Running its course with breathtaking waterfalls down the He’etekim Promontory and toward the Dead Sea, Nahal Mishmar is a promising spot for hikers with its lush heart-stirring and eye-capturing attractions. The stream climbs to Ein Mishmar, an ideal resting place for both humans and animals, that enjoy the emanating spring water all year long. Above the springhead is an ancient treasure cave, and a challenging gorge on the way back, with ladders and water cisterns, and the wonderful view of the Dead Sea and the Edom Mountains. This circular trail is a must for all you hiking-lovers.
Tips for the Trip
This itinerary is a circular 9-km trail [6 miles]. Through the first half, you can decide whether to return the same way or to take a different path, through the stream’s gorge. The second option entails crossing over cisterns which are usually full with water. It is unnecessary to bring ropes since handles and ladders are installed throughout the trail. Take into account that you will need at least six walking hours for this trail, and make accommodations to take suitable apparel for walking in water, drinking water, and a hat since part of the trail is not shaded (click here for a list of recommended gear for the trip).
How to Get There
Access to the Mishmar stream is between Masda (south of it) and Ein Gedi (north of it), on the shore of the Dead Sea. For those arriving from Arad, drive down toward the Dead Sea. At the Zohar Junction, take the left turn (north) toward Ein Gedi. Continue straight at the marked turn to Masada, and near the 234th km stone of Route 90, follow the directing signing left and pass through a dirt road which is drivable for all vehicles and marked with red marking in the footpath system marking map [1 on the map]. Drive slowly through this dirt road about 2 km [1.2 mile] to the parking point . The trail begins here. It is recommended not to leave anything valuable in your vehicle.
The Mishmar Stream
From this car park start following the trail with the red markings in the streambed. Starting at the area of the Heled Mountain, the Mishmar Stream stretches over about 12 km until reaching the Dead Sea. Throughout its way down, the stream loses about 850 meters of which some are accounted for by its 100 m-high impressive waterfall. At the foot of the promontory that is enclosed from the west and creates the canyon of the Mishmar Stream (in Arabic, wadi el-Machris), is an emanation of Ein-Mishmar [Mishmar spring], above which is the Cave of the Treasure, which I will write about later.
On your way you will come across diverse desert flora amongst which you will find: taily weed, fumana thymifolia, golden drop, hoyscyamus desertorum, common caper bush, reseda muricata, knotweed, acacia, reddiana savi, knapweed, Blanche glob-thistle, blepharis attenuate.
In less than 1.5 km [0.932 mile] you will meet up with a trail with blue markings . This is the point where you need to choose whether to enter the gorge with the ladders and cisterns, which means both getting wet and taking a more challenging hike, or to keep walking along the trail with the red markings up the stream. Anyway, in no longer than 2 km [1.2 mile] after this point both trails meet again. Remember that the red one will finally lead back thus it’s preferable to walk on the blue-marked trail.
The Gorge of the Mishmar Stream
In Hebrew "gorge" means a deep narrow crevice that usually cuts into the bed of a bigger canyon. The bed of the Mishmar Stream gorge is made of a chain of cisterns carved into the snow-white chalkstone, and during winter and spring they store the immensely cold water of the flash-floods that wash through the canyon during the rainy days. Hiking is challenging and demands ascending up the smaller falls and using the poles and ladders which have been installed for hikers. The gorge through which the blue-marked trail passes, winds for 2 km [1.2 mile] and it beautifully exemplifies the impact of the Great Rift Valley on the stream, an impact that forces the latter to undermine and twist at an extreme pace before it reaches the Dead Sea.
For those of you who take the red-marked trail, you will pass through the trail that goes above the gorge, on the northern bank of the stream.
In no more than 2 km [1.2. mile] the red and blue trails reunite ; notwithstanding, continue up the steam on the red-marked trail. In another 300 m [984 feet] the trail with the red markings will start ascending up the Mishmar Stream ; however, choose the black-marked trail that climbs to Ein Mishmar.
Ein Mishmar and the Cave of the Treasure
The black trail finally reaches the Ein Mishmar spring  passing amongst the limestone and travertine stones. The spring which flows year-round, slowly drips at the foot of a spectacular and dry 100-m-high waterfall [328 feet]. This emanation is a meeting place for many animals including the Tristram’s starling, other birds, ibexes and rodents. It is also an ideal place for taking a rest in the midst of the green vegetation and natural quiet. Leave this charming spot as clean as possible.
Once, the cave above the spring was called the Sayarim Cave [the Explorer’s cave]. After the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the Qumran Cave in 1947, an archeological project was set up to explore the caves in the Dead Sea streams with the hope of finding more scrolls and archeological findings that may be perfectly preserved in the arid weather of this dry area.
Due to concerns that the Bedouins would loot the caves during 1960 – 1962 four archeological expeditions were sent to survey caves in the Judean Desert between the area of the David Stream in the north and the Ze’elim Stream in the south. Hundreds of volunteers and soldiers from the South Command participated in these excavations. The expedition that set up its camp above the Mishmar Stream was headed by the archeologist Pessah Bar Adon.
During the excavations of March 1961 an enormously invaluable treasure was found in this cave including 429 artifacts from the Chalcolithic Period (the Copper Period that lasted from 4000 – 3150 BC) (for historical timeline click here).
All of the tools that were found were made of copper including mace-heads, ten crowns, dozens of adzes and chisels, about eighty standards and scepters decorated with animal figures such as gazelles, ibexes, buffalos, and eagles. Beside all of that, the treasure also contained five scythe-like tools made from perforated hippopotamus ivory.
Bar Adon explained that the artifacts served for ritualistic purposes and were buried here when the inhabitants of the area had to flee due to an unknown event that put an end to all Chalculithic settlements in the country. Perhaps these tools were used in the Ein Gedi Chalcolithic temple that was devoid of any ritualistic tools. Five-thousand years after the treasure was buried it was discovered and brought to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and now it is presented in a permanent exhibition there.
Back to the Red-Marked Trail
After the visit and a rest at Ein Mishmar  return on the black-marked trail until it meets with the red-marked trail , and then go back at the way you came on the red-marked trail, but this time when you reach the blue-marked trail that ascends from the gorge  continue on the red one. The trail goes down along the Mishmar Stream and provides a beautiful lookout toward the Dead Sea and the Edom Mountains. At approximately two-thirds of the way back there is a transparent footpath marking (two white strips with nothing in-between) that leads to a small hill with a wonderful view of the gorge .
From here continue on the red-marked trail that will take you back to the car.
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