Visitors so look forward to their arrival at Israel’s Red Sea Riviera of Eilat that many dash straight there without realizing that along the way lie some of the most interesting sites in southern Israel. One of these areas is the Uvda Valley, west of and high above the main Arava Valley road linking the Dead Sea with Eilat. The road to the Uvda Valley (road 40) ascends from the Arava, past Kibbutz Neot Semadar, whose vineyards are beautiful green splashes against the wilderness, about 60 kilometers north of Eilat.
The Uvda Valley’s claim to fame is that despite its seeming bleakness, its soil is surprisingly rich, having flowed down from the surrounding mountains over countless millennia. That is what made it prime land for settlement going back to prehistoric times. The ancient valley dwellers send their regards to modern travelers and hikers; experts have found over 150 settlement sites dating between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago. One interesting site is located very close to Road 40, near the turnoff to the small community of Ma’aleh Shacharut. It’s called the Leopard Temple – a 9,000-year-old enclosure with stones bearing mysterious carvings of feline figures. Just south of the temple, about 500 yards from the road, are smooth, gleaming sand dunes just perfect to roll down and let off energy pent up during the ride.
The ridge of Ma’aleh Shacharut affords a magnificent view of the Arava Valley and across to the mountains of Edom in Jordan. This is only one of the area’s more visible highlights; its many hidden delights have made it a favorite for camel treks, hiking, jeep and cycling tours of varying durations, which can be arranged through tourism service providers in Eilat and elsewhere.
South of Ma’aleh Shacharut you’ll see Uvda Airport, where charter flights bearing visitors to Eilat land straight from Europe. Try to plan the remaining 40 minutes or so of your journey to Eilat to get your first glimpse of the Red Sea at the magical moments just before sunset. It is then that the rugged rose mountains that frame the sea, with their gold, black and blue-green stripes, are at their most dramatic. Before finishing your drive to Eilat, look for the road sign to Mount Yoash, with its incomparable four-country panorama: Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia!
This is the area of the Eilat Mountains Nature Reserve, which offers fabulous hiking trails. One is the Red Canyon, which hikers can explore by climbing up and down ladders. Unusual geological formations are the stars of the Shechoret Canyon, Ein Netafim is a spring in the desert. These and other trails require good orienteering skills and detailed maps. Make sure you stop before your hike at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel’s Eilat Field School, where you can get maps in English, recommendations and advice; Tel. 08-637-1127.