Ein Ovdat National Park
Map of the Route
Map
Information:
Maps: 1:50,000 - walk map with signposted paths - the northwestern Negev, map no. 15.
Length of walking route: about 1.2 km.
Duration of walk: about 1.5 hours.
Route marking: the route is signposted as an "Israeli Path".
Route start: from the lower parking lot of Midreshet Ben Gurion.
Two route alternatives: from the lower parking lot to Ein Ovdat and back.
From the lower parking lot, including climbing ladders.
Age group suitability: the long route involves climbing iron ladders to the top of the cliff. The short route is suitable for all the family. We should point out that the ladder path is only an upward route and should not be descended. Thus, the route may be walked there and back up to the base of the ladders only.
Best season: all year round.
Essential equipment: water canteen, hat, comfortable walking shoes.
Canteens may be filled from the taps next to the lower parking lot.
There are toilets near the lower parking lot.
Cost: the site is maintained by the National Parks Authority. There is an entrance fee.
Medical assistance: at Midreshet Ben Gurion.
Nature preservation: you will be walking through a nature reserve. Please preserve wildlife, vegetation and mineral life and conduct yourselves in accordance with the nature reserve regulations.
Additional information may be obtained from the Sdeh Boker Field School - Tel: 08-6532016

Area of the walking route:
The Ein Ovdat canyon developed along the northern fringes of Ovdat Heights due to erosion by the Tsin Wadi. The springs of the stratum which emerge in the canyon create small oases around which rich plant life and wildlife exists. The oases form a spectacular and aesthetically impressive sight.

There are two alternatives:

Long route - from Ein Mor to Ein Maarif
Short route - from Ein Mor to Ein Ovdat.

General Background
The Tsin Wadi is one of the largest wadis in the Negev. It is about 120 km. Long and has a catchment area of around 1,550 sq.m. Its source is in the northwestern fringes of the Ramon Crater and its bed stretches north to the Ein Ovdat Canyon. The wadi turns eastwards, with an angle of almost 90 degrees, below the Sdeh Bokker Academy. This is the Tsin "knee". In the past the Tsin River flowed from Ovdat Heights in a northwesterly direction and drained via the Bsor Wadi to the Mediterranean Sea. The formation of the Arava rift, as part of the Afro-Syrian fault line, created a catchment base below the level of the Mediterranean Sea and generated a change in the river's path from a northwesterly to an easterly direction. Today, the Tsin River flows out to the Dead Sea.

There are 3 principal landscapes along the Tsin Wadi route:

The upper Tsin Wadi - a relatively flat course eroding along a widely meandering path between the tableau hills of Ovdat Heights;
Ovdat Heights Canyon - its summit is at a 40 meter high waterfall and it continues through a beautiful deep canyon. There are many springs along the canyon route.
The lower Tsin Wadi - the river changes direction and encroaches on the Tsin Wadi in a wide valley, the Tsin Valley, which forms the geographic border between the central Mt. Negev and northern Mt. Negev.
A beautiful cliff landscape, one of the most spectacular in the Negev region, was formed by erosion by the river on the soft hawwar rock and by the collapse of the hard limey rocks.

How to get to the start of the route
Travel along highway 40 as far as the Ben-Gurion Academy. Turn right at the gate to the academy to a winding road which leads to the lower parking lot of Ein Ovdat. You can stop for a while at the last turn in the road. This is the "knee" of the Tsin Wadi where the wadi changes direction from northwards to eastwards. Now, continue with the road into the canyon and park in the lower parking lot. (Those who choose the long route should dispatch their vehicles to the end of the route).


Route Description:

  1. Ein Mor
    We park the vehicles here and walk to a group of trees to the west of the parking lot. These are the Euphrates poplar trees which grown next to Ein Mor which is a small seasonal spring mostly used by the local vegetation and herds of ibexes.
    The poplars which grow in the Negev are a remnant of a more humid climatic period than todays. They have only survived near two springs - Ein Shaviv, and the two groups in the Ein Ovdat Canyon.

    The poplar is a tall tree which grows on riverbanks and can tolerate a certain amount of salinity in the ground. The Euphrates poplar has two types of foliage: the younger long leaves and wider more mature diamond-shaped leaves. This is a deciduous tree which loses its leaves in winter. The leaves have prominent gallnuts, shaped like a white half ball (gallnut means a swelling or growth in the leaf following penetration of a foreign body, such as laid eggs or an insect sting). The poplar gallnuts contain pests which excrete a sweet substance off which the ants inside the tree feed.

  2. Ein Ovdat Canyon
    WE leave Ein Mor and start walking along the canyon. Ein Ovdat Canyon is cut into the Ovdat Heights and exposes the rocks of the heights, the principal ones being: the chalk, lime and flint. These rocks were formed in the sea which covered the region around 50 million years ago. The chalk was formed by the settling of skeletons of microscopic monocellular creatures. The rock is white and soft.
    The lime - formed by the settling of limey skeletons of marine creatures. The partial ?? of these creatures and their reconsolidation gives the lime its rigidity. Fossils are frequently found in the lime rocks. The lime has a white and hard appearance.

    Flint - a dark and hard rock. During the prehistoric era flint was used as a raw material in the preparation of tools and for lighting fires. As a result of its sharpness, one of the uses of flint is mentioned in the Bible: "And Joshua wrought narrow swords and circumcised the Children of Israel on the Foreskin Hill (Joshua 4, 3).

    It is well worth looking at the cliffs while walking along the gorge. We might be able to spot ibexes. The ibexes, kings of the cliffs live near sources of water. There is a large number of ibexes in the Ein Ovdat Canyon. They have a brown hide, a solid and muscular body and the structure of their feet is perfectly suited to the surroundings.

    The ibexes live most of the live in separate herds -males in one group and females and kids in another. Males and females can be clearly distinguished from each other: the male is large, heavy and muscular, the back of the neck is well developed and the horns are large and bent backwards. The male's horns serve as a means to reduce the number of male rivals. The female is smaller with slender, short horns which bend slightly to the rear. The sexes meet during the mating season - between September-November - and the largest and strongest male in the herd mates with the females after a long courting period. The pregnant female ibex leaves the herd and gives birth in the spring to one or two kids. The ibexes can be spotted early in the morning and in the afternoon. They descend the cliffs to eat and drink near the spring. In the past, the number of ibexes decreased. Today, due to enforcement of nature preservation laws, the number of ibexes has increased.

    There is an Atlantic terebinth around 250 years old on the east side of the riverbed. The tree originates from a humid climatic region and the Negev has some remnants of rainier eras. The terebinth is green in the summer and stops growing in the fall and winter. Near Mt. Negev there are terebinth trees of 700 years and more. The large rocks which have fallen from the sides of the canyon, due to erosion by the river, should also be noticed.

  3. Ein Ovdat
    We shall continue on from the terebinth tree as far as Ein Ovdat. The waterfall is 15 meters high and there is a large 8-meter deep pool at the base of the waterfall. Bathing in the pool is prohibited!
    The spring is active all year round although the flow varies through the seasons. The salinity of the water also varies. The area of the springs attracts large numbers of animals: insects, songbirds, rock doves, birds of prey and ibexes.
    The canyon cliffs are sometimes used by eagles as nesting spots. Other birds of prey can also be seen, including: vultures, hawks, bustards etc. There are rising airflows near the edge of the cliff and the birds of prey use these to climb. Near here, there are nesting places of rock doves and swifts. The area is used by passing waterfowl, such as coots and ??, land fowl like partridges and herons, a rich variety of rodents, dragonflies etc.

    Ein Ovdat is a stratum spring - some of the rainwater which descends from the heights seeps through the fissures in the horizontal strata of the chalk, lime and flint until they reach an impervious layer. Water flows along this stratum like groundwater. The water breaks through as a spring in places where the stratum is exposed due to erosion by the river.

    We can return to our vehicles from the pool. Those interested may continue to the upper part of the gorge up to the poplar grove and return via the same path to the lower parking lot.

  4. The Ladder Route
    For those taking along the Ladder Route:
    We shall go back a little and climb up the side of the canyon via steps cut into the rock which lead to next part of the route. There is a giant bell-shaped cave at the end of the steps which contains numerous nesting places used by rock doves. En route we can catch a bird's eye view of Ein Ovdat before turning towards the poplar grove.
    The Euphrates poplar trees will already be familiar to us from the starting point of the route, next to Ein Mor. The path starts to climb from here leading to quarried steps and 2 iron ladders.

    Please climb carefully! The path we will ascend laid along the remnants of an ancient and steep ascent.
    We will climb the quarried steps and will see a narrow path pointing to the north before the first ladder. We can follow this path which leads to one of the caves cut out of the cliff side. These caves were formed to serve as isolation chambers for Byzantine monks. One of the caves contains a Greek inscription which addresses Theodoros, who was known as the patron of the city of Ovdat, which is located around 3 kilometers south of this point.

    We will return to the path and climb up to the top of the ascent. The remains of a small square-shaped building can be seen from here. This is a Byzantine tower which controlled the descent to the spring and the agricultural land along the gorges in the area. The canyon and its offshoots can be seen from here, as well as the pool of Ein Maarif. We recommend continuing southwards on the path which runs along the cliff edge in order to catch sight of the upper courses of the Tsin River and the dry waterfall. This is Ein Maarif. The waterfall is about 40 meters high. Ein Maarif forms a striking chain of waterfalls and pools. Take care as you approach the cliff and don't let children run ahead!
    From here we will proceed to the upper parking lot where our walk ends.

    For those interested - you can continue further south to the city of Ovdat (about 3 kilometers away) - see route in this database, or take a walking route to the area of the Ramon Crater (about 25 kilometers).


Bibliography:

  1. The Israel Guide, Mt. Negev and the Eilot Region, Ministry of Defense Publications, 1987.
  2. Encyclopedia of Wildlife and Plants, "Floral Vegetation" volume, "Mammals A"; The Nature Protection Society and Ministry of Defense Publications.
  3. Mt. Negev Workshop, The Study Program Development Unit, Sdeh Bokker Academy, 1986.
  4. Ein Ovdat National Park, National Parks Authority.
  5. Ze'ev Rehess, The Geology of the Northern Negev, Sdeh Bokker Academy Publications, 1975.