Besor Stream: A Visit to the Shai Scenic Lookout

Reservoirs Scenic Lookout. Photograph: Israel Melubani
Nahal HaBesor is the biggest of the rivers in Israel that flow into the Mediterranean Sea. The river's drainage basin covers approximately 3,400 square kilometers and includes the Ovdat Heights, Arad, the Lahav Hills and the western Hebron Mountain. It is no wonder that sometimes, after heavy rain, immense quantities of water flow in the river. The sight is spectacular but dangerous! Approaching the river banks during a flood is forbidden.
  • How to get there

    A few hundred meters to the north of Tze'elim Junction, on Route 222 (the Tze'elim–Gvulot road), a dirt road leaves the main road and follows the western bank of Nahal HaBesor and leads northwards until Eshkol Park, to Route 241 (the Magen–Gilat road). This dirt road is the scenic road that was prepared by KKL-JNF and the Negev Tourism Development Administration. The northern end of the scenic road is on Route 241 between the 4 and 5 km markers, and the southern end is on Route 222, between the 184 and 185 km markers. To the field road: When arriving from Ofakim and Beersheba, drive along Route 241, turn south at Urim Junction towards Tze'elim Junction along Route 234, and from there continue to Tze'elim Junction on Route 222.
  • Entrance fee

    Entry to Nahal HaBesor and its sites is free of charge.
  • Geographic location-

    Arava region,Negev highlands
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

  • Track length-

    1 km
  • Track type-

    Walking path
  • Difficulty-

  • Season-

  • Duration-

    1-2 hours
  • Special Sites in the Park-

    Be'er Tze'elim, Be'er Revuva, Tel Seruhan, the remains of the British rail bridge, Eshkol Park.
  • Other sites in the area-

    The Field Road – Nahal HaBesor, Nahal Grar Park, Ofakim Park, Be'eri Forest, Eshkol National Park, Golda Park.
  • Features-

    Views and scenery; picnics
  • Type of parking-

    Accessible parks
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks

About the Site

The main channel of Nahal HaBesor begins its path near Sde Boker, crosses the mountains of the Northern Negev, undermines the hills of the Negev plain near Revivim, twists through the loess soil of the Western Negev and ends its journey after approximately 80 km in Gaza. The main tributaries of Nahal HaBesor are Nahal Grar and Nahal Be'er Sheva.
The immense floods that the river brings with it, mainly by means of its tributaries that originate in the Judean foothills and in Mount Hebron, create natural springs in the western Negev.Small settlements already existed around these springs in prehistorical times. The largest of these springs – Einot HaBesor (HaBesor Springs) – is the basis for HaBesor National Park (Park Eshkol).
In the Western Negev three sections of scenic roads with a total length of approximately 45 km accompany Nahal HaBesor. The roads are traversable for a private car and provide every visitor with opportunities to get to know the river's scenery and the sites along it well. The roads are marked and the main sites along them are signposted, the fruit of collaboration of the Shikma-Besor Drainage Authority, KKL-JNF, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and Eshkol Regional Council. Before setting out, one small request: the land on the banks of the river is cultivated and adds its beauty to the scenery. Please, do not damage the fields and do not pilfer from the orchards.
Potato field near Nahal HaBesor

The Southern section

This section follows the left (western) bank of the stream for 18 km. An observation tower, a suspended rope bridge, the pipe bridge, lookouts and a Recreation Area have been built along the way.
The route is marked with blue trail markings.

Southern entrance: Road 222, half a kilometer north of Tze'elim Junction.

Be'er Ravuva entrance: Road 222, just north of the access road to Kibbutz gevulot.

Northern entrance: Approximately 1.3 km west of the entrance to Eshkol Park. If arriving from the east, from the Ofakim direction, the entrance is in the Road 241 underpass.

The Pipe Bridge on the stream's west bank

The Southern Section - Attractions

Tze'elim Tower - steps lead to a deck at the top of a metal observation tower.Tze'elim Stream exposes groundwater at this point and the stream bed is choked with tamarisk trees and a cane thicket which all serve as cover for a variety of songbirds.

Suspension Bridge - a rope bridge, 80 meters long, crossing the stream from one bank to the opposite bank. The streambed is filled with water that feeds a thicket of cane and tamarisk trees. The Bedouins used to herd their sheep to this spot to clean their fleece before shearing them.

Reservoirs Scenic Lookout - an accessible path leads up to a lookout deck adjoining HaBesor Reservoir. In 1996, KKL-JNF built a sophisticated set of giant reservoirs with help from its friends in the United States and Australia.The reservoirs, with a capacity of 7 million cubic meters, capture the winter floodwaters flowing in HaBesor Stream. The reservoirs can also be filled with effluents from the SHAFDAN (Tel Aviv Metropolitan Sewage Treatment) plant. Another observation point, on the stream bank, overlooks the diversion dam that sends the floodwaters to the Lower Rehovot reservoir, from which the water is pumped to HaBesor Reservoirs. At the foot of HaBesor Reservoir, KKL-JNF has planted a handsome grove with acacias, tamarisks and mastic trees, which have been shaped as small trees. The grove shades a picnic Recreation Area.

Pipe Bridge - is built over the pipes that carry the water to HaBesor Reservoir. It provides a safe, convenient observation point to observe the stream when it is flooded.

Be'er Revuva - the well served the large Bedouin settlement of Ruwayba, which was set up by the Ottomans in the early 20th century in an attempt to stabilize regional security. More than ten wells were dug in Ruwayba. The first settlers at Mitzpe Gevulot in 1943, acquired their drinking water from here.

The Large Acacia - this famous acacia tree died sometime around 2015, possibly following a series of consecutive droughts, or perhaps as a consequence of aerial pesticide spraying.
The tree's skeleton continues to grace this spot to this day. A rest corner has been built below it and a small grove of acacias has been planted nearby.

Tel Far'ah ("Sheruhan") - Archaeologist Flinders Petrie, who excavated the site in the late 1920's, discovered traces of almost continuous habitation since the Middle Canaanite Period II (1750-1550 BC) through to the Roman period.The ancient burial grounds at the foot of the Tel revealed clay anthropoid sarcophagi from the 13th century BC. In the past this site was identified as Biblical Sheruhan, although nowadays this identification has been discredited. The first settlers on the site fortified it quite thoroughly, they deepened the two streambeds north and south of the Tel and added a deep moat to the west, which is clearly visible today. On the south side a large brick gate was discovered. constructed of three pairs of pillars with four chambers between them. These fortifications functioned into the Late Canaanite period, at which time the Egyptians ruled Canaan (mid-16th to 12th century BC). A large brick structure was uncovered from the end of this period - "the Governor's mansion", and in the north of the Tel a formidable brick wall was found, over five meters thick, apparently from the 10th century BC or shortly thereafter. The remains have eroded over the years and are not very impressive, however we recommend you climb to the top of the Tel to take in the attractive view.

Railway reconstruction - opposite HaBesor National Park (Eshkol Park) one can see the reconstructed wooden bridge and railcar from the Scenic Drive. These two commemorate the railway the British built here after World War I.

The Middle Section

This section follows the left (western) bank of the stream for 13 km. Beside the track, a Recreation Area has been built, there are lookouts and historic sites. The track borders cultivated fields. The banks of HaBesor Stream are part of a nature reserve and therefore the road, for the most part, keeps its distance from the reserve.The track is marked with red trail markings.

Southern entrance: At Maon Junction (north of Kibbutz Magen) turn eastward off Road 232 toward Ofakim (Road 241). Proceed for one kilometer and turn left on the dirt road.

North entrance: Through a dirt road branching eastwards opposite Gama Junction (Road 232), next to milestone 35. Due to the white road striping, entry is only permitted for those approaching from the south. HaBesor Stream near where the Yarkon Negev water pipeline crosses it

The Pipe Bridge on the stream's west bank

The Middle Section - Attractions

Ya'ar Ma'arach HaMilu'im (Reservists Forest) - the road that runs along the water pipe of the Yarkon-Negev pipeline and the SHAFDAN, which is buried, passes through the Reservists Forest.
The first trees were planted during the British Mandate. KKL-JNF has subsequently added many more trees. At the northern end of the forest is a Recreation Area dedicated to Yaakov Harari, who developed the peanut farming industry in HaBesor Region.
Picnic tables and a drinking water spigot are available in the Recreation Area.

Gemila Stream Pond - the pond, which is surrounded by canes and tamarisks, is at the confluence of Gemila Stream (Wadi Jamila) with Besor Stream. Apparently, a reservoir was dug here already during the Byzantine era. That reservoir was renovated along with other reservoirs during World War I to serve the British cavalry. Past mining of pebbles for the aquifer's groundwater assures a steady supply of water for the pond. M4 - the two barrels mounted one on top of the other and painted black and white bear the Latin letter M and the number 4. These barrels mark the start of modern mapping in Israel, which began in 1921. The method was based on triangulation - measuring triangles, where the surveyors marked the triangles' vertex, which are referred to as triangulation stations, or trigs, in short. Trig M4 belongs to the vertex of the second triangle in the British survey.

Shai Lookout - commemorating Shai Dayan, rises to an altitude of 90 meters above sea level, but just a few meters about the western bank of HaBesor Stream. Nevertheless, this unpretentious observation point provides a sweeping view of the region between Gaza and Beer Sheva, to the Judean Foothills and the Hebron Mountains.

The Large Tamarisk - a large tree, whose canopy forms an expansive tapestry of branches and twigs. Tamarix aphylla, as it is known among botanists, is adapted to survival under extremely arid and saline conditions. It was therefore widely planted throughout the Western Negev. Beneath its branches is a pleasant resting corner.

Nirim Reservoir Observation point - the small deck overlooks the reservoir, built by Kibbutz Nirim in the 1970s as a buffer reservoir collecting floodwaters from HaBesor Stream. Adjoining the reservoir is a crossroads. Private cars (not buses) can descend the twists and turns toward Be'er Dekalim (Well of the Palms).

Be'er Dekalim - two tall palm trees, a handsome sycamore, a wellhouse and a pool, form a picturesque spot. The well is what remains from the village of Abu Baqara ("Cow Owner"), or perhaps Abu Bacra (Owner of the Female Camel). The small village consisted of about ten houses, spread out from one another. It was built of lumps of kurkar and pebbles mixed into mud bricks.


The Northern Section

The track follows the right-hand (eastern) bank of HaBesor for about 13.5 kilometers. This route reveals the Tel Gamma landscapes. It passes among fields, near the confluence of Grar Stream and Besor Stream and stops at sites related to World War I. A short section of the track, south of Be'eri Forest, is exposed to the al-Bureij area in the Gaza Strip. Southern entrance: Road 232, about 100 meters south of Gamma Junction (road 234).

Northern entrance: from the Kibbutz Be'eri access road turn wet in Be'eri Forest, past the KKL-JNF lookout tower. About 900 meters after the tower you turn right and after another kilometer, you reach the northern end of the track.

From the Re'im Recreation Area: a hardtop track of about 3.5 kilometers reaches the middle of the northern Besor Track , next to Grar Stream. The entrance to Re'im Recreation Area from Road 232 is between milestones 38 and 39.

Anemone coronaria

The Northern Section - Attractions

Tel Gamma Lookout Point - this lookout point highlights the size of the tel and the power of the floods in the HaBesor Stream, which have washed away parts of the tel. The ruins excavated here indicate continuous habitation since the Chalcolithic period (4500-3300 BC) through to the Hellenistic period (2nd century BC). This site is identified as the Canaanite city of Yurza or Yurtza. This site is mentioned in the Madaba Map as Orda. The tel was excavated in 1926 by British archaeologist Flinders Petrie (1853-1942). Petrie found several large granaries and a series of public structures. An interesting find here was a silver coin bearing the Aramaic inscription Yechizkio Pacha, which is interpreted as being the coin of the province governor named Hezekiah.
The settlement here was an important way station along the Incense Route which terminated in Gaza. The excavation uncovered large quantities of adult camel bones, probably those of the camels that succumbed to the rigors of the journey.

The Badland Landscapes - beside the track we will see an area bisected by deep gashes. Loess soil is considered fertile, however on the desert perimeter it is endangered by uninformed cultivation, overgrazing and strings of drought years.
When the land is exposed, stripped of all vegetation, the rainwater runoff erodes channels, which prevent cultivation. The erosion degrades the soil's fertility in a process called desertification. KKL-JNF has developed drainage methods and means for preventing soil erosion, such as waterways and channels which divert the runoff and prevent erosion; terraces along the stream banks; runoff harvesting through mini-dams and use of the stored water to raise trees and vegetation suitable for grazing. These are all visible along the HaBesor Track.

Hydrometric Station - The HaBesor Track crosses Grar Stream near its confluence with HaBesor Stream. A short distance west of the crossing point is a concrete dam spanning Grar Stream. This is a flow measurement station for the water flowing in the stream during floods. The maximum flow rate measured here is 271 cubic meters per second! In a nearby hydrometric station on HaBesor Stream a record flow rate of 759 cubic meters per second was measured, almost three times as much as the Grar flow rate. By comparison, the flow rate at the Dan springs is about 8 cubic meters per second.

The Grar Grove - a giant sycamore tree, prickly pear cactus, and fruit trees near the ruins of an antilia well all come together to create a lovely little corner. Antilia is a pumping installation that uses the moving chain principle. Vessels are connected to the chain and the chain is then rotated, usually powered by a working animal. When the vessels descend into the well they fill with water. When they complete their rotation the vessels are turned upside-down and the water inside them gets poured into a holding pool. This place used to be called Baykat Abu Coheyl (Abu Coheyl's cabin), apparently named after its occupant. An ancient site from the chalcolithic period (5th millennium BC) was discovered near the well. The findings included ceramic fragments, a basalt mace, stone axe and flint tools.

Confluence Observation point - the observation deck overlooks the confluence of Grar and Besor streams. Assaf Stream flows in from the opposite side. Tel Gamma can be seen to the east, rising above Besor Stream and to the west one can see the houses of the al Bureij Refugee Camp.

Besor Crossing Path - a short circular path, about 600 meters, exposes a bit of HaBesor Stream's history during World War I (1917). First we will see a well, which was apparently dug by the British army during the war. Later on, below the loess cover we will see a rocky outcrop of the Pleshet Formation. These rocks were deposited in a shallow sea, which flooded the Negev lowlands and the lower part of the Judean Foothills during the Paleocene period (5.3 to 1.8 million years ago). When the Paleocene Sea receded, it left behind the Pleshet Formation deposits - a thin layer of littoral conglomerate (pebble aggregates), coastal rocks, marine sandstone and sandy marl. Later on, the precipitous banks of HaBesor Stream give way to a gradually sloping section. The British army shaped this slope to facilitate the transfer of supplies to its forces in the sector. On your way back, note the shallow channel beside the Scenic Track. This is what is left of a railroad the British had laid from Deir al Balach to their forces at Khirbet Mandour (Hurvat Mador) 3 kilometers to the east. The railroad was intended, among other things, for evacuating the injured from the battlefields.

Sha'arata Stream - HaBesor Track follows the Sha'arata Streambed - one of HaBesor tributaries, between a eucalyptus forest and avocado orchards. The track ends near the "concrete road" in Be'eri Forest. From here we can go on to visit Be'eri Forest, or we can end the excursion and drive east to Kibbutz Be'eri and Road 232.

KKL-JNF For the Community

HaBesor Reservoirs

KKL-JNF has built approximately 230 reservoirs throughout Israel. The KKL-JNF reservoirs are a major sustainable source of water for agriculture and they contribute greatly to the water supply, to agriculture and to the environment.
The reservoirs receive flood water and treated wastewater, provide a reliable and cheap water source for farmers, and make freshwater available for domestic use, nature and industry.

HaBesor reservoirs add 10 million cubic meters of water a year to the Western Negev and have changed the certainty of a constant water supply beyond recognition. Due to the reservoirs thousands of dunams of citrus have been transferred from the center of Israel to the Negev and field crops in the area greatly increased, as anyone who drives along HaBesor road can see. HaBesor reservoirs contribute greatly to agricultural activity, the economic basis of the communities in the area.
HaBesor reservoirs along HaBesor Track

Photo credits on this page courtesy of: Yaakov Shkolnik, Avi Balaban, Eyal Azoulai, Israel Melubani, and the KKL-JNF Photo Archive