Off the Beaten Path in Adulam

NOVEMBER 24, 2020 : Having returned from the USA, I recently finished the required two-week quarantine. During that time, I dreamed of being outside and walking around in the sunshine. Today was the dream come true. It was a beautiful, warm November day – perfect weather, not too hot and not too cold. The destination was Tel Adulam.

Tel Adulam is a small tree-covered hill near Adaret, in Emek Ayala on the back road to Gush Etzion and Jerusalem. We had been to Adaret several times before – dropping off or picking up our son from his pre-army program there, but we never actually explored the area. The idea to go there today came from this week’s Hiking the Holyland newsletter (highly recommended). It was the featured hike.

We put Tel Adulam into Waze and as we approached the area, several times we asked ourselves, is this where we were meant to go? We found ourselves in a potholed, narrow, one lane road in the middle of nowhere.

Turns out nowhere is exactly where Tel Adulam is. We parked near the end of the paved road. Luckily one other car was parked there, giving us a hint we might be at the right place.

At the beginning of our walk, we saw an interesting tree – an oak with it’s trunk growing around a large boulder.

From the tree, we started our climb up the hill.

Adulam is mentioned several times in the Bible and was once a city of many inhabitants. Scattered along the walk are remnants of that past.

There are many caves in the area. In the Book of Samuel, it mentions that David hid in the caves of Adulam when he fled from King Saul. Because of the caves, there are many holes in the ground from collapsed cave ceilings. It is recommended to stay on the paths.

The more adventurous could crawl down into the holes and explore the caves, but not us. Not today.

At the top of the hill, we found the perfect place for our morning snack. The view over the Hebron Hills was spectacular.

In the newsletter, they suggested going to the top of Tel Adulam on the green trail and coming down on the black trail. We did not see the green trail, so we headed up on the black trail figuring we would do the same walk in the opposite direction. Big mistake. At the top of the hill, we found the green trail and it was very, very steep. Steep is usually easier to go uphill than downhill and we were going to go downhill. We had our hiking poles to help support us, but even so, we sat down to slide over several super steep parts. As I watched a rock I accidently loosened tumble its way to the bottom, I thought of the cheese-rolling race in England. (To learn about cheese-rolling, watch Netflix “We are the Champions, season 1, episode 1).

Except for one other couple we saw picnicking at the start of the walk, the place was totally deserted. Trail markers were hard to find. Signage with explanations about the place were non existent. This really was off the beaten path – a perfect place to be outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and no mask!

When we returned to the car, it was still early and we had time to see more. We decided to go to Horvat Midras – the Midras Ruins.  Both Tel Adulam and Horvat Midras are in the Adulam Grove Nature Reserve. This is a large area – over 6500 dunams of  woodlands and scrub that grow naturally in the area. To reach Horvat Midras, we drove, once again on a narrow, single lane road, from one end of the grove to the other – about a 20 minute beautiful drive.

The GPS took us to a place that did not feel at all right – it wanted us to drive through the middle of an agricultural area in a recently plowed field. We decided to drive further up the road and hopefully stumble on what we were looking for. As we drove around the bend, we found a nice picnic area. Time for lunch!

After our meal, we continued driving up the road and soon reached the entrance to the park from the main highway to Bet Shemesh. The signs at the entrance told us that the place is also known as the Adulum-France Park. The Jewish National Fund / Keren Kayemet LeIsrael raised money in France to create and upkeep the park.

Interestingly, there was a sign there with different trails in the area – you scan the QR code of the trail you are interested in for more information.

Based on the map of the area, we decided to drive back the way we came and look for road signs for Horvat Midras instead of relying on Waze. Turns out it was easy to find. The signs that lead to the place are only visible to people driving in from the entrance – and we had originally come from the other direction. Now driving from the entrance, we easily saw where to go and soon found the place. It had a dirt parking lot, and we were not the only ones there – there was a tourist bus and a dozen cars already parked there. There were trail makers clearly marking the path, and informative signs about the area – this was much less remote than Tel Adulam.

Once again, we made our way up the hill. On the way, we encountered our first cave. The area is full of caves, some that were used for living in, some for burial and some for columbariums. (We were not too far from Bet Guvrin). This first cave is a refugee cave – part of a vast underground cave system of many caves connected by narrow crawl tunnels. They are believed to be places that during the Bar Kochva revolt, the Jewish rebels used as hiding places from the Roman army.

We continued following the well-marked path towards the top of the hill.

At the top of the hill, we found a pyramid. Mark decided it was a start-up prototype for the ones in Egypt. In reading the signs, we learned that it was more likely a monument to the people in the burial cave beneath it.

Further along, we came across a recently uncovered wall that is thought to be part of a temple.

Our next stop was a burial cave.

The last cave was the most spectacular – a columbarium. As Mark said, it was like being in Bet Guvrin but without the entrance fee.

Before heading back to the parking lot, we found a small open area and Mark practiced flying our drone. From there it was back to the car and the drive home. It was now that hour before sunset when the wild animals come out – Animal Time. Sure enough, a furry friend greeted us on the road.

We had visited two sites in the Adulam – France park – Tel Adulam and the Midras Ruins. There are several other places to visit in park, such as the Itri Ruins, the Burgin Ruins and even a visitor center, that we did not get to. This area is definitely worth coming back to, especially in the spring when the wildflowers will be abundant.

A great day. Bye-bye nice place!

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