The natural side of Israel

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Kath Giel

When you hear Jerusalem, Masada, the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee, Crusader castles, and the Jordan River, you think of Israel. But what about stunning coral reefs, strikingly bold deserts, luxuriant mesas, stark white sea cliffs, verdant streams and rivers, millions of migrating birds — do you also know this is Israel?

The Angeles Chapter is offering a unique look at Israel in an upcoming adventure travel trip in November 2014. In addition to visiting the classic religious and historical sites, this trip will venture off the beaten path along the breadth and depth of Israel. It will focus on the unique intertwining of natural and human history of the country. Organized by an Israeli and veteran Sierra Club leaders, this comprehensive, active adventure far surpasses the typical tourist package, with an emphasis on activity, education, conservation, and personal attention.

Israel Adventure: Natural and Historical Highlights, Nov. 5-18. Join an active adventure to Israel that to learn about classic religious and historical sites as well as the natural history that makes Israel a critical respite in wildlife migration. Hike up Masada, stop at places along the Mediterranean Sea, and experience the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee on this special Sierra Club trip. The cost is $3,970 per person for Sierra Club members; non-members add $100. Airfare is extra. Contact: Shlomo Waser, (408) 483-7716; shlomosierraclub.@gmail.com; Kath Giel, (415) 720-4430, sierrakath@gmail.com.

Israel has set aside nearly 20% of the country in 190 nature reserves and 66 national parks. Located at the intersection of Africa, Asia, and Europe, Israel contains landscapes that are often scattered by hundreds or thousands of miles in other countries. In the north, snowy peaks such as Mount Hermon harbor alpine flora and fauna, while in the south, the Red Sea touches the tropical zone at the Gulf of Eilat, providing a rich environment for vibrant coral reefs and gaudy fish. The center of Israel is a potpourri of unique environments including tranquil oases, forested slopes, harsh desert areas, Mars-like landscapes, and the Dead Sea, one of the lowest points on earth.

Some of the largest raptor, songbird, and waterbird migrations in the world pass through Israel, with hundreds of thousands of African birds of prey and millions of other birds crossing as they fan out into Asia and Europe. And a 620-mile trail called the Israeli National Trail crosses the entire country from north to south, traveling through strategic areas of natural and human history.

In these diverse landscapes, the history of human habitation and religious practice is evident. At the Banias Spring Preserve, not only is the lovely waterfall enjoyed in its pristine state by Israelis and tourists alike, but nearby is a temple to Pan, the satyr god of forests and flocks, dated from 87 CE. King David wrote psalms near the mesmerizing Ein Gedi waterfalls, where now tourists come to admire the verdant scene and look for protected ibex and hyrax on the cliffs above. We see the white-flowered broom plant, the same one under which Elijah sought sustenance fleeing Queen Jezebel. Everywhere there are reminders of the past in the environment, and enhances our connection to both history and the natural world.

Photos: Coral reefs at Eilat (top) and the Bahai Gardens and Temple in Haifa. Credit: Itamar Grinberg (Bahai Gardens)

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