The Desert in Bloom

The busy autumn semester is at long last over and I am slowly recovering and waking up this blog from its long hibernation. I have several exciting trips scheduled for spring, which means that I have to get through the backlog of last years trips. Todays post will not be about an exotic location thousands of miles away but about  the Judean Desert, an hours drive from home. I undertook this long one day hike with Roi last March after a good and rainy season so that I will be able to show you the desert in full bloom. Wadi Tseelim is one of our favorite canyons and we hiked its different parts numerous times. It is located just north of Masada which is  in the background of the marked trail sign.


Not far from the trailhead we encountered our first water holes with plenty of clear water, a good testimony for a recent flash flood.


Roi couldn’t of course resist a few jumps  over the small ponds carved into the bright white lime stone.



We also found our first flowers.


We followed the trail along the river bed which led us into a deep and narrow canyon.


This section required a fair amount of scrambling and wet feet. The alternative trail above the canyon is less adventurous but also less fun, at least for a teenager.



Even on the sheer cliffs some plants managed to find a foot, sorry, root hold making do with tiny amounts of water and soil.


We eventually emerged from the narrow canyon into a wide part. Several years ago, when Roi was still very young we camped here once (strictly forbidden…but rangers can’t get here with their jeeps) and were bitten to pieces by swarms of mosquitos. Roi told his teacher that he has got some contagious disease and she almost fainted in horror. This wide part is strewn with huge brown boulders that have tumbled down from the surrounding mountains.


The path eventually reaches a small spring with good water. This spring is called Ein Namer – the leopards spring. Indeed in 1983 I saw here two leopards. Unfortunately they  probably died out since then in this part of the country.

The spring was a welcome brake and heaven for many small creatures like this dragonfly.


The topography shifts here with every flood which can either fill or empty the ponds with rocks and sand. The exposed roots of plants, once covered with soil testify to this shifting luck.


From the spring river bed is blocked with boulders and so the path climbs up the wall and requires traversing a narrow cleft.


Soon we get to a second spring – Ein Safsafa – the spring of the poplars. It is best to come here when they are in blazing autumn colors but it is a magic spot year round. The water here is brackish and not as tasty as in Ein Namer but the little tadpoles don’t seem to mind at all.


Tristrams Starlings, black birds with orange wings, eagerly await the leftovers of our picnic. They were discovered by the English clergy and naturalist Henry Baker Tristram who was the first zoologist to describe the local fauna in the nineteenth century.



Endemic Sunbirds with shimmering metallic color feed on nectar of a blooming bush. The fact that these birds live here suggests that they can find nectar year round as it is unlikely that they can cross the desert to find alternative food.


We backtracked to the main river bed. Along the way we saw bright red Turban Buttercups._MG_1187

Bright green Zygophyllum dumosum –  a bush with dual leaves perched on a third leaf. The plump leaves are used for water storage and in dry seasons the the dual leaves are shed. This year there was sufficient rain to fill all the reservoirs.


And small yellow buttons of Aaronsohnia factorovskyi, a modest but cheerful plant named after two botanical giants – Aharon Ahronshon and Alexander Faktorovsky


Our next destination was Birket Naama – a very large (for desert standards) pool quite a bit further up the canyon.


This was of course a great opportunity for a through splash.



From here we climbed up a steep path out of the riverbed and up to the desert plateau. Here the flowers were even more spectacular.

Pink Judean Vipers-bugloss (Echium judaeum)



Yellow Toadflax (Linaria haelava)




Purple Storks Bill


The lilac Barbary Nut locally called  “Afternoon” Irises (Gynandriris sisyrinchium) which open their flower only afternoon signaled us that we have to hurry if we want to get to the trail head by dusk.


We started to descend towards the Dead Sea while the lovely afternoon light  painted the mountains in orange.




3 thoughts on “The Desert in Bloom

  1. Pingback: The Desert in Bloom | A Photographers diary of the Universe

  2. Pingback: Toadflax | Find Me A Cure

  3. Hi Michael; it was really a surprise to hear from you again and I enjoyed not only the flowers and the landscape but also Roi´s adventerous climbing and jumping! By the way this is my Brandeis-day! Today I got the Sri Lanka- Pictures by Amos too reminding me at my journey to Sri Lanka many years ago. Love to all of you!

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