The last leg of our journey was supposed to include an hour or two at Timna Park in the Arava Part of the Negev – the Southeastern part that borders Jordan. We got an early start, passing the realization of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s dream. In the arid desert, the wilderness was being irrigated and coming to life! Bee farms (honey!!), dairies, fish farms (both tropical fish raised for the international commercial market and fish for food… in the desert!!!), and rows and rows of palm trees (dates!).
In the photo below, if you look closely, you will see a large fish pond where carp is being raised….
We drove into Tina completely unprepared for what was ahead. Unparalleled natural beauty and totally, a desert experience. It always seems like we have perfect timing, as they were almost no other tourists… except for a large pack of senior citizen bicyclists with as much energy as Moses and Miriam. They were awesome! The youngest member was 70. The oldest 92! Out biking in the desert! So, John and I were hiking in the hot sun by ourselves (it was only February!!) and by nine o’clock it was already in the 80*s F. At night it gets sooooo cold, and during the day, is baking. I was trying to put myself in the position of my forefathers, and decided that although the landscape was beautiful, I could only last about 3 days … a week tops. Did they have sufficient clothing for the 40 years wandering? No sunscreen… what about shoes? At least there was quail (which we saw) and manna, and through G-d’s providence, Miriam found springs, still present today.
The park is full of ancient historical sights and is surrounded by towering beige granite cliffs. Millions of years of erosion have sculpted otherworldly natural freestanding shapes. The beige color soon gave way to the most spectacular shades of red. Copper!!! Even before the Israelites wandered here, the Egyptians used this area for their copper mines in the 13th-12th centuries BC… and the rocks and rock formations reflect the copper and rich red iron ore, purple manganese, and sandstone. It was an ancient multicultural endeavor with Egyptians, local inhabitants of the Red Sea area, and laborers and traders from Arabia. There was a document found here dating back to the time of Ramses III, naming the area Atica. Today, you can see the ruins of the ancient smelting furnaces, and there is still a plethora of iron slag laying around at the sites. The first industrial trash, perhaps? We picked up and photographed everything, but dare not take even the smallest pebble. I really learned my lesson from two days before!!!! Timna is a historian’s and geologist’s playground! It was also the site of gem mining. Buried deep within the layers, you can see geodes and pieces of rock waiting to be tumbled and made into jewelry. There were whole swaths of these glorious pebbles and rocks exposed and screaming at me “Pick me up! Look at me!” Beryl and quartz. Green stones, pink, blue. So I took some photos, which can’t begin to do justice to the findings.
And the desert floor!! Sand, of course, but I have never in my life seen such a wide variety of colors of reds and browns and pinks!!! I just couldn’t get over it, and kept bending down to do color swatches on my arm. It was a palette of natural mineral makeup…. well at least the women in the desert could look nice. I was just dying to put palmfuls of the different colors in jars to market back in the States.
During most of the year, the desert is devoid of plantlife. However, there is a mere two week stretch after the winter rains, when the wilderness blooms. We were fortunate enough to be able to visit during this season, at the tail end. Such a treat –
Obviously, this was turning into more than just a couple hour trip.We had no idea the surprises this park would hold. We drove through beautiful areas, passing a huge rock formation called the Sphinx, finally making it to a lovely oasis for lunch. Adjacent to the oasis, was a most special treat. A permanent exhibit of the Mishkan (the tabernacle) had been erected. It was an exact scale model of the tent carried and constructed by the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering. It could be taken down, transported and re-set up every time the encampment moved. All the tribes camped around the Mishkan, which was the central focus. Imagine, if you will, these people were led by a pillar of cloud during the day, and a pillar of fire at night. The Mishkan contained an altar in the courtyard where animal sacrifices would take place; a brazen laver for washings; and a huge tent. Inside the tent was an incense brazier, a multi-tiered table for the loaves of showbread, and another heavy curtain dividing the main part of the tent from the Holy of Holies or inner sanctuary, which could only be entered by the High Priest once a year, on Yom Kippur, for the purpose of receiving atonement for the people. The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant, inside this were the Ten Commandment tablets and Aaron’s perpetually budding almond staff. Rising above the Holy of Holies outside the Mishkan was the pillar of fire, the Shechinah, G-d’s glory. How incredibly awesome this would have been to witness at that time!!! A guide was there to explain to us the great spiritual significance of every detail. The tent was made of panels of blue (heavens), white (purity), red (blood sacrifice), purple (royalty). The tent posts were brass at the base (judgement) and silver on the top (righteousness) – two attributes of the Divine. Aaron’s staff perpetually sprouted almond blossoms. The almond is the first of the trees to bloom in the spring and the last to produce fruit. Each ring, each socket, each link in a chain was significant – and I could have stayed there listening to the guide forever.
But we had to leave as it was getting towards afternoon, and we had one more stop before resuming the journey. The pillars of Solomon, once thought to be the site of King Solomon’s Mines (now refuted) but actually having the remnants of an Egyptian Temple to Hathor, Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglyphs at the top of the mountain (yikes!!!), and just in the past week, a whole pile of Biblical cloth – linen, flax, hemp – was discovered inside one of the caves there. Quite exciting!
So, my adventurous husband decided it would be more than cool if we climbed the back way up to the top. There WERE (steep) steps carved from the rock eras ago – handrails, a modern convenient addition were included… Still. You’ve just GOT to be kidding!!! No way could I do this. Besides, I had been battling a mild case of vertigo for the past couple weeks. “No problem. I’ll have your back, and just climb. Don’t look down.” I certainly did not want to be a spoilsport. So – reluctantly – I acquiesced. Still can’t believe we did it.
It was really hard for me to go all the way up, but we had our water bottles. I had to take off my hat because it was sweltering, and then my shoes, to get a better grip on the rock – had no idea we’d be doing this kind of thing – and I’m always so unprepared – a skirt, yet!! But it was well worth it: the temple, the caves, the views! Yikes!!! The views!!!! I look down and the vertigo really sets in. I think John is, in fact, a mountain goat, and thank goodness we ran into a group of kids from Finland. I don’t think I could have made it down without their help! So, for their good-natured assistance, we packed the 4 of them into the back seat of our car and gave them a lift out of the park to their destination North near Dimona.
As the sun started to wane, we raced through the desert, taking in more magnificent vistas all the way to Sodom and the Dead Sea by dusk.
So we had done it!! Survived the desert experience! Learned some valuable lessons! Saw the beauty of G-d’s creation! Reenacted the Exodus! Exhausted physically, refreshed spiritually – with some great stories – and tans! Finally made it home after midnight. Hope you enjoyed going on this remarkable journey with us. Until next time,