Israel, a tiny dot on the world map, boasts the sort of geographical diversity that most countries twenty times its size could never match. Unfortunately, tourists often never get to see the off-the-beaten-track sites. So here's a suggestion: As long as you've rented that car to drive down to Masada and the Dead Sea for a day, how about adding a hike through a desert canyon that makes you feel like you're a million miles from civilization?
Unless you are certifiably acrophobic, you will absolutely love this hike at Lower Nahal Og. The hike is circular, meaning that it begins and ends at the same place – an unpaved parking lot near the front gate of Kibbutz Almog. Start walking west along the easy-to-find blue trail, maintaining your elevation. The arid rolling-hill scenery is stunning – but this is still the "boring" part. After a 15-minute walk, the trail descends into the valley to your left, where you veer left again onto the green-marked trail.
From here on down, the walls grow steeper, but there's no way to get lost: Just pretend you are a drop of water, and follow the gravity. Along the way, just imagine the geomorphologic process of flood waters hurtling from one limestone wall to the next, grinding and sculpting and polishing until the deep canyon took shape.
The Nature Reserves Authority has installed metal rungs and ladders to help you navigate the tougher descents. The adventure abruptly ends as the channel widens into an alluvial flood plain, complete with annoying gravel ground-cover. Continue for another five minutes until you spot the electricity cable crossing the canyon, at which point you turn left and climb a red-marked trail back to the starting point.
Advisories: Although this is a 60-90 minute hike (not including a break to prepare Turkish coffee, as the locals invariably do), that does not take into account possible bottlenecks in the canyon. If it’s a holiday, you could end up sharing this serene desert landscape with a zillion parents and their screeching toddlers. So if you wish to avoid a three-hour bottleneck in the canyon, consider starting the hike in the early morning hours (also recommended on hot summer days).
Most important, though: This hike is absolutely verboten if there is even the slightest threat of rain.
How to get there: By car: Driving east from Jerusalem on Route 1, you exit on the right at the Sonol gas station, at the turnoff to Kibbutz Almog. Continue two kilometers toward Almog, but instead of taking the final sharp left turn into the kibbutz, continue ahead for 50 meters and park by the trailhead. By public bus: Egged (http://www.egged.co.il/Eng/) runs buses every hour or so from the central bus station in Jerusalem. Alight at the gas station at the Almog intersection, and follow the directions above.
Other sites in the area: Back at the gas station, Shushi the Camel will be happy to take you on a photo-op walkabout for NIS 15. She'll tell you it's 20, but that's just her starting price. Hey, you just finished the Nahal Og hike. You're no longer a tourist, so why pay tourist prices?
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