There are a number of Carta Guides that I wish I owned (Masada, En Gedi, Qumran, all by Hanan Eshel), but the handiest for my tours has been the Carta Guide to National Parks and Nature Reserves. This is a handy sized 447 page text with slick pages and plenty of color illustrations. Each site listed has a road map and directions, a summary of services (WC, snack bar, picnic area, hiking trails, etc.) A set of icons on the title page for each site indicates whether the location is a Jewish, Christian or Muslim site, a recreational site or an antiquities. The title section includes a phone number and best times to visit, along with a notice of fee (if any). Each heading includes a brief line drawn from the Hebrew Bible associated with the site.
The Guide is divided into regions which are color-coded in the outside margins. Beginning in the north with Mount Hermon the Guide works its way south to the final entry, Eliat. Several regional maps appear at the beginning of the Guide and are marked with page numbers in the guide. Each sub-region is arranged geographically so that it is sometimes difficult to find a location within a region. The sub-sections do not strike me as logically arranged. Hermon and Gamla are in the first (northernmost) section, but Tel Dan is in the second, despite the fact that Dan is well north of Gamla. Fortunately there is a detailed table of contents, but no alphabetical index.
Each location is illustrated with a few photographs (250 in all), although these seem dated to me. The Roman Theater at Beit She’an certainly is more than ten years old (p. 211) and the Masada photographs do not reflect reconstructions from the last ten years. A few photographs were taken on hazy days (Nahal Gamla, p. 53 and Arbel Cliff, p. 167), but for the most part these are helpful illustrations. The Guide includes a site plan where applicable with points of interest clearly marked (50 total in the Guide).
Since the Guide has entries for 60 national parks, it includes information on the flora and fauna of Israel. While this is not “biblical,” it is often necessary information when visiting a site to point out items of interest. (For some reason people always ask me what is planted in some farmer’s field or what the name of some shrubbery is.) Nature reserves are accompanied by hiking maps, although it is always best to obtain a more recent map when arriving at the park. Several Nature Reserves conclude with a short “Outside the Park” pointing out local places to eat or other memorials or parks. For example, For Ein Feshkha, the Guide points out the trail to Rosh Tzukim as well as five nearby monasteries.
Because the Guide is for National Parks and Nature Reserves, there are quite a few interesting locations that are not in the Guide. For example, The road down Ma’ale ‘Akrabim (Scorpion’s Pass) has several sites of interest (Roman toll buildings, Ein Hazvot / Tamar) as well as several hiking trails. Mount Hor is in the area as well. Since none of these are on the official list of national parks, they are omitted from this guide.
For my Israel tours I purchase an Israel National Parks pass which allows unlimited entry to national parks listed on the card for two weeks. This allows us to visit some sites that are not usually included in tours, such as Korazin and Kursi in Galilee; Bet Guverin and Tel Arad in the south. With the Carta Guide, I can check on a location to see if there is any interest for a biblical tour and get a quick summary of what I ought to be looking for when we explore the site. This Guide could be used along with the National Parks pass for a self-guided trip around Israel.