On dogs, caves and a gorgeous hike

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We have a great dog. We do! And we love her to pieces, although she sheds hair like there’s no tomorrow and she jumps on people (just to say hi and play, mind you) and she is as big as a horse and barks very loudly…

But most of all, Na’ala loves to go on hikes and dip and splash in every single puddle or stream she can find. She’s a lab mix, and labs love water!

And so, we aim to please her. And making her happy, makes us happy. Know what I mean?

One of Na’ala’s favorite hikes lately has been to the Aviv Stream canyon, up north near the border of Lebanon. The Aviv Stream spills into the Dishon Stream and eventually drains into the Jordan River in the Hula Valley.

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So today’s topic is a great hike in gorgeous northern Israel, one to be had with family,  friends, lots of photos and of course, your dog.

The start of the walk along Nahal (stream)Aviv is strikingly beautiful, as one walks along the dry river bed through a narrow canyon. As you may notice in my photographs, one of the reasons I mention our dear dog, Na’ala, is that she somehow managed to jump into most of my photographs that day, obviously wanting to be the center of attention. And so be it.

At the start of the hike along the Aviv canyon, one passes impressive karstic formations on either sides of the canyon walls. The karstic geological process, one by which rainwater dissolves and carves out the limestone, leaves interesting formations in the rock.

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In this instance, the rock formations on the right seem to depict ‘maidens’ carved into the canyon walls.

On the other side of the canyon, the hard limestone has been smoothed over and eroded by dripping rainwater, creating a striped, playful combination of colors on the walls.

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The karstic process also digs out and carves a variety of caves in the limestone rock. The Aviv canyon has impressive ones, some of which were inhabited in ancient times. Along the hike we can find a Byzantine era burial cave, with 10 ancient tombs and a decorated entrance. It is very possible this cave was used by the cave-dwellers who lived further down the canyon.

Walking along the marked trail, we arrive beneath the Hanya cave, sitting about a kilometer after the start of the hike, high up on the cliff, accessible by quite a steep, challenging climb. One need not climb up, but to do so is exhilarating!

Hanya Cave as seen from below

This natural cave was carved by humans into a three-storied habitat, where the upper floor has a number of rooms and windows that look over the beautiful valley.

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The trail continues down the stream bed, dotted with blooming flowers and trees. The next stop on the path are the Aviv caves, a large complex of caves that have been carved by nature and its human inhabitants, complete with water cisterns, rock-carved stairs, upstairs and downstairs apartments…

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It is very probable that Byzantine monks lived in these caves in their attempt for isolated meditation about 1500 years ago.  These inhabitants are probably the ones buried in the burial caves we passed an hour ago.  Not only did they create a very livable space in these caves, but they also carved out a wine press into the cliff!  Na’ala found the rainwater-filled, squeezed grape juice reservoir very entertaining. I was just hoping she wouldn’t fall over into the abyss below…

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Nahal Aviv eventually flows into Nahal Dishon, which drains into the larger Jordan River.  The walk along the Dishon is leisurely and we ended the trek a couple of kilometers downriver by the parking lot.

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A big thank you to dear friends,  Zvi and Linda, for suggesting this tiyul (trek, hike, trip) and accompanying us. It is a very satisfying hike; a little history, a little geology, a little adventure, some cave exploration, beautiful scenery, beds of blooming flowers, good friends and a happy pooch… what else can one ask for?

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Banias (Hermon Spring) Nature Preserve

Pan's Cave and the flowing Banias Spring

Pan’s Cave and the flowing Banias Spring

As our Israel studies begin, we concentrate on geology and water, the source of life.  The Banias Spring at the foot of Mount Hermon is the perfect place to start our study of Israel’s water resources. It flows over 9 km from its source at Mount Hermon to meet the Dan River and together they become the largest and most important source of the Jordan River.

The Banias Spring forms a beautifully carved karstic cave (karst=openings and underground fissures created when mildly acidic water dissolves limestone), which was venerated and used as a sacrificial site in prehistoric times.

Pagan temples carved into limestone rock

Pagan temples carved into limestone rock

The Seleucids, (a Greek empire from the Turkey/Syria area, home of that nasty Antiochus – we defeated him and got Hannuka) carved a rock temple to the god Pan (half goat-half man, god of shepherds and nature) whom they believed helped them win a great battle here in 200 bce, against their nemesis, the Ptolomaic army.

The Temple of Pan gave  the spring its name – Paneas (Banias in Arabic). The origins of words and place names is fascinating and I see that the lack of the sound /p/ in Arabic and their replacing it with the sound /b/  has created some very interesting twists.  More later…

Several other pagan temples are carved into the limestone facade, including one built to sacrifice sacred goats 🙂

Herod the Great, another one of those nice guys in history 😦 built a temple here in honor of Caesar Augustus.  Not to be outdone, Herod’s son Phillip inherited this area and in 2 bce built his capital Caesarea Phillippi near the spring.  This polis (city) has yet to be fully excavated but the Cardo (main street, north/south axis) is visible.  This allows the imagination of a lover of history to wander… how far does the city extend under your feet? what IS under all that soil?

Caesarea Phillippi has become an important Christian pilgrimage destination as the site mentioned in the Christian Bible, where Jesus awarded Simon Bar Yonah (Peter) his role as leader of the disciples. Jesus is quoted as saying,  “You are Peter (Petrus=rock), and on this rock I will build my church…) (Matt 16:16-19)

Who else hung around the Banias Springs, you may ask?

The Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders and of course, the Jews and the Druze, and they all added to the architectural richness of this area.

On a lovely leisurely walk from the temples to the beautiful Banias waterfall, visitors pass a Roman bridge, an ancient flour mill,  ruins of Phillip’s capital city,

Entrance to the palace of Agrippas II

Entrance to the palace of Agrippas II

the gorgeous underground walkways of the palace of Agrippas II, an ancient synagogue and a Byzantine church.

Flowing, gushing springs, abundant greenery, a beautiful waterfall,  remnants of temples and buildings ranging from the prehistoric to the Byzantine, what a wonderful place for a hike and a picnic.