Israel's Good Name

University Trip: Nachal Chever & the Southern Judean Desert

In Israel, Judea on May 22, 2022 at 7:30 AM

Following my university department’s field trips to various sites in the northern and central regions of the Judean Desert, we set out in the middle of January for the final trip of the series led by Dr Dvir Raviv, destined for the desert’s southern third. It was a long sleepy bus ride from the BIU campus to our first stop of the day, some obscure location in the arid desert. Deposited at the side of the road near the Bedouin sprawl of Az-Zuweidin, we began to hike over rocky, jagged hills in the direction of Nachal Chever.

The first hike of the day

The first hike of the day

It was a nice morning hike through the arid land, passing a few Bedouin women engaged in agricultural labour and a clumping of their houses, as we made our way to the first lookout. There, perched over Nachal Chever, we learned about the geological makeup of the region, and made note of the nearby Sela Cave, a few unassuming holes on the opposing hillside.

The winding Nachal Chever

The winding Nachal Chever

We were joined by some curious Bedouins and their hounds, two of the youths sitting down alongside us on the craggy rocks. After the educational overview, we took leave of our Bedouin hosts and began the slow descent towards the winding wadi.

Curious Bedouin hounds

Curious Bedouin hounds

Our hike took an easternly direction, passing a few flushed larks and mourning wheatears as our party traversed the dried streambed with purposeful speed. The land opened up to a relatively flat plateau with a few conical peaks up ahead, and then our trail turned due southeast.

The end of the easy hiking

The end of the easy hiking

The leisurely hike became a great deal more difficult as we huffed our way up the steep dirt road in the direction of one of the nearby ridges. The ascent was challenging, but awaiting us at the top was respite at an interesting graffiti-marked hull of an old building. It was the ruins of Umm Daraj, an abandoned Jordanian military police station from the pre-1967 period, which commanded the entire region during Jordanian rule.

The ruins of Umm Daraj

The ruins of Umm Daraj

We were not there for the recent history lesson, but rather for the incredible, panoramic view of the surrounding area. It was the heat of the day, and we were all alone in the wilderness but for a few shepherds and their flock, grazing on the ridge behind us. We drank in the deep desert scenery, resting in the shade of the vanquished walls, as Dvir taught us more about the importance of our current location from a topographical standpoint.

Peering out at the vista

Peering out at the vista

Hiking our way back down and towards the waiting bus, we passed a few brown-necked ravens and desert larks, which were added to my current year list. As we drove along the rough roads, I happened to glance out of the bus window to see a rather dark little owl perched on a pipe that ran parallel to the road. It was unfazed by our rumbling presence, but seeing it filled me with an indescribable joy which can hardly be put into words.

An inquisitive mourning wheatear

An inquisitive mourning wheatear

Driving along, passing some grazing camels, the bus then brought us to Mitzpe Yair, a Jewish village nearby, where we looked out at the geological formations of the surrounding area. From there we drove down to the city of Arad, and had a small break at a gas station where I found some delightful canned honey and salt peanuts.

Mesmerising desert landscapes

Mesmerising desert landscapes

Looping back north a bit, the bus deposited us once again at the side of the road, this time at a sign announcing the Judean Desert Nature Reserve. We were headed for Givat Gorni, a flat ridge that overlooks a small valley of sorts and affords a picturesque view of the surroundings. It was getting late and Givat Gorni was just a bit too far to reach given the time that we had left before dusk, so we walked alongside an established biking path, and settled down at a spot where we could enjoy the view comfortably.

Walking the plateau towards Givat Gorni

Walking the plateau towards Givat Gorni

However, it wasn’t really all that comfortable; there was a howling, bitterly cold wind that cut into us, despite our attempts to avoid it. The sun was slowly sinking towards the opposing landscape, and it was time to head back. Descending from the ridge, the hike was easier now and we moved at a fast clip, the bus waiting for us patiently down at the roadside.

Dvir lecturing in the howling winds

Dvir lecturing in the howling winds

Trotting down, we passed the last few wheatears still visible and boarded the bus for the long drive back. It was an incredible three days of intense desert hiking, and despite how tiring it was, we all had a rewarding time as we traversed the remarkable Judean Desert. From a personal perspective, I gained appreciation for the geological aspect, something that I had generally ignored in the past, and was thankful for the opportunity to see so many new places in Israel.

The end of a series

The end of a series

Delightful as this series was, there is always more to do in life and this coming summer, Dr Dvir Raviv is launching a new archaeological excavation at a yet-unexcavated biblical site, Tel Timna in the Shomron. I don’t know yet if I will be attending, but everyone is welcome to join in on the excitement – more information can be seen HERE.

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