Sometimes there are trips that remind us of a corner of Europe, or Morocco, or Greece. This is not the case in Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve – such a special place, just doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world! Let’s start with it being the lowest nature reserve on earth – it sits right on the shores of the Dead Sea, in the heart of the area where the Syrian-African rift shuddered and shocked continents. That fact makes it a one-off place, with geographical and scenic conditions that are truly extraordinary. A strange jumble of desert, an abundance of freshwater springs, a salty sea, desert animals coexisting with animals accustomed to damp habitats, and above all – birds that migrate over the reserve, every spring and autumn.
Let’s start to go a little deeper into this wonder called the Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve, or by its more common Arabic name – Ein Feshkha.
What’s in the Reserve
A circular route, which will take you among the wonders of the reserve – pools, streams, animals and beautiful landscapes. The path is easy, flat, partly shaded and allows all ages to walk easily. During the trip you will discover that the Einot Tzukim reserve has the largest number of natural springs in the entire Judean Desert, making it a beautiful and impressive oasis.
A Hidden Reserve – This name is promising, and it does not disappoint. The hidden reserve is exactly what you might imagine – a wild, tangled nature that holds surprises and revelations. We’ll try to elaborate a little, without ruining too many of the surprises. The hidden reserve is a habitat for many species of flora and fauna, some endemic to this area. In order to protect them, it was decided that the tour in the reserve would be accompanied by a guide only, and in a limited manner. The bonus for you – a guided excursion by a local tour-guide who knows all the secrets of the reserve, a nature walk that is almost completely conserved, wild and natural, and most importantly – knowing that your trip doesn’t harm nature. During the trip you’ll pass between large pools, small streams, a picturesque old watchtower, paths where vegetation is so tangled you can barely pass, and wide paths that allow you to look far out towards Jordan’s Moab Mountains and Matzok HaEtekim in the Judean Desert. You’ll see freshwater fish, reptiles, insects and, if you’re lucky, donkeys. They were brought to the area many years ago to reduce the vegetation, saw that the place was good and remained, and now they live in the wild, and occasionally come to say hello to the hikers.
View of the Dead Sea – In one of the sections of the trip you will reach the easternmost part of the reserve, from which you can view the Dead Sea, and see the great distance of the sea’s retreat. A small red sign marks where the shore was in 1968. The gaping distance between where the coastline used to be, and the current coastline, is lined with slivers of salt, black mud, and general flotsam and jetsam. One can easily imagine how, not long ago, everything was flooded with sea water. This is a great and most tangible opportunity, to talk about this natural treasure and its importance to man and nature. This sighting is one of the most powerful and exciting points of the trip and shouldn’t be missed.
An ancient agricultural farm – the farm dates back to the Second Temple period and houses a facility that was probably for producing the famous persimmon perfume – the most expensive and exotic perfume of antiquity.
The Kedron Fortress (‘Khirbet Mazin’ in Arabic) – located south of the Nature Reserve – in the fortress, you will find a tower, a shipyard, water cisterns and a boat dock. The site was active during the reign of King Alexander Jannaeus (Yanai), and some researchers believe the dock was a royal dock, perhaps even for the king himself. The dock is evidence that during this period, the Dead Sea was a transport artery between Judea and Moab. Many coins were found in excavations in 2002. Today, you can view the spot and imagine the luxury boats that entered the dock after a successful Dead Sea voyage, the seamen, slaves and servants who ascended a special ramp and washed themselves in fresh water, the commotion made by them and, who knows, perhaps even by Alexander Yanai himself. Please note that, currently, it is not possible to enter the fortress, but it will be open again soon.
Splash-pools and the Tamar Pool – What do we want at the end of each trip? A little rest, a cool pool to bathe in, to let the kids play around in the water, and a spot in which to have a nice picnic. In other words, the Tamar Pool.
During the trip you’ll realize how fragile nature is in this place and how it must be conserved. In order to enable bathing without damaging the existing water pools, several splash-pools were built and one large pool – the Tamar Pool. The pools receive water from the natural springs, but bathing in them does not constitute any harm to nature. Next to them, a picnic area was built with shade and picnic tables. It is important to know that the splash-pools are active all year round, but the Tamar Pool is open daily from July to August only, and from mid-March to end of November, on weekends and public holidays only.
Flora and Fauna
The Einot Tzukim Reserve is not large, but it is a habitat for a huge variety of plants and animals. Its conditions are so unique, that quite a few of its species are endemic, meaning that they exist here only. Therefore, it’s no wonder that it has become a center for ecological research and surveys, and a place where much can be learned about the world of Nature.
During the tour you’ll probably notice freshwater fish, a rare and wonderous sight in the Dead Sea region. These are the Dead Sea Carp: Blue Carp, Jordan St. Peters fish (Amnon/Tilapia) and the Common St. Peters’ fish. You’ll also find a huge variety of insects, bats, rock-rabbits (Hyrax), porcupines and, at night, the predators – jackals, wolves and hyenas – will also arrive at the reserve. It’s quite amazing to think that you can wander within this wild landscape, in a wondrous balance between the needs of both man and nature.
The Syrian-African Rift is a bird migration route in spring and autumn, which turns Einot Tzukim into a great station for watching, researching and studying them. The Nature and Parks Authority conducts special activities of bird-banding, learning and creating, during these seasons. This is a special celebration for bird-loving children and adults.
Flora enthusiasts will surely be wondering about the delicate mixture of vegetation that thrives in a saline environment, such as tamarisk and saltbush, and quintessentially freshwater vegetation. Among the latter, you will find the Euphrates poplar, date palms, common cane, southern cattail, and more. A botanical celebration that couldn’t coexist anywhere else in the world!
A Bonus for Pros
Right in front of Einot Tzukim, on a rock adjacent to the road on the western side, you’ll find a strange marking – P.E.F 390. The original marking was made on the rock in 1900 by an archaeologist named McAlister, a representative of the British Fund in Israel – the Palestine Exploration Fund, hence the P.E.F. inscription. McAlister wanted to monitor the sea levels and, in 1900, reached this point by boat, and made the first mark – 390 meters below sea level. For 13 years, this monitoring took place, until World War I broke out and researchers returned to Europe. It’s sad to think of the great distance between where they arrived by boat in 1900 and the current coastline. In 1968, a road was paved there, and in order not to damage the historic inscription, a small deviation was made along the way. It’s not possible to stop there, but you can easily see the marking if you drive slowly.