoy the sun climb over the ruins at the top. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time, and for not the first or last time when in Israel, amazed that I was even there and that this was even happening.

Masada was gorgeous, of course. Hike to the top and then lots of history lessons, which doesn't really count as hiking, but hey... the scenery was legendary.

After some history and walking around on Masada, we went back DOWN the snake path and had breakfast before heading to the Nahal David Waterfall  nature walk.  Which was not much of a nature walk. While it was beautiful and there was a bit of walking, it was CROWDED like a THEME PARK.  Waiting in line just to continue walking up steps is not fun. But then again, swimming in an oasis waterfall in the desert kind of makes up for that. It was gorgeous. After swimming for only a short while, we hiked up to the main waterfall event, took pictures, and hiked back down.

 I was exhausted that day. But it ended with this:

A visit to the Dead Sea at Ein Bokek Beach, and a night out on the town in Jerusalem (after a long bus ride on which I mostly slept) with the group. 

March 21st: Hike in the Negev Desert, Israel

   This may have been one of the coolest experiences in my life. Possibly because I was in a part of the world I had never been before (and who knows when I will be again), possibly because desert is a far cry from what I normally find in Missouri while hiking. This hike was done in a (very) large group, which is not something I normally enjoy, but I found it both challenging at times (not wanting to be the last one up the big hill!) and fun.  We had both lots of interesting conversations on this hike, but also hiked maybe a third of it as a "silent hike," which I think lent itself to immersing myself in the desert most of all. This was about an 8 mile hike and not super challenging except for the very first climb OUT of the valley onto the top of the plateau cliffs. This was near Sde Boker, and I believe that area we hiked was called the Zin Valley (or Zin Wadi?).  The trip itself was such an amazing experience, but really busy and there wasn't always time to write down the exact details of where we were.

First we camped out near the Ben Gurion memorial site in Sde Boker, down below in the valley on Tuesday night, March 20th. There was a hot Israeli dinner, a campire, and lots of music long into the night. Not much stars, as the dust still lingering in the air from some windy days made visability not so great. It was COLD, and I heard Jackals for the first time that night, but it was a pretty amazing experience.

Then on the morning of March 21st, we woke up with the dawn, had a solid breakfast and packed up camp (which was then taken away, we did not have to take it on our hike, thank goodness) and started our hike with the hardest part of the whole day: the hike OUT of the canyon valley! It doesn't look so hard in the photos, but it was really steep and definitely showed me I was not in the shape I thought I was in. The view from the top was gorgeous.

click on the panorama pictures to see them full size.

Then came the long desert hike. It had some ups and downs, but once we were out of the valley, there wasn't anything too complicated. It was beautiful and barren and bright. There were both stretches of flat desert all around us and then suddenly more cliffs to look over and into the beyond... and a Bedouin tent.

Our stop about halfway through the hike was an oasis with a lovely waterfall, freezing water, and many many Israeli school children.

And then there was a very long hike back down what was half trail, half road, but still very breathtaking. There was even a brief point at the end of the trail to rest and take in the desert for the last time. 

There might have also been an insane camel ride, but that doesn't really count as hiking...

March 20th: Nature Hike at Adulam Grove Nature Reserve, Israel

Our first full day in Israel started out right away with a beautiful hike on March 20th. It consisted of two parts, the first part I'm not exactly sure what it was called, but the second part was the Adulam Grove Nature Reserve in central Israel, where we also saw the caves at Hurvat Midras. Or really just one of them.

First we walked down on the trail through trees and regular forest brush, though with some exciting plant species I hadn't ever seen before. Another interesting thing was that most of the trees on our hike were not there long ago, but had been planted there as a project of getting Israel back to the way it had been long ago.
We didn't see much wildlife on the hike, but heard a lot of birds.

There was a vinyard, we tried wild mustard plant leaves, and learned about some of the local wildflowers. Next we entered into the actual Adulam Grove Nature Reserve, where we also visited the caves. The caves were cool, but very cramped and claustrophobic to crawl through... I didn't mind at all though! The hardest part was actually the bees' nests that were right in the entrance to the cave, buzzing all over and swarming. After that, a little cave is no big deal. No pictures of the cave, really... I didn't want to ruin my camera.

 After that, it was a short hike back to the bus, where we climbed on to drive south where we would be camping out in the desert!