Sapir Park: A Visit to the 'Life in the Desert' Exhibit

The Life in the Desert exhibit. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
The Life in the Desert exhibit. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

Sapir Park’s impressive Life and Civilization in a Desert Landscape site is another example of KKL-JNF’s activities for the community.

  • How to get there

    Follow the access road into the community of Sapir, which is located about four kilometers to the south of the entrance to Moshav Ein Yahav (Route no. 90). Continue for 250 meters before turning right to follow the signs along a dirt road which, after 300 meters or so, will bring you to the Sapir Park parking lot.

    Coordinating a visit to Sapir Park
    To arrange a visit, please telephone ahead of time and coordinate with Shimon Fahima: 052-6170271 or 053-6601721.
  • Geographic location-

    Arava and Eilat highlands,Arava region
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

  • Track length-

    2 km
  • Track type-

    Walking path
  • Difficulty-

  • Circular route-

  • Season-

  • Duration-

    1-2 hours
  • Features-

    Water and springs; picnics; history and art
  • 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.

Life and Civilization in a Desert Landscape

Sapir Park’s impressive Life and Civilization in a Desert Landscape site is another example of KKL-JNF’s activities for the community and of the support the organization provides to those who work for the benefit of the environment. Don’t miss the opportunity to drop in and visit it on your way to Eilat.

It all began with a ceramics class in the Central Arava. “We were four women who began to work and dream,” explains Chacha Porat of Moshav Ein Yahav, the driving force behind the enterprise. “We dreamed of producing beautiful items, exhibiting them and then selling them for lots and lots of money.” A sort of desert mirage.

Apart from Chacha, the group, which was called Women in the Desert , comprised Naomi Rotem, also from Ein Yahav, Smadar Siegler of Moshav Paran and Arza Cohen of Moshav Tzofar. They worked together and produced ceramic items, but they never came near to making their dream reality. This era of innocence would have lasted much longer, had the artist Kostek (the late Michael Kowalski) not come to advise them. He looked at their work and asked them point blank: “What’s all this ceramic stuff? You’re sculptors. Start making sculptures.” The group members abandoned ceramics and, as instructed, began to sculpt. They worked for years, making plaster molds and casting their works in bronze, pausing only occasionally to marvel at what they had wrought – until one day Arza remarked ingenuously, “We sculpt awfully well. Why shouldn’t we exhibit?”

And, indeed, their sculptures were admired, and the group exhibited them at a variety of venues in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Their real breakthrough came in Ein Hod, and continued at the Shorashim (“Roots”) Gallery and the Bible Museum, both of which are in Tel Aviv.

About twelve years ago the group received an invitation from the Israel Association of Community Centers, which suggested that they take part in a KKL-JNF competition to produce an artistic exhibit. The women submitted a proposal for “Desert Life Through the Generations,” with the participation of pupils from the local Shittim School, for whom the project would be a bar mitzvah assignment: each youngster would produce and exhibit his / her own sculpture. The proposal was accepted and the project also received support from the Central Arava Regional Council and the Israel Government Tourism Corporation.

The site chosen for the project was situated at the edge of Sapir Park, which had been developed by KKL-JNF adjacent to the community of the same name. “I can find no words to describe the work that KKL-JNF invested in this project,” says Chacha. “They carried out earthworks to construct a sort of canyon at the site, they built a cave and they piled up stones to create the type of desert landscape we wanted. They did everything we asked for. It’s hard to believe how much they invest in work here in the Arava.”

For a whole year, almost every day, Chacha spent time at the site, until the Life in the Desert project was finally inaugurated on June 1st, 2002, and the general public was invited to come along to enjoy it. But for Chacha there has been no respite. Her works are on display in the family visitors’ center that portrays the life of the honeybee, and she has another interesting project up her sleeve: a Little Prince exhibit beside the baobab trees and the aircraft on display in Sapir Park. Something well worth waiting for.

The Life in the Desert exhibit

The entrance to the exhibit is impossible to miss. Iron sculptures of the beautiful saguaro cacti characteristic of the USA’s Sonoran Desert and a metal representation of a tree mark the way into the site. As you enter you are greeted by a pair of desert-dwelling Bedouin figures who invite you to a cup of steaming coffee (this work is by Naomi Rotem).

All along the way we are accompanied by desert fauna: foxes, snakes, hyraxes and many others. We enter an artificial gully that contains a pen of the black goats that are also among the desert’s veteran inhabitants and which are endowed with a variety of characteristics that render them particularly well suited for desert life.

Our path leads us to a work by Eli Shakotai depicting a wellhouse and past Bird Island to a rock crowded with hyraxes, one of the animals most frequently observed in the oases along the Dead Sea Valley. An interesting creative corner is devoted to JNF Australia, which has adopted the Central Arava communities and lends them support. Other interesting works on display include a tree by Ofer Molcho, Arza Cohen’s Coupledom Opposite the Mountains of Edom and a composition of desert wood and stone by Chacha.

Sapir Park

Sapir Park, which was established and developed with the help of KKL-JNF’s Friends in Australia, the USA and the Netherlands, extends over an area of around 150 dunam (approx. 37.5 acres). In the center of the park is an attractive lake whose waters fill a natural dip in the landscape. When foundations were dug for the community of Sapir, the groundwater of Ein Webeh, from which Moshav Ein Yahav takes its name, rose to the surface. Instead of battling the water, the engineers channeled it into the natural depression, creating the lake with its adjacent oasis that Arava residents and visitors to the region can now enjoy.

The cluster of palm trees growing nearby was incorporated into the park, and KKL-JNF added a lawn, trees and ornamental shrubs to the natural desert vegetation. Here, picnic tables propose a peaceful interlude on the way to Eilat and there are now recreational facilities in the heart of these natural surroundings, together with accessible toilets. The park also includes a Thailand friendship bell brought specially to the park as a mark of the friendship between Israel and Thailand. Close by is a small but impressive grove of baobab trees that surround a memorial consisting of an old Piper aircraft that symbolizes the vital role the plane played in the early days in keeping Ein Yahav in touch with civilization. In addition, if we choose, we can regard it as a simulacrum of the plane piloted by the writer and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, whose Little Prince, in the book of the same name, warned us all against the baobabs.