Tel Dan 248.88.
(photo credit: Eitan Nisim)
The next time you're looking for a family outing to nature, you might want to consider some of Israel's most classic spots. Over the past year, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) has improved some of the most beautiful nature reserves - making them more accessible without damaging their essential beauty.
While some of the sites have been in operation already, the NPA is officially opening them to the public during the seventh annual "Week of love for nature, water and the environment," which runs from March 13 to 21.
In conjunction with the Water Authority, the Environmental Protection and Education ministries, the NPA will raise awareness about environmental preservation by encouraging visitors to come and learn about the varied species and ecosystems in Israel's nature reserves. The NPA will host a number of special events throughout the week. Information about the events and all of their reserves is also available on the NPA's Web site at www.parks.org.il.
The view from the top of Mount Arbel is arguably one of the most stunning in Israel. Overlooking Lake Kinneret, the 360-degree panoramic view takes in vast vistas of the Galilee and the Golan. There is also a fortress set into the cliff face, but few people have really gotten close to it because it was previously only accessible via rappelling. Now, the NPA has built a trail down to the fortress via a series of ladders and handrails. Instead of just enjoying the view from the top, the more adventurous general public can make its way down the cliff face to the fortress on this trail.
The Arbel was the site of two famous battles: one mentioned in the Book of Hosea and the other between Jewish rebels who refused to accept the rule of Herod. Eventually, Herod lowered his troops down the cliff face in giant baskets to the entrances of the caves where the rebels were holed up. Herod's soldiers used long sticks with a hook on the end to pull out the rebels and throw them to their deaths at the base of the mountain. With the new trail, no one needs to be lowered over the cliff anymore.
To make the Arbel even more accommodating, restrooms have been installed at the top - along with parking. There are several trails of varying difficulty that begin at the top of the cliff face.
Speaking of fortresses, Nimrod's Fortress on the slope of the Hermon can now be seen in a whole new light. Seventy lamps illuminate the walls at night, throwing a dramatic highlight onto the imposing walls of the citadel. For those who aren't afraid of the dark, an oil-lamp tour through the fortress at night is now available as well.
Although originally thought to have been built by the Crusaders, Nimrod's Fortress was actually built by the Muslim governor of the Banyas, Almalek Alaziz Uthman, in 1228. Later, it was conquered by the Mameluke Sultan Baibars, who turned the simple fortress into the massive edifice which remains to this day. A large inscription and a rock with Baibars's symbol can still be seen at the site.
Moving down from the mountain into the lush water habitat of Tel Dan, during the week of love, one might catch a glimpse of an endangered salamander. Black with yellow dots, its natural habitats are vanishing as wetlands disappear. After a rainy day, visitors should keep their eyes open to catch a glimpse of one at Tel Dan or at Nimrod's Fortress.
On Saturday, March 21 (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), kids can meet "Mr. Salamander," who will give out riddles which lead throughout the reserve and unveil the salamanders' rapidly disappearing watery world.
The reserve has recovered well from a suspected arson attack last year. Bridges have been rebuilt and the foliage has bounced back rather quickly, though signs of the flames' ravages are still visible.
While you are there, don't forget to walk by "Abraham's Gate," the first known instance of the use of an arch - 2,000 years before the Romans supposedly invented them. Built almost 4,000 years ago out of mud bricks, some believe it is the city gate of Dan, which Abraham came to when he was rescuing Lot (Genesis 14:14-15). Israel has perfected certain preservation techniques solely to take care of this unique arch. It is up for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site this summer.
For those interested in wildlife more than archeology, a hi-tech system of cameras and screens has been set up at the Gamla nature reserve. Visitors can watch eagles in their natural habitat without disturbing them, thanks to high-powered cameras which can zoom in on an eagle 700 meters away. NPA ecologists can also use the system to observe the birds and their interactions in their natural habitats.
Now that you know that nature reserves can actually be refurbished, and what you once thought of as a timeless mountain can actually change, maybe it's time to revisit the classics.