Nahal Shualim to Yeruham Park – A Desert Hike

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.

Description of the route

Our excursion begins with an air of tranquility. The footpath, which is indicated by red trail markings all along its length, starts out on a loess plain. As in most areas on Mount Negev, these loess deposits are covered in Hammada scoparia, a small, dark bush with jointed stems. A considerable quantity of the loess is trapped here in ancient terraces that can still be seen. In Byzantine times the local inhabitants cultivated land in the gullies and valleys, and those on Mount Negev and in the area around Yeruham supported vineyards, wheat fields and other crops.

Our path crosses the line of eruv (a Jewish-law related Shabbat boundary marker) poles around Yeruham, traverses clearly visible riverbed and continues up the southern bank, heading eastwards. Here we need to pay close attention to the signs. After about 400 meters the path abandons the riverbed (contrary to our natural inclination to continue along it), and heads southwards. The local streambeds are notable for the conspicuous presence of shaggy sparrow-wort (Thymelaea hirsuta), a bush that grows to around one meter in height. Its small leaves hug the stalk closely, and after rain it sprouts small yellow flowers. The slopes, on the other hand, are the undisputed province of the bushy bean-caper (Zygophyllum dumosum), which is easily identified by its fleshy cylindrical leaves.

A few hundred meters further on, our route crosses a large rocky shelf, after which, to the right of the trail, we can see a small cave-like space with an opening about half a meter in height – just the place for a desert herdsman to store his equipment. The slab of rock nearby is decorated with a number of modern rock drawings, and further on we come to a series of waterholes, one of which, located under a rocky waterfall several meters in height, is especially deep. In the winter months, immediately after the first rains, this hole fills up with a substantial amount of water.

Our trail leads us past a few smaller waterholes, and about 100 meters further on we arrive at a slab of rock. Here “transparent” markings (i.e., two white lines with no stripe of color between them) indicate our route to the left, and 50 meters further on we arrive at a bigger slab covered in a large number of drawings. Don’t expect anything in the way of exciting works of art, however: these rock artists were apparently bored herders whiling away the time; we have no idea of when the drawings were actually made.

Now the trail climbs up the spur between the riverbeds that leads to the foot of a little hill. So far we have covered a distance of about 3.5 kilometers and have now reached the highest point on our route (621 meters above sea level). It’s time for us to turn our faces towards Yeruham. We are currently standing on the northern slopes of the Hatira Ridge, which contains the Great Crater (HaMakhtesh HaGadol), with Yeruham Ridge opposite us. These two ridges are anticlines (i.e., geological arch-shaped folds), and between them lies the syncline (a trough of stratified rock) on which the city is built. This is the site of Yeruham Park, and it is most conveniently crossed by Route no. 204, which faithfully follows the course of the ancient road that passed through here for thousands of years.

Now we descend to Nahal Shualim (“Fox Stream”) itself and walk for some way along the shallow streambed until we reach the point where it bends and deepens. The path continues along the left-hand bank of the gully and descends into the streambed, in which a single tree grows. This is the South American mesquite (Prosopis alba), a non-native tree that has settled in and acclimatized well to local conditions. On the far side of the tree are two stone fences that enclose circular compounds. These are corrals for flocks, which may once have been used by those same herders who were responsible for the rock drawings. Now, once again, we have to pay attention to the trail markings. Before the large bend to the right, our path leaves Nahal Shualim, ascends to the spur to the left of the riverbed, then descends once more to a tributary of the stream that, in wintertime, offers us one of the high points of this route: a series of impressively deep waterholes that fill up during the rainy season. If you come here in mid-November, the waterholes may not be full, but you will certainly be able to enjoy the impressive flowering of the winter daffodil (Sternbergia clusiana). And if you arrive a little later in the season you will be greeted by the flowers of the desert hyacinth (Bellevalia desertorum), the Egyptian autumn crocus (Colchicum ritchii, also known as Egyptian meadow saffron), the branched asphodel (Asphodelus ramosus) and, at the end of March, the Siberian lily (Ixiolirion tataricum).

Our path continues along the right-hand bank of the stream, leading us across fairly steep shelves of rock. Before descending into the streambed we have to deal with a steep section of route, where the assistance of an agile hiker who managed to descend first may be welcome. Before we return to the Yeruham syncline, we observe on the right a wonderful layer of flint in an example of the famous Mishash formation. Before us now are two kilometers of level ground, and after skirting Naama Farm to the left, we land up at Route no. 204. If we have a vehicle waiting for us there, we can travel in it to Yeruham Park, or, alternatively, we can arrange for the car to meet us at the park. The red-marked trail crosses the highway and continues for another kilometer until it brings us to the center of the park.