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Ein Avdat: Water and History in the Desert

By Micha Banschick

Perhaps, even for major couch potatoes, there are more mesmerizing things in the world than a forty-inch flat screen boob tube. Personally, I think all wonders of nature feel more real and alive up close and in person as opposed to anything on the small screen. Not only does being there give a more spiritual feeling, but when you are physically present, you can look into the most miniscule details. Let me share such a wonderful, recent experience: a green place in the desert, full of history.

Ein Avdat is located in the north Negev region of Israel, about 2 hours drive from Jerusalem. During the recent tour of this marvelous place, the primary source of my information was my one-and-only Dad (I’ve had him since birth). He patiently and regularly pointed out attributes that I probably would have missed and failed to recognize. He continually, and at times even unexpectedly, provided me with much of the knowledge that I share in this essay.

My experience begins from a fair-sized parking lot. The walk begins on level ground, just twisting and turning for about a kilometer (30 minutes). Then the first part of the trail ends at a natural pool. The second part starts by climbing several very steep, small and slippery stairs. These steps ascend the wall with metal hand-holds to grasp for safety. After the stairs is a flat, stone surface that crosses a river onto grassland. There, I have noticed, is an Eden where animals sometimes feed. Never in my life have I come closer to a live ibex.

Ein Avdat lies next to the ancient Nabatean city of Avdat. The Nabateans were a group of traveling merchants who owned a number of cities on the major trading routes in the Middle East. Such cities were built throughout the area. Atop a mesa in the Negev of Israel lies the Nabatean city of Avdat, overlooking the land below. The Nabateans had the great advantage on any intruder because Avdat was built on higher ground. Anyone who wished harm upon the city would have to climb the mesa, very exposed to the people of the city.

However, being high up wasn’t enough.  The choice of Avdat’s location, of course, was based on the availability of a sufficient and reliable water supply. The water supply of Avdat ran in the canyon below the city, which we call now Ein Avdat. Although the prominent city of the area may very well have been Avdat, the canyon itself was also inhabited. There is evidence that shows that people actually dwelled there. We found a few caves while ascending the wall – with rooms and even little niches in which to worship idols.

The number of plants growing and blooming in the canyon are large – as are the animal inhabiting it. I myself, could scarcely believe that the Nabateans didn’t build their city closer to the river than they actually did. Doing so, I believe, would have provided a bit more green in their lives.

While walking in the canyon we noticed a few interesting things. Have you ever seen a bird flap its wings to stay up? That is because the wind pushes it forward but not up. The bird might as well fly straight to the ground if it doesn’t want to flap. However, Ein Avdat is characterized by an updraft in the air: the wind direction is upward. This means that the only movement with which the bird has to concern itself is balancing itself. It’s a free ride except for the balancing act. Thanks to the updraft, it just needs to merely glide for almost the entire flight.

Another phenomenal wonder in this marvelous place is the way in which layers were formed in the rock. These layers must have been created by water erosion and by sediment. The layers stick out of the rock and some are colorful because of the minerals or metals that were deposited in them. In some parts of the canyon wall I found jet-black and ridged stone sticking out of the surrounding whitish rock. Most of the stone in the canyon is limestone. The black layer looks like of a metamorphic rock, but it is in fact flint.

Perhaps now the life in the canyon is scarcer than it was because ever since it was opened as a nature reserve it has been used so often as a hiking trail that people may have disturbed its nature. No one would ever expect that people would leave such a beautiful place in peace without being discovered.

My best memories of Ein Avdat center around taking out my camera to snapshot every few steps. I don’t know how much film remains in the camera but I do know that both my mind and my heart were mesmerized by countless scenes that I could devour through that relatively small lens.

It took away my breath to view the top of the canyon. Looking down at it, I enjoyed the curving of the canyon and the fascinating waterfall transporting water even deeper down the narrow path. The canyon turns and vanishes from sight making it appear as a big “M” shape. But what completes the ecstatic sight is a green line of trees between the hills.

The last part of the hike included a steep climb, mostly straight up the rock wall, until the top of the canyon. To accomplish this, many stairs and a few ladders were needed. It went very far up. In between taking pictures and walking I would look off the edge at how far down the wall dropped. Why I do this, I do not know, but the eerie feeling that most people call “fear of heights” excites me.

At the top I saw the watch tower and climbed on it. The Nabateans established a watch tower overlooking the canyon. From the watch tower they were able to view miles and miles of surrounding desert and notice any intruders. In addition, they could simultaneously keep a watchful eye on their river.

Dear Reader, Ein Avdat is a phenomenal place of history and nature. Like everything else in the world, it has a story to tell. I highly recommend the walk on the trail because it’s a great hike you will never forget. For me, discovering the information about the site made it even more interesting. Enjoy nature and the fun of exploring. I did and I hope you will too. And, do take your camera (and your Dad).

Micah Banschick is a 7th grader currently living in Jerusalem, where he is homeschooled by his mother and Dr. Bob Gallagher, an online tutor. To enrich his education, he writes essays about his experiences in Israel. When in the USA, Micah attends the Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford, Connecticut.

3 Comments

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  1. Micah,
    Great travelogue and great photos. I’m putting this on my itinerary for my next trip to Israel.
    Kevin

  2. Micah,
    Kol Akavoad on your very well written story. I loved the photos.
    After reading your story, I can’t wait to visit “Ein Avdat” with my family.
    Linda

  3. i love it.. remind me of my 7th grade school trip to ein avdat. i want to go there so badly…

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