Qumran was the first stop. Situated near the northern end of the Dead Sea, Qumran was where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered during the mid-1900's. This is also where the Essenes lived, a 1st-Century Jewish sect I described in my post about the Shrine of the Book.
The Essenes did not live in the caves - they merely used them to cache valuables when their settlement was threatened by invaders. When the Romans destroyed Qumran on their way to Masada, most of the scrolls were safely hidden. (Historians believe some of the fragmented scrolls that were discovered had been torn apart by angry soldiers.)
Another half hour of driving brought us to En Gedi National Park. You should recognize En Gedi as the site of one of David's strongholds that he resorted to when he was being pursued by Saul.
This a Rock Hyrax, mentioned in Psalm 104 and Proverbs 30. They are roughly the size of a large rabbit, and seem to be equally at home among rocks or in trees.
There's some really neat hiking trails in En Gedi, but after Galilee Joseph and I were doing good just to get around the parking lot. The four of us did hike up Wadi David to David's Waterfall.
There is a spring-fed stream running through Wadi En Gedi that cascades over multiple waterfalls. En Gedi is one place I'd love to go back to when I have more time and my feet are feeling better.
No visit to Israel is complete without a stop at the Dead Sea. We picked a random spot off the highway and went for a short swim. As you wade in, the salt stings your skin. The water feels oily and laps listlessly at the rocky shore. It even smells bad.
The Dead Sea could be called the cesspool of the gods. Legend says it was formed by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and its depths have never been explored. Who knows how many bones and brimstones lay hidden here at the bottom of the world.
After taking a much-needed shower back at the hostel I did some writing before it was time to head over to the cafeteria for dinner. It's much warmer down here than it was in Tiberias, and we're all thoroughly enjoying it. Being here is reminding me how much I like the desert.
Tomorrow, we visit Masada. Shalom and Good Night!