There is nothing like a stroll on the beach on the weekend: the beautiful sand, the whispering of the lapping waves, the faint whisper of the wind, all these and more recharge us with the peaceful feeling of freedom we yearn for. A stroll on the beach combined with a short walk along the Sorek River Estuary, in the Sorek Stream Nature Reserve, near Palmachim. What could be better…
The Sorek River has earned a bad reputation. The stream originates in the Jerusalem Mountains, south of Ramallah, and flows along 70 km [43 miles], through Beit Shemesh and the Judean Plains, until its water spills into the Mediterranean Sea north of Kibbutz Palmachim. In the past the stream was notorious for carrying the wastewaters of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Rehovot, Yavne, and Nes Tziona; however, currently after facilities for purified waste-water were built upstream, only flood water, scarce spring water, drainage of underground water, and unused excess agricultural effluents (purified wastewater) are poured into the riverbed.
The river restoration at the Sorek estuary area, i.e. its sandy area, included restoring its banks, moderating its slopes for better access to the water, replanting of vegetation on the banks for stabilizing the banks and preventing them from being washed away during floods, and renewing of tortoise spawning area. If you’d walk along (free of charge) this pleasant route you’ll discover how much nature, landscapes, plants, and animals can be found so close to home - this trip is a must!
How to get there
Exit the Tel Aviv-Ashdod Road (Highway 4) at the Gan-Rave Interchange. At the Ein-HaKore Junction take the road leading west (Palmachim). Approximately 1500 m [5,000 feet] before reaching the entrance to the Kibbutz, you will see a signpost directing you to a grove which the local residents call, "The Tzanchanim Grove" [named after the troops that regularly do their parachuting training in the nearby dunes) . A few meters after turning toward the Tzanchanim Grove’s parking lot, you’ll notice a left turn that takes you to a dirt road, passing amongst picnic tables. Park your car at the end of this dirt road. This is the starting point for a tour of the national park.
The tour itself begins on the eastern side of the Tzanchanim grove and includes a variety of round-trip routes. I would recommend going to the seashore and to the beautiful outlook on the crag, about 3.4 km [2 miles] (about 2.5 hours) ahead. For those who do not have enough time, there are shorter routes, of 1-1.5 hours, to the TzabimIsland (Tortoise Island) or to the Cormorant Lookout.
We will begin our route right after parking the car in the Tzanchanim grove, a eucalyptus grove planted by the JNF in the 1950s. Usually IDF paratroopers’ first parachute training takes place just south of this grove. The grove serves the paratroopers as a place where they can meet with their families. The grove is also outfitted with picnic-table which provides you with a great place for an outdoor meal at the end of the route...
We will take the paved footpath, which has been adapted so that it is suitable for the use of the disabled, and continue under the bridge on the Palmachim Road. The path leading toward the Secher HaSela'im [the Stone Dam] will take us to the ‘I HaTzabim [Tortoise Island]. The Nature and Parks Authority built this island in 2002. There is a stable population of Caspian turtles in this segment of the river. This species has a flat dorsal shell of about 23 cm [9 inches] in length. Turtles spend most of their time in the water, but from time to time they like to "sunbathe” in the open areas along the river banks and on the island's banks. Immediately upon sensing a bit of danger, the turtles jump into the water. The Caspian turtle population has survived in the Sorek Stream only due to some kind of magic ability to endure in the polluted water.
The Nature and Parks Authority also makes efforts to restore the tortoise population in the stream. This big species can reach 120 cm [47 inches] in length and a weight of 50 kg [110 ponds]. Once common in all of Israel’s costal rivers (especially in the Alexander River), this tortoise was on the verge of extinction due to severe river pollution. Now as a part of the efforts to reclaim the water of this stream, hopefully this unique species will return to the Sorek Stream.
We will continue on a footpath marked with short white poles toward the Tatzpit HaCormoranim [the cormorant outlook] . From the top of the dune we have a good view of the northern bank of the Sorek Stream and its Eucalyptus trees. Each winter these trees host a flock of hundreds of great cormorants. The white color that washes the eucalyptus trees results from the droppings exuded by the birds.
The great cormorant, Israel’s biggest dark waterfowl, is a very common winter-bird in the northern and western parts of the country. Bird colonies are known in quite a few places, and in the area of the Sorek estuary the masses of cormorants and their nests inflict death on many eucalyptus trees. like other waterfowl species, cormorants generally spend the winter, and nest, in Israel, but only few will prolong their stay. Two "common” species exist here: Great and Pygmy Cormorants (the latter is less common, and can be seen mostly in the northern part of the country.) The Great Cormorant is mostly black in color. The upper part of its neck is white and underneath the beak is yellowish spot. The Great Cormorant feeds mainly on fish which it catches by diving into the water.
We will continue westward toward the kurkar (calcareous sandstone) ridge. The footpath ascends adjacent to a quarried cave, which was given the name The Dwarves' Cave by children of Kibbutz Palmachim. It is prohibited to enter the cave as it could collapse at any time.
We shall conclude our tour at an observation point looking out toward the sea- . The kurkar ridge provides a spectacular view that stretches from the northern part of the Sorek Stream estuary to Palmachim beach. The sand on the costal plane results from the erosion of igneous rocks in Ethiopia. Grains of sand "hitchhike" down the Nile, and then go anticlockwise with the Mediterranean Sea streams and stratify layers of sand from South to North (and this explains the many sand dunes in the South and lack of sand strips at Rosh HaNikrah in the North). Unfortunately, since the erection of Aswan Dam in the Nile and obstacles such as the Ashdod Port and others there are almost no new layers of sand formed by sedimentation. Add to this the massive quantity of sand mined for construction, which is illegal, and you'll see that the existence of this path within this area, like all the other sand strips in Israel, is endangered and hence the area was declared a national park to preserve the natural monuments and the unique landscape.
And last but not least, this little poem just calls out to be read on the seashore:
On the ridge of a crag towering above the sea
On golden dunes
Among the ground folds
The beach's marram grass
Rises against erosion
And a beetle steps.
A kurkar ridge at
The end of the dunes
Breached and eroded
By gushing sea winds.
In the midst of batha land of thorny burnets
Spiny broom, rockrose and artemisia
I stand watching from the crag
How your reflection kisses the sea waves.
Nay, I shouldn’t come for you to the shore
Another lily garland in my arms
So you have asked from me, woman,
And only black grains
Interfere with the ways
Return: we will return to the car park from here via the cormorant observation point.
About the Sorek Estuary National Park
The Sorek estuary park plays a significant role because it maintains a unique habitat created by Coastal-Plain sand dunes.
These conditions allow the existence of diverse plant and animal species that benefit from the geographical continuity of the coastal sands with the desert sands of the South. Subsequently we can find desert plants and animals, side by side with Mediterranean fauna and wildlife of the shoreline which is more abundant with rainfall.
Here Nature's beauty is readily revealed to the eyes of the observer. Each species that migrated here from the South has undergone a process of change and adjustment which is interestingly apparent in their evolution. Some of these plants are defined as endemic (unique to a certain geographical region). An example of a plant endemic to the Costal Plane in the Sorek Estuary National Park is Jaffa Groundsel which stands out for its hairy succulent leaves and relatively large flowers. Jaffa groundsel is species which cannot be found elsewhere in the world. These plants have been adjusted to withstand extremely difficult living conditions. Other plants we might encounter are beach marram grass, the salt tree, the white broom, tamarix, artemisia monosperma and others.
The sands of the Coastal Plains play another important role in Israel's water system. Contrary to cities and urban areas where most of rain water flows to the sewage system and sea, sand, for the most part, can absorb the rainwater (about 80 per cent) that infiltrates into the aquifer and refill it.
One of the prettiest things about the Sorek Stream is the natural growth of grapevines on the dunes. Since underground water stays very close to ground level, grapevines that grow on the sand can thrive and even yield impressive bunches of grapes; however, as the quality of the water is unknown, I wouldn’t suggest tasting these grapes.
Animals too find their sustenance in the sands
There is a wide population of wild boars in the area. During their mating season they enlarge their families and since they don’t make an issue out of intimacy, they provide us with the opportunity to watch their activity … They find their food by burrowing into the sediment and digging out rodents and insects.
A desert monitor, the largest reptile in Israel, which grows to over 1 m in length, can also be seen here, all you need is a sharp eye. The desert monitor population, which feeds on rodents and is active during the day, is in danger of extinction so take care to protect them.
Other animals of the sand dunes are the lesser Egyptian Jerboa - a small rodent with a long tail, whose front limbs are much smaller than its rear ones, a fact which ranks it among the greatest long-distance jumpers; the Greater Egyptian gerbil – a rodent that has a tail that is longer than its body and is active mainly during the night; lizards like audouin’s sand skink and nidua lizard. Other common animals are mountain gazelle, hares, long-eared hedgehogs, and snakes, the schokari sand racer and the diademed sand-snake. If you arrive in the morning, you’ll probably notice the many animal tracks, evidence of their intensive nocturne activity. For those of you who will continue walking to the shore, enclosed is a bingo board which can be printed and you can carry it with you. It can be used to identify conchs and other marine creatures.
Other Sites in the Area
Yavneh Yam–  an ancient port town in the Palmachim area that was excavated recently by Prof. Moshe Fischer of the Department of Classical Studies at the Tel Aviv University. I warmly recommend clicking the link below for further information:
PalmachimMuseum–  In Kibbutz Palmachim you'll find an enjoyable and instructional museum named Beit Miriam which specializes in the historical and archeological aspects of the area. First and foremost is the crown archeological finding, a letter written on ostracon in an ancient Hebrew script. Amongst other things the museum offers nature hikes to learn about the local plants, the Pioneers’ Hut, a display of tools and utensils from the first years of the Kibbutz, and a mosaic floor. Don’t miss it! Please coordinate your visit ahead of time, by phone: 03-9538281, 09-9538281. For more information visit Palmachim's site:
Malabi Stands– don’t forget to taste the malabi dessert [blancmange] and a cold lemonade. There are two stands: one at the entrance to the Tzanchanim Grove and the other a little further west toward the sea.
A legend about the sea sand
How the First Eyeglasses were created/ by Ruth Richter author of My Green Country
Many years ago a young boy and his mother lived on the Sulam Tsor Ridge. During the days the mother and her son spent most of their time on the seashore, and at night they found shelter in one of the caves in a mountain in the Rosh HaNikrah area and hid there from the sharp summer sun and the cold winter winds. They never experience poverty because the boy was an expert fisherman and knew the manners of the fish during the different seasons, and his mother's busy hands weaved new fishing nets from the tendons of carnivorous animals and mended torn fishing nets.
One day, after the boy returned from fishing, a wild sand storm began. Clouds of sand billowed upwards on the golden curved hills and a huge sand pillar swirled around itself, dancing from one hill to the other. The humble hut was uprooted and the boy and his mother's belongings were scattered to the winds.
The boy hated the soft sand that lined the shore, and its streaming grains that were swirled-up with every gust of wind, penetrating the eyes and mouth, piercing the naked skin, and blurring the eyes. Many times he tried to sow grains and vegetables in the treacherous sand, but each time the mild sprouts were covered by the wondering sands, buried underneath or dried.
“Why have you created this horrible sand?!” the boy cried to God, “It can’t sustain anything, and it only brings damage to the world!”
A few days after the storm subsided, the mother felt that her sight was gradually waning. Over time her eyesight gradually grew fainter, until the poor woman was unable to see almost anything, except for big things when she brought them close to her eyes. Weaving and mending the nets became difficult for her, and eventually she had to stop doing these chores. The nets she had prepared for her son before she almost lost her sight slowly started to disintegrate. She feared that she and her son would end up with being dependent upon other people’s mercy for their living.
The mother cried out loudly to God:
“Oh Lord, I swear to thee that I shall not pray, nor shall I bring food to my mouth, or satisfy my thirst until you send healing to my sightless eyes!"
Over the next days the son pleaded with his mother to taste the bread, to eat from a fish he had roasted on the fire, and to drink some water but she stood up to her word, her body shriveled, her strength left her, but she would not agree to leave her place next to the seaside and to return to the cave on the mountain ridge.
One day when the hunger and thirst weighed heavily on her the woman began shuddering and felt a horrible chill. The heat was unbearable but the woman couldn't stop shuddering. The boy hurried to dig a pit and lit a fire in it to warm his mother. The fire spread light and warmth around her, and so that it would not go out, the boy occasionally added dried seaweed that the sea had omitted during the high tide. The mother warmed up a little and sank into a sleep next to the bonfire, and from time to time the boy fell asleep next to her too.
The next day, at the break of dawn, the boy found transparent, blazing objects within the ashes. Their color was the same as the fire's. These objects shone and had the concaved shape of the pit inside which they were formed, and after they became cooler their color was like that of the sea.
“Look mother, here, the Lord has sent us precious stones to sell to the merchants, and spare our souls from hunger!” said the boy and pointed his finger to the transparent objects.
“I don’t need any precious stones!” said the mother angrily, “I want God to give me back my eyesight, so that I could see you better and continue weaving fishing nets!”
The boy took two stones that were cool now, put them in his mother’s hands, and asked her to look at them again. The mother looked at the transparent, concaved stones and brought them closer to her eyes to see them better.
Suddenly the mother felt that the haze that divided her eyes with the world has dissipated, and the scene in front of her was once again clear and transparent; however when she distanced the stones from her eyes, the foggy cover return to separate her and the objects, the same as before. She brought the stones back close to her eyes and again her sight became clearer.
Then the boy built a wooden frame for her to wear upon her nose, and within it he embedded the transparent stones which were made from the burning seaweed and the sand that melted from the fire's heat. And the mother, whose sight had now improved, stopped her fast and returned to weaving and mending the fishing nets as she had done before, but now with spectacles over her nose.
The boy understood that the sand he abhorred and hated had bestowed his mother with the transparent chunks that brought back her eyesight, and in time he even learnt to process melted sand and create not only eyeglasses but also pretty transparent utensils.
And you, children, if you see eyeglasses or glass utensils shining in the light, remember the young boy that lived thousands of years ago on the northern coast of our country and produced the first glasses for his sick mother.
The science behind the legend
Glass production– silicon dioxide [silica] compounds is the principal chemical element in sand. In order to produce glass, silicon dioxide should first be melted and sodium carbonate(otherwise widely known as “washing soda”) and occasionally potassium too should be added to the mixture. When silicon dioxide and sodium carbonate are heated together under immensely high temperatures they melt and turn into a transparent paste. When it cools down, the liquid paste becomes firm and solidified. Potassium and carbonate are contained in seaweed, thus when fire is ignited on the seashore and dried seaweeds are used to feed the fire, tiny glass particles might be found amongst the ashes. The process of glass production was discovered in ancient Egypt circa 6,000 years ago. The first chunks of glass were not transparent because other materials were added to the glass mixture. The Egyptians used glass for coating utensils and jewelry and used different melting methods to mould utensils out of it. It was only about 2,000 years ago that man learned how to produce glass utensils by glassblowing. The Phoenicians, who lived on the northern cost of Israel, were the first to develop this technique.
Currently various elements which contribute specific characteristics to the glass are added in glass production. Therefore, when ferrous powder is added to the glass mixture the glass will be either reddish or greenish in color. When a scant quantity of gold powder is added the result will be red glass which beautifully refracts light when it passes through it, and is thus use for producing vases. When boron dioxide is added to the mixture the result will be a fireproof glass, and when potassium is blended in, a transparent and extremely clear glass, called crystal, is formed.
Glass has been traditionally used in art. Churches have been decorated with stained-glass windows that depict scenes from the Scriptures, and glasswork is the artistic pursuit of many artists that create abstract or realistic sculpturing.
Despite feeling solid, glass is defined as a liquid, and an electronic microscope can demonstrate how its particles are scattered without repeating a pattern, unlike all other solid elements.
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