En Gedi, Dead Sea, Masada and our drive to the Crater

Yesterday we drove out of town for an adventure near the Dead Sea. On the way down we passed the spot in the hills which marks sea level.  The Dead Sea is 1400 feet below sea level — the lowest dry land on Earth.

Our first stop was at the spring at En Gedi. For Washingon State it’s barely worth noticing, but in the desert, adjoining the Dead Sea, it’s mana from heaven.  The surrounding hills are barren but still quite lovely.  

Almost immediately we saw local “Rock Rabbits” which come from Africa.

 I of course played in the water with the visiting school kids. 

   Ari showed us where capers come from.  First, the pod (the caper); then the flower, and finally the long seed which is also edible.

Here is the tree that was most likely used for the crown of thorns put on Jesus before the Crucifixion.  The thorns are huge.  

From En Gedi we proceeded about 20 minutes south to a nearby hotel to experience the Dead Sea and have lunch.  We’ve all heard about floating in the Dead Sea but it is amazing to experience it.

You feel unweighted from the minute you walk in the water.  Jim didn’t like the feeling of the concentration of chemicals in the water slowly burning off his skin.  If you drink a cup of the water, you’ll die.  A bit of it will make you throw up, so most people experience the incredible bouyancy without splashing or getting your head in the water, and even then for no more than 30 minutes. Your skin definitely feels scrubbed clean when you’re done (but without any scrubbing).  We rinsed in the beach showers before swimming in the hotel pool, showering again at the hotel spa, before having lunch and heading out to our final stop of the day:  Masada.

It was late in the afternoon and extremely hot, but empty.  Again, Herod out did himself with the construction of this mountaintop palace and fortress.

       The system for capturing rainwater in the 14 huge  cave cisterns was remarkable. 

Not only is Masada an amazing example of ancient military engineering, it is decorated and plush with both a Southern and Northern Palace so Herod could stay in the part of Masada that was warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.  

It took the a Roman Legion (10,000 troops) 8 months to finally defeat 1,000 Jews (most of whom were women & children).  The only reason the Romans were able to sustain a siege that long in the Dead Sea wastelands was the nearby fresh water from En Gedi. 

Eventually the Romans were able to build a massive ramp to carry a huge mobile assault tower to the “only” 700 foot high walls on the western side.  It must have been terrifying to watch the slow progress of the dirt ramp and wooden assault tower over the months.

Ultimately, all the Jews chose suicide over being being raped, tortured and at best enslaved for life.  Each Jewish defender killed his own family, and then 10 men were selected by lot to kill the other men.  The last ten soldiers then  decided who would kill the other 9 before falling on his own sword.  We know this because one woman survived and told the Romans, who then recorded it in their historical documents.

Before the war which followed Israel’s Independence in 1948, the young zionists used Masada as a symbol and training ground for the young men and women who would become the soldiers needed to defend Israel from the likely all-out attack by the neighboring Arab nations that most people thought would follow Israel’s independence.

This morning (our 35th Engagement Anniversary!), we left Jersulam to head south into the Negev Desert.  We stopped briefly at the national monument and museum honoring Israel’s first Prime Minister:  David Ben Gurian.  

 Young soldiers were their doing leadership training.  

The views of the desert were beautiful and during a different time of year Ari said the hikes are beautiful.

A group of wild mountain goats escaped the desert for a green treat in the park like setting. 

    This evening and tomorrow morning we are enjoying a lovely respite at the Beresheet Hotel at Ramon Crater.  

  It’s a truly lovely hotel with an awesome pool.  Originally, they thought this crater was formed by a meteor strike but it’s actually a geological formation caused by the receding ocean long ago. 

After grabbing lunch we said goodbye to Ari Ram.  We will miss him, but I know we will meet again.

Tomorrow, our True Love Adventure continues with a long drive further south, past Eilat, then north-east into Jordan to the ancient city of Petra where we overnight before returning to Eilat at the southern tip of Israel which adjoins the Red Sea.

3 thoughts on “En Gedi, Dead Sea, Masada and our drive to the Crater

  1. Enjoying your trip vicariously and grateful for all the photos and explanations. Can’t wait to see your pics of Petra! Did you watch Rick Steves’ special about the Holy Land before you left? I thought it was fascinating.

  2. As has become normal, your pictures and descriptions of the stops you and Jim make are engrossing, enjoyable, entertaining, and educational. When I think about Masada I wonder why suicide was preferable to taking a cohort of Roman soldiers along for the ride.
    The Dead Sea is not so very different then the Great Salt Lake (but with better local resorts).
    Looking forward to the next edition.

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