The Haatakim cliff along the length of the Dead Sea is one of the most wondrous natural phenomena in Israel. Now there is a trail that brings us closer to its scenery, starting from the Mezin ruin, and ending at Einot Tzukim. Lately the Israel Nature and Parks Authority repaired the ascent to Rosh Tzukim – you are invited to come and see for yourself.
Main points of interest:
The Mezin fortress
The view from the lookout at Rosh Tzukim
A magnificent view from Rosh Tzukim on the Einot Tzukim nature reserve, the Dead Sea and the Moab moutains
What Israel Nature and Parks Authority does to better serve the visitors
The Authority marked the hiking trail, repaired the ascent to Rosh Tzukim, and built a shelter at the lookout.
Getting to Ma’ale Nahal Mezin
Coming from highway 90, you can park before the religious Avnat community, some 600 meters south to the starting point, and walk along the highway behind the safety barrier.
Getting to Ma’ale Rosh Tzukim
Arrive from highway 90 – the ascent begins across from the entrance to the Einot Tzukim nature reserve (Ein Feshkha).
The Haatakim cliff – an upright cliff reaching 400 meters above the Dead-Sea level. In the past it posed a great difficulty to anyone seeking to descend from Mount Hebron towards the Dead Sea. Since until the beginning of the 20th century the Dead Sea water was reaching the foot of the cliff, it took a special kind of enticement for someone to lay a trail over the desert plateau towards the Dead Sea. Two factors played a role here: the fact that the Dead Sea shore is relatively wide at this point, and that the lively springs – Einot Tzukim, Einot Kane and Einot Samar – supply plenty of fresh water.
The trail route
1. The Mezin ruin
Before the ascent, take a look at the ancient building across, behind the border fence – this is the Mezin ruin, 4 meters and more of the height of its walls having survived over the years. More than 1,200 coins from the Alexander Jannaeus period have been found in its vicinity. It has been speculated that the building served as a fortified shipyard when the king was fighting against the Nabataean Kingdom, conquering vast territories of Transjordan. A 36-meter hall was found in the building, with an opening east towards the sea. It is possible that this is where a ship or ships were stored, to protect them from the damages of the Dead Sea water.
Currently the ruin cannot be visited, but we can still appreciate its size and appearance. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is planning to arrange access to the ruin, providing the area visitors with yet another interesting site.
2. Ma'ale Mezin
In the past, the shortest route from Jerusalem to the Mezin ruin used to cross the Judaean Desert at the Hyrcania fortress, bypassing Nahal Kidron and descending the Mezin slope (Mezin tunnel) – this route is still in use today, via a trail marked in green.
It starts at the monument in memory of two boys who, while hiking in the area in 1976, were caught by the darkness and probably fell into Nahal Kidron. First the trail covers a moderate slope made up of Lisan Marl rock, covered with a layer of limestone debris that fell off the cliff.
After the first rain the desert vegetation comes to life; the fresh leaves of the pink sorrel cover the area, as do the Gymnocarpos decandrus and the anabasis. The Indian mallow with its yellow-orange flowers is at home in the smaller streambeds.
After 700 meters we reach a small saddle, overlooking a beautiful view of the Haatakim cliff and of the Dead Sea shore, with the Avnat community seen at the foot of the trail. After another 400 meters or so we reach a very steep but short slope, with a mesa behind it – a good spot to catch a breath. Here you can clearly see the Mezin ruin, which probably was the reason for the breaching of the ancient elevation.
The trail crosses a small channel, bypassing a tributary of Wadi Mezin, and meeting another trail marked blue at the desert plateau.
3. Towards Rosh Tzukim
The blue trail turns north, and now we walk along the edge of the Judaean Desert – which is a plateau, covered by small knobs separated by shallow channels. The light-colored rock is chalk from the Menuha formation. Scarce precipitation and non-porous rock created especially arid conditions, where vegetation survives only in streambeds.
After a 2-km walk amid this unique scenery we descend to the large valley created by Wadi a-Samra. On your right you will see the shelter Israel Nature and Parks Authority built at Rosh Tzukim (Ras Feshkha). Wadi a-Samra is a shrot but aggressive stream, creating a deep canyon in the edge plateau. The trail bypasses several tributaries and the main channel, follows left edge of the plateau through a narrow pass (be careful!), and climbs along a dirt path marked black. Here we make a right and soon reach the lookout shelter at Rosh Tzukim.
The view is spectacular, especially in the afternoon. The Dead Sea rests at the bottom of the valley, and behind it stand the Moab mountains – a closer look at which will reveal River Arnon. At the foot of the cliff you can see the Einot Tzukim nature reserve; the canyons etched in the ground and descending towards the Dead Sea have appeared recently as a result of its receding water level. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority created two large water pools at the northern end of the reserve, to compensate the local environment for the resulting water loss.
Having enjoyed the view, we now descend from Rosh Tzukim via the Feshkha channel – which is the historic route to the Dead Sea. This route was walked by many, among them famous figures such as Henry Baker Tristram at the end of the 19th century; the Palmach fighters marching towards Masada; and the geographer Hillel Birger, who 1946 headed the team of the first trail-marking project in Israel.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority repaired the trail, and now all we have left to do is walk down about 2 km to reach highway 90 across from the entrance to the Einot Tzukim nature reserve.
The short route to Rosh Tzukim:
Those who prefer a shorter walk but still want to enjoy the lookout, without having someone drive them there and pick them up, can leave the car at the Einot Tzukim nature reserve. Exit the reserve, cross highway 90 carefully, and walk about 2 km up to the lookout – then return via the same route. This can take about 2 hours, and better done during the afternoon when the sun is in the west. This hike is suitable for children over the age of 12.