Seth Engelbourg, Sharon, MA, Young Judaea Year Course
For those who don’t know part of the kibbutz track on Year Course is hiking for three weeks on different segments of Shvil Israel (The Israel National Trail). We were assisted all three weeks by our very adept, knowledgeable and all-around great guide Yoash, who provided us with a vast array of geological, historical, zoological, and botanical facts and stories. We were also accompanied by our logistics person Harel for the 1st and 3rd weeks, and Reuven for the 2nd week. Quick vocabulary to make reading this easier, a “har” is a mountain, a “nachal” is a river canyon, an “ein” is a spring, a “maale” is an ascent, a “givah” is a hill, and a “ramah” is a plateau. We started our first week of hiking in Mitzpe Ramon. On the first day we descended down into Makhtesh Ramon (a crater-like valley created by erosion) and walked on the path till we reached Shen Ramon, a small granite mountain that we climbed. One of the most scenic trails in the makhtesh is the spring of Ein Saharonim (literally, Mountain of the Crescent-Shaped Ornaments), whose highlight is a spring in the middle of the desert. This week was full of hikes, camping, climbing, and beginning to understand the vastness and sheer awesomeness of the desert.
For our second week, we started just outside of Arad, the town in which some other members of our section are currently living and volunteering. Whereas the focus of the first week was about the pristine beauty of the desert and learning about the geology, plants and animals of the area, the second week was much more about human interaction with and historical uses of the desert. On the first day we walked from outside of Arad through Bedouin villages to Uza Ruins. One of our hikes concluded at the Dead Sea Factory conveyor belt which carries minerals all the way from the Dead Sea to Dimona. We camped that night at Tamar Ruin campground, a deserted quarry. Passing an old Roman fort, we continued into Makhtesh HaKatan (the small makhtesh). One of the tougher parts was climbing difficult and technical ascent named Ma’ale Palmach, which was first traversed by a unit of the Palmach (a pre-state military group) on a scouting trip. A makhtesh having been eroded over thousands of years….covered by a unit of the Israeli army several millennia later. This place is truly full of history.