By tradition, this area is the site of Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical cities that were destroyed in a storm of fire and brimstone, punishment from God because of their people’s depravity (Genesis 18-19). These days, Sodom is much better known for its desert hiking and cycling trails than for sodomy. And for that we have this day tour. Normally, a day tour occupies about a half day, but I added several hiking opportunities to this day you and that means you will be busy the whole day. It’s breathtaking nature in action. Look also for the stories behind the cursed cities in Israel. See also the maps of the Dead Sea.
‘The Situation of Man’
Atop a bluff overlooking the Dead Sea Works stands this modern sculpture, a rusty steel column with old steel railway ties striving to climb it like desperate worms.
Next to the sculpture, a viewpoint looks out over a crazy juxtaposition of smoke-spewing heavy industry, electric-blue evaporation pools, green farm fields (over in Jordan) and the wild, tawny beauty of the desert.
Views are best in the late afternoon, when the setting sun turns the mountains of Moab a reddish gold.
The 600m-long access road intersects Rte 90 250m north of the main entrance to the Dead Sea Works. Turn off at the white-on-brown sign reading ‘Plant Viewing Point’ (ignore the yellow ‘no trespassing’ sign) and follow the green signs marked (in Hebrew) ‘LaMitzpeh’ (‘to the scenic lookout’). Beyond the sculpture, a 4WD road continues to the Amiaz Plateau.
About 11km south of the southern end of Ein Bokek, high above the west side of Rte 90, a column of salt-rich rock leans precariously away from the rest of the Mt Sodom cliff face. It is popularly known as Lot’s Wife because, according to the Bible, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt as punishment for looking back to see Sodom as it burned (Genesis 19:17 and 19:26).
Dead Sea Works
Israel’s only major natural resource – other than sunlight and the gas fields off the Mediterranean coast – is the Dead Sea, from which products ranging from magnesium chloride and anhydrous aluminium chloride to table salt and cosmetics are extracted. Founded in the 1930s, the DSW is now the world’s fourth-largest producer of potash, an important component of agricultural fertiliser.
By day, the rusty (from the salt air) smokestacks, pipes and holding tanks of the DSW complex look like a mid-20th-century industrial dystopia, but by night, when the sprawling facilities are lit by thousands of yellowish lights, the site has a mysterious, otherworldly beauty.
Two trails head down the steep flanks of Mt Sodom from a lookout point, reachable by 4WD, whose views are at their best in the late afternoon.
Ma’aleh HaSulamot (Ladders Ascent; 1½ hours to walk down), named after its many stairs, connects with Rte 90 across the highway from the sun-blasted huts of the Dead Sea Works’ first workers’ camp, built in 1934.
Another descent to Rte 90 is Shvil HaDagim (Fishes Trail; 1½ hours down), so named because of the many fossilised fish you can see in the rocks.
Mt Sodom, 11km long and up to 2km wide, is one of the world’s stranger geological formations. Start with the fact that it’s made almost entirely of rock salt, a highly soluble material that in any other climate would have melted away. In fact, over the millennia the area’s rare rainfalls have dissolved some of the salt, creating deep in the bowels of the mountain a maze of caves (closed to the public) up to 5.5km long.
Many are connected to the surface by shafts that hikers need to make sure they don’t fall into, and some are filled with delicate, eerie salt stalactites. And then there’s the matter of Mt Sodom’s summit.
A respectable 250m above the surface of the Dead Sea – the views of Jordan’s Moab Mountains are gorgeous – it also happens to be 176m below sea level.
West of Mt Sodom, Wadi Sodom is ideal for mountain biking. If you start at the top (accessible by 4WD), it’s about two hours, mostly downhill, to the Neve Zohar area.
A round-trip circuit that connects with beautiful Wadi Pratzim (Wadi Perazim), whose upper reaches pass the famous Flour Cave (closed to the public), is another option.
The Mt Sodom area has several well-marked camping zones (chenyonei layla) without facilities, including one up on the Amiaz Plateau (Mishor Amiaz) and another further north at Wadi Tze’elim.
Mt Sodom International Bike Race: www.desertchallenge.co.il