We had a great day visiting several sites in the Dead Sea area.  I didn’t feel much love when I announced a 7:30 start time, but we managed to be on the bus and ready to roll on time.

Our first stop was En Gedi, where David hid from King Saul (1 Sam 24).  Since we got there early, there were quite a few Ibexes grazing near the trail.  Actually, they seem to have been posing for pictures.  It was too early for the Hyrax (rock badgers) to be up and about, although we saw quite a few on the return walk.  Nearly everyone made it all the way to the waterfall, and we were there before the large groups started their walk so it was quiet.  We also saw a couple of freshwater crabs, something which I have never seen there before.

We drove past Masada to Qumran for a tour of the excavations (and a good lunch).  At the front gate there was a sign which said the “bridge” was closed, which appears to refer to the walkway over the larger cisterns.  There were a couple of other areas roped off for reconstruction of walkways, but we were able to make our way through most of the major rooms.  Since this was my fifth time at the site I noticed that there had been remarkably little improvement to the site despite the fact that I know there are several ongoing excavations.  The gift shop / resturant seems to be doing very well, but most of the people inside never visited the ruins.  I seriously doubt that Qumran is a “money maker” anymore, which is too bad – this is a very important site to both Jews and Christians.

After lunch we drove back south to Masada.  Mid-afternoon in early January  is a great time to visit, there was almost no crowd.  In fact, there was only one other group that I saw and they were leaving  as we were arriving.  We only had time to see the northern Palace, which is the highlight of the site.  Just about everyone walked the 165 steps down to the lower level (and the 165 steps back up!!)  A few walked or ran down the snake path,  those who are sane rode the cable car.  Unlike Qumran, Masada had improved greatly over my five trip to Israel.  The reception areas  are excellent and the busses are well managed.  I do have one complaint – it is time to update the movie!  There are several lines (and expressions) which always provoke laughter, even from this “mature” group.  The footage frrom the old movie needs to be re-mastered or replaced.

We had thought we would get a chance to swim in  the Dead Sea, but Masada ran late so we bumped that to a later day.  Derrick greeted us at Tamar with “wood grilled chicken” — an excellent dinner indeed.  Ken led us in an evening devotion  around the fire, challenging us to think about the “desert experience.”

I think that most people are off to an early bed tonight, but I do hear rumors that two “Strong and athletic” young ladies are planning on chasing John Tuttle on an early morning run.