Odem Forest – an Excursion

The colorful quarry at Mount Odem. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
The colorful quarry at Mount Odem. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

KKL-JNF has recently upgraded the Reconnaissance Platoon 7 Recreation Area in the Golan Heights, which serves as a memorial to the unit’s fallen soldiers.

  • Starting point

    The recreation area is situated one kilometer to the north of the entrance to Kibbutz El Rom, on the western side of Route no. 98, between kilometer markers 81 and 82.

    KKL-JNF has recently upgraded the Reconnaissance Platoon 7 Recreation Area in the Golan Heights, which serves as a memorial to the unit’s fallen soldiers. This site is also a departure point for a seven-kilometer hike to the top of Mount Odem and down into Odem Forest (Mas‘adeh Forest), a natural woodland that is home to three different varieties of oak tree: the Israeli common oak, (Quercus calliprinos), the gall oak (Quercus infectoria) and the Tabor Oak (Quercus ithaburensis). Please note that the route is linear, not circular, and hikers should arrange for a pickup vehicle to wait for them at the far end.
  • Geographic location-

    Northern Israel - the Golan Heights
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

  • Track length-

    7 km
  • Track type-

    Walking path
  • Difficulty-

    Walkers - Medium
  • Season-

  • Duration-

    3-5 hours
  • Features-

    Views and landscapes; picnic
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks

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 Reconnaissance Platoon 7 Recreation Area

Reconnaissance Platoon 7 is the reconnaissance platoon of the IDF’s Seventh Brigade, and the memorial at the site commemorates soldiers from the unit who fell in a number of battles over the generations. The road opposite the memorial leads to Mount Hermonit and the Beqaa Valley, where the platoon engaged in bitter combat to block the enemy advance during the Yom Kippur War (October 9th, 1973).

This site has undergone a number of reincarnations. In 1973, with the help of KKL-JNF, the bereaved families and friends of the fallen soldiers created a modest memorial: a metal plaque that was perhaps once part of a Centurion tank was inscribed with the names of platoon members who fell in the Yom Kippur War. As time passed, more elements were added.

Today, the memorial comprises a plaza dominated by a large central concrete structure whose shape is reminiscent of that of an armored personnel carrier (APC), and on top of this structure stands an APC that was damaged in one of the platoon’s battles in the area. Beside it is the original plaque from the earliest form of the memorial, and beside it is another plaque in the same style that records for posterity the names of platoon soldiers who fell in other circumstances. A pillar at the site contains an audio device that relates the story of the battle that took place nearby, and includes recordings of exchanges over the brigade’s walkie-talkie system. KKL-JNF has planted a grove of trees beside the memorial, which it has recently renovated, and has transformed the recreation area adjacent to it into an overnight campsite with surfaces suitable for pitching tents. The recreation area is now used for overnight camping by hikers along the Golan Trail and other visitors to the area.

The quarry

Our route makes its way across level ground for about two kilometers, with Mount Odem always directly in front of us as we walk along. The climb from the foot of the hill is fairly steep, and the cumulative altitude gain is about 80 meters. En route we pass by a deep quarry that burrows about twenty meters into the flank of the hill.

Scoria, a type of volcanic rock used for growing plants and other purposes, was extracted from the quarry. This rock, which is multi colored, may be yellowish red, black, gray, violet or brown. From here it is just a short distance to the top of Mount Odem, whose Hebrew name is a direct translation of its Arabic one, which is Tel al-Ahmar. Both mean, more or less, “Red Hill.” And, indeed, on a clear sunny day the slopes of the hill glitter with a characteristic and unmistakable shade of reddish violet.

Mount Odem is just a single link in a whole long chain of parallel hills that form a double rank of cones of volcanic ash. This chain of volcanic hills, which includes Mount Avital and Mount Baron, is composed of shattered solid matter discharged during volcanic eruptions, which accumulated around the active crater. These cones consist mainly of scoria, which is made up of porous particles whose size varies from several millimeters to several dozen centimeters.

The double-peaked summit of the hill provides a wonderful view. To the west we can see the Hula valley, the Lebanon Valley and the hills of Upper Galilee, while from other points on the hilltop we have a clear view of Mount Hermon and the expanses of the Golan Heights.

Odem Forest

The Golan Trail descends northwards from the summit, makes its way through the deciduous orchards of the northern Golan Druze, and after about two kilometers, reaches the edge of Odem Forest (Mas‘adeh Forest). This wonderful stretch of woodland is a remnant of a vast forest that once covered the northern Golan Heights. The Circassians who settled in the Golan in the 19th century made a living partly by felling trees and selling wood, and these activities hastened the depletion of this great forest. Later, when the Syrian army used the western section of the forest as cover for its installations, it forbade anyone to harm the trees, and this protective attitude improve the state of the forest considerably.

A combination of factors renders Odem Forest unique in the Israeli landscape. It grows in basalt soil, it receives a respectable quantity of precipitation (up to 1,000 millimeters per year) and it is situated comparatively distant from the influence of the sea. To this we can add the fact that the forest is covered in snow for several weeks each year. All these add up to make it a nature reserve like no other in the country.

Our trail offers us several hundred meters of walking through the forest (go carefully; the ground is rocky). In wintertime, the big indented leaves that have fallen from the gall oaks rustle beneath our feet, creating an ambiance reminiscent of European woodland. This impression is heightened by the presence of numerous climbing plants, such as Etruscan honeysuckle (Lonicera Etrusca) and rough bindweed (Smilax aspera).

Odem Forest is one of the rare places where the gall oak thrives happily alongside the Israeli common oak, which is an evergreen tree whose small leaves have spiky edges. They are joined by deciduous trees such as the Palestine pistacia (Pistacia palaestina), the snowdrop tree (Styrax officinalis), the spiny hawthorn (Crataegus azarolus) and the rare single-seeded hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna).

In January, at the height of winter, the variety of cyclamen known as eastern sowbread (Cyclamen coum) flowers here, and it looks particularly impressive when the forest is covered with snow. Other local plants include the broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), which flowers in May, the violet limodore (Limodorum abortivum), which flowers in April, a whole host of climbers and a tremendous variety of fungi. When the path emerges into a clearing, we need only turn left and walk for just a few minutes to get back to our starting point, where we meet up again with Route no. 98.

Still want more? Hop over to the Great Joba

Time required: Half an hour
The Great Joba access road branches off the Mas‘adeh-Odem highway (Route no. 978) about two hundred meters to the north of the access road to Moshav Odem. KKL-JNF has provided a parking lot at the point where the path branches off from the road.

A short disabled-accessible path about 300 meters long brings us to the brink of a huge circular crater about 250 meters in diameter. As for its depth, we can learn only from what we read that it is about six meters, as the crowds of trees that cover its precipitous sides effectively conceal the floor.

The name Great Joba is a typical Israeli Hebrew-Arabic hybrid. In Arabic it is referred to as Al-Jawba al-Kabira (“the Great Pit”). The Arabic word jawba / joba is related to the Aramaic gov, which has the same meaning, and in classical Hebrew the site should be referred to as HaGov HaGadol, instead of HaJoba HaGdola, but modern-day Hebrew has a life all of its own.

Odem Forest contains about 20 volcanic “jobas” of this kind. Despite the heavy rainfall that characterizes the area, none of them have filled up with water – proof that all of them allow the rain to drain away deeper into the ground.

There is disagreement as to how the pits came into being, and we shall present only two versions of the argument here. The geologist Doron Mor believes that these pits were formed as a result of eruptions of large quantities of volcanic gas unaccompanied by solid volcanic material; this would explain the circular shape of the pits. Fellow geologist Emanuel Mazor, on the other hand, puts forward a different hypothesis according to which a stream of burning lava covered a surface consisting of shallow water and water-impregnated rocks. The resulting steam, he contends, caused secondary eruptions that culminated in the formation of the jobas. As we cannot descend into the depths of the pit, we must now return to our vehicles that are parked at the side of the road.