The Dead Sea is a salt lake bordered by Jordan on the east and Israel and the West Bank on the west. The surface of the sea and its shores are 1,407 feet below sea level, and it is is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean, which makes it uninhabitable for fish, birds, and other animal life. Its main inflow is the Jordan River.
Its salt is used in cosmetics and people come from all over the world to bathe in the salt water for it’s reputed health benefits. We passed on bathing in the salt water figuring it would make our skin itch for the rest of the day regardless of the outdoor showers available for washing off the salt.
West Bank Settlements
With our guide, Amikam Yechezkely, we saw many points of interest in the Dead Sea area, not the least of which, was Kfar Adumim where he lives. It is a communal, mixed religious-secular Israeli settlement in the West Bank in the Judean desert.
Mitspe Yericho is another religious communal settlement that we visited in the West Bank.
The international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law, but the Israeli government disputes this.
Masada is a very old Jewish community founded in the First Century B.C.E. that overlooks the Dead Sea on the eastern edge of the Judaean desert. It is built on top of an isolated rock plateau that you can either access by foot (steep climb) or take a cable car (very scenic and much easier on the feet and legs).
Masada is terraced into 3 layers a and has a very sophisticated system for gathering rain water from around the area and streaming it into deep wells dug into the mountain. That part of Israel gets very little rain and you could really see how they figured out how to make the most of what there was so they could survive and thrive.
In 73 or 74 CE, the Roman Tenth Legion Fretensis led by Flavius Silva consisting of 8,000 troops built eight camps around the base. As the Romans became more aggressive towards the community and the hope of the rebels dwindled, they decided to kill themselves before the Romans could kill them or take them as slaves.
Qumran – Dead Sea Scrolls
Qumran National Park is on the north-western shore of the Dead Sea had a Jewish population as far back as the eight century B.C.E. This is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave. The dining hall, ritual bath and other finds recall the Essenes, who sought purity in the desert. The scrolls are on display at the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.
En Gedi Nature Reserve
En Gedi Nature Reserve has herds of ibex and groups of hyrax that you can see close up. The hyrax hang out in trees, bushes, and rocks and seem to be half asleep a good portion of the time. You can get very close. We didn’t see any ibex, but our guide told us that around sunset sometimes you can see a herd heading towards the hills across the hiking path.