Just ten minutes outside of Jerusalem lies the Judaean Desert, a sprawling desert of stone-studded hills, valleys and gorges. The area stretches from the Negev Desert to the Jewish settlement of Beit El in the West Bank, ending in a steep escarpment dropping to the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley. Despite its proximity to the city, it’s a whole different world here.
The Judean Desert is often called the ‘desert in the shade of the mountain’ – for good reasons. In contrast to the wet, rainy climate of Jerusalem (which receives up to 1,000 liters of rain per year), it is extremely hot and dry, regardless of the time of the year. Jerusalem stands at 800m above sea level, while the Dead Sea lies at 400m below sea level (the lowest point on earth), and as a result of this major drop in height, the desert is what it is today.
To explore the area, we hopped on an ATV with Abraham Tours and roared through the rugged landscapes armed with our helmets. With a short safety briefing, we were soon off on the dirt track. Even for a clumsy driver like myself (having toppled on quad bikes and go-karts several times), it was a fun and easy ride.
We rumbled up and down steep rocky slopes, past grazing camels, and wound through narrow valleys flanked by Bedouin tents. At an ancient cistern, our guide shows us signs of life that dates back to centuries ago. Passing through a ravin, we negotiated a series of challenging sections, on the way passing fortifications dating from the Crusaders’ period to the Six Days War. Time and again, we would find ourselves riding alongside the 1,000m-high Judaean Mountains looming in the distance.
Towards the end of the ride, we found ourselves climbing up Jabel Umm Katef – to one of the highest spots in the desert. Our guide pointed out to what was said to be the most beautiful view in the desert – a 360 degree panorama of the Dead Sea, Jericho in the West Bank, Mount Azazel and Horkania Valley.
With mint tea and snacks in hand, we drank in the view and slowly came to understand what drew the Bedouins to this part of the world. Here are some photos from our desert experience, hope they’ll give you a glimpse of its beauty.
This Off Road ATV Desert Adventure experience was organized by Abraham Tours. The half-day trip costs 290 Shekels (US$78). A valid driver’s license is required.