The Field Trail through the Western Negev Plains

The field trail in the Negev. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
The field trail in the Negev. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.

The Field Trail is a scenic route through farmland and natural landscapes that will gladden the heart of all those who enjoy discovering the western Negev in bloom and exploring fields that stretch as far as the eye can see.

  • Geographic location-

    Northern and western Negev
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

  • Track length-

    20 km
  • Track type-

  • Difficulty-

  • Season-

  • Duration-

    1-2 hours
  • Negotiability-

    The entire route can be negotiated in a private car.

Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.

The field trail

The loess plains of the western Negev stretch all the way to the horizon. Settlers who lived here in the distant past were dependent on the bounty of the heavens, and what little agriculture they had was irrigated only by rainfall. In our modern era, however, thanks to pipes, pumps and reservoirs that store rainwater and reclaimed sewage water, the western Negev is being transformed into a massive granary.

The Field Trail reveals to visitors the agricultural revolution that is taking place in the Negev: endless expanses of carrots, potatoes, wheat and peanuts, groves of pomelo and orange, greenhouses full of vegetables about to make their way to our table and much, much more.

The trail also has a historical aspect, as it follows, more or less, the route of the pipeline from Nir Am to the eleven settlements established on KKL-JNF land in 1946 immediately after the end of the Yom Kippur fast. This pipeline extended from Urim, traveled underground through the area where Kibbutz Tzeelim now stands, then, like the Field Trail, made its way to Gvulot, Mivtahim and Nirim. The trail became a major agricultural and security road. In order to increase users’ sense of security and render the route more convenient, KKL-JNF surfaced it with asphalt in 2000, and thus it is now ready and willing to serve us, too, as we visit, hike and explore. The Israel Government Tourist Corporation, the Ministry of Tourism, Eshkol Regional Council, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Mekorot Water Company were all partners in the development of the trail, of which one section was donated by Friends of JNF USA.

This is a venue that has something different to offer at every season of the year. But although we can see and observe, we must never touch: the crops must be left undisturbed and the fruit in the groves and orchards must never be picked.

The Athel Tamarisks

The Field Trail is twenty kilometers in length. A large KKL-JNF sign and a route map mark its starting point beside the entrance to Kibbutz Tzeelim. The kibbutz itself boasts a pool and jacuzzi whose hot mineral waters emerge from 500 meters underground. The water is used primarily to irrigate the kibbutz fields, but the members take advantage of it for a Turkish bath along the way. Tours along the Field Trail can be organized for groups of visitors by calling the kibbutz’s tourism staff at 08-9989268.

Our route, which leads more or less westwards, is indicated by red trail markings. If you are seeking an agreeable spot for a picnic, look to the right 2.1 kilometers after you leave the starting point. You can’t miss the small copse of Athel tamarisks situated less than 100 meters away on the right-hand side of the road. To get the full benefit of the trees you need to go in among them, as they offer a large open area of shade and a wonderful screen from the rest of the world and its trivial preoccupations.

The Negev Iris

We continue on our way westwards among citrus groves and open farmland. Everything around us is cultivated: there are fields of carrot, peanut, potato and sweet potato, wheat and sunflowers, each ripening and being harvested in its own season. These Negev expanses were farmed in the Byzantine period, too, which was a time of prosperity for the Land of Israel.

We drive 2.7 meters past the tamarisks and just before a sharp bend in the road we come upon a small KKL-JNF sign bearing a picture of an iris and directing us towards the right. In late February and early March a sizeable concentration of Negev irises blooms here very close to the road. This type of iris is one of Israel’s most attractive plants. Its narrow bent leaves surround a stem some 30 centimeters in height that bears large, beautiful purple flowers composed of three upright outer petals and three drooping inner ones. Dark hairs grow at the base of the inner petals. As the plant propagates itself both from seed and from its rhizomes, it is found in clumps. The Negev iris grows wild among the sand dunes of the western Negev and northern Sinai – but is found nowhere else in the world.

Further along the route is another concentration of irises. We can pause here, too, before continuing to the Gvulot Lookout about half a kilometer away, to the right of the road.

Mitzpeh Gevulot

Mitzpeh Gevulot (“Gevulot Lookout”) is one of three observation points established in the Negev by KKL-JNF in 1943; the others are Revivim and Beit Eshel, and all three were constructed in response to the severe restrictions imposed by the British Mandate upon Jews in the Land of Israel. Jewish settlement was forbidden even on Jewish-owned land, and the lookout points were established in order to test the response of the Mandatory government and investigate the feasibility of agricultural settlement in the Negev. Visitors to the site will observe that the building was constructed from mud bricks, the material commonly used for such observation points. They can also view the diamond-polishing plant that formerly operated at the site and hear fascinating tales of what befell residents of the lookout. The site likewise recounts the history of the water pipe that served as a lifeline for residents of the Negev in 1948.

The site offers a variety of activities including a guided tour along the Field Trail. Tours should be coordinated by telephone with the Gvulot tourist staff ahead of time at 08-9987914 or 054-7919000.

After we finish our visit to Gvulot, we can return to the Field Trail and continue our journey westwards. Around 4.1 kilometers from the Mitzpeh Gvulot junction, a small acacia tree can be seen standing out against the surrounding farmland to the left of the road. After another 3.1 kilometers we come to another junction. To the north of the junction, among the many tunnel-shaped greenhouses, we can spot the roof of an old building with two rounded corner porches that stick out like the ears of some fabulous creature. To reach it, we turn right at the junction and drive for about 300 meters before parking and walking to the right in the direction of the building, which is situated some 400 meters distant from the road. This is the abandoned guardhouse of the old Mivtahim site. We may have to dodge around a little among the greenhouses in order to locate the building, which tends to disappear from view every so often, despite the fact that it is taller than the greenhouses that surround it.

The Mivtahim guardhouse

On February 7th 1947 Kibbutz Mivtahim was established at this site by the Oved HaZioni (“Zionist Worker”) movement. This isolated community survived throughout Israel’s War of Independence, and on one occasion challenged the might of the British army. On April 22nd 1948 a British military force drew up in front of the kibbutz and demanded its members hand over an Arab truck that had been captured complete with its contents. When the kibbutzniks refused to open the gates, the British soldiers responded with tank fire and six shells hit the guardhouse, killing kibbutz member Haim Fischer. The British did not withdraw from Mivtahim until the evening.
After the war the kibbutz members decided to evacuate and join forces with members of Kibbutz Nitzanim. In 1950 a group of new immigrants founded Moshav Mivtahim some three kilometers to the northeast of the original site. Now, only the abandoned guardhouse, scarred by shells and bullets, remains as a silent witness of those early days, peeping out shyly from amid the sea of greenhouses. The time has now come to accord it the respect it deserves.

The end of the road

We now have two options for the conclusion of our trip along the trail. We can continue straight on northwards and come out onto Route no. 232 next to Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, or we can return to the junction we left and journey westwards for about 3.5 kilometers following the black trail markings that lead us to Route no. 2200 adjacent to Moshav Prigan.

If we want to end our journey at the Woodland Recreation Area (Henion HaHursha), where we shall find picnic tables and drinking water, we continue straight on for 2.3 kilometers. When we come to the crossroads with Route no. 2211 we continue for another half kilometer until we come to the entrance to the recreation area to the left of the road.