Prat Stream Nature Reserve – En Mabo‘a
Meet Prat Stream Nature Reserve – En Mabo‘a
History, heritage and nature
En Mabo‘a is a rhythmic spring in the midst of the Wadi Qelt cliffs. It is the middle spring of the three large springs that emerge between En Prat upstream and En Qelt downstream. The spring “beats” rhythmically, and between one “beat” and another, it is dry.
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The Stream Trail from En Maboa to En Qelt is closed due to pollution in the stream water.
Main points of interest
- Rhythmic karstic spring
- The stream flows year-round
- Byzantine-era mosaic
- British pumping station
- Remains of two ancient aqueducts – Herodian and Ottoman
- Short back-and forth trail
- Day-long trail to En Qelt
- Day-long trail to En Prat
The Spring Pool: En Mabo‘a (in Arabic Ein Fawar – the “bubbling spring”) is a rhythmic karstic spring. It the middle spring of the three springs in the Prat Stream. The spring emerges at 110 m above sea level and is about 4 m deep on average, depending on the season.
What is a rhythmic spring?
A rhythmic spring is a karstic spring that does not flow regularly but rather, intermittently, like a heartbeat. This irregular flow is due to the pooling of water in karstic spaces in the rock and the sudden emptying of those spaces when they fill to the maximum. There are believed to be only about 100 springs like this throughout the world.
A regular layer spring gets its water from the aquifer, where ground water collects above an impermeable layer of rock. The aquifer is usually uniform in shape and extends along the width between the layers of rock. In contrast, a rhythmic spring is fed by groundwater in spaces formed by karstic dissolution. These spaces are not of uniform size, depth and height. Some are small spaces, while others are gigantic caves that form a huge underground drainage basin. These underground spaces are connected to each other in various ways, such as pipes or flat spaces, which are also created by dissolution. Ground water percolates into the spaces from their sides and according to the law of communicating vessels, it pools on the bottom at an equal height. Since these spaces are at different levels, sometimes some of them fill while others, which are higher, remain empty until the level of water rises and floods them.
In the drainage basin of a rhythmic spring there is a karstic space that is connected to the outlet by means of a natural pipe in the form of a siphon. While the outlet of the siphon from the karstic space is higher than its outlet to the spring, because it is curved, the water flowing from the karstic spaces climbs before it flows into the opening of the spring. The space fills with ground water at a regular pace. As long as the level of water in it does not reach the height of the siphon, no water will flow to the outlet of the spring. However, the moment the water in the karstic space reaches the level of the siphon (the level of the rhythmic pulse), it will flow out quickly and its level will balance out according to the law of communicating vessels. The space empties to the height of its outlet, and continues to fill at a regular pace as before, and the whole cycle begins again. Every cycle of filling and emptying of the space is called a pulse. The frequency of pulsation depends on the amount of rainfall in a given year, the height differentials in the siphon, the size of the space and the imperviousness of the rock, and it is not usually the same year round. The frequency of the pulse can be at a maximum at any given time of year, although the flow rate will usually be at its greatest in winter.
En Mabo‘a pulsates mainly in summer. In winter, rainfall fills the inner space at a regular rate and the level of water in the space is higher than the level of the spring. As a result, the spring flows constantly. The farther we get from the rainy season, although the flow of water into the space is regular, it is not renewed by rainfall, and therefore when summer comes (at the beginning, the middle or the end, depending on the amount of rainfall) the balance between the level of water in the space and in the spring is disrupted, and that is when we see the pulsating of the spring.
During the Byzantine period (324–638 CE), a series of large monasteries was built along the Prat Stream, including the Paran and St. George monasteries. Their construction was inspired by a monk named Georgios, and they stand to this day. The Prat Stream was wonderfully suited to the monastic life: The cliffs and the caves gave the monks solitude and there was water for agriculture and of course, for drinking, not only for the monks but for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Jericho.
During development work at the site in 2008, remains of a church and ancient rooms were uncovered. The most outstanding find was the floor mosaic of a church, decorated with patterns of red flowers. The mosaic is well preserved and is on display at the site. The mosaic and the surrounding rooms were apparently part of a Byzantine monastery founded here in the fourth century CE. The mosaic was originally discovered in 1931, but it was covered by a thick layer of small pebbles to preserve it. Parts of it were reconstructed with mosaic stones discovered in another part of the monastery’s buildings, remains of which were found about 100 m downstream. The mosaic’s restorers made sure to clearly show the difference between the reconstruction and the original.
About 100 m downstream remains of ancient aqueducts can be seen that once channeled water from En Mabo‘a and the other springs in the stream down to the plain of Jericho. The oldest aqueduct was built in the Hasmonean period (the Second Temple period) and it provided water to the winter palaces built by the Hasmoneans and to the surrounding cultivated fields. Later, Herod used the route of the Hasmonean aqueduct to build his own aqueduct to bring water to the fortress of Cypros, which overlooked the plain of Jericho. Aqueducts were also built during the Early Arab period and later.
The ancient aqueducts can be seen in En Mabo‘a as well as the aqueduct that channels water to Jericho today. It begins at the En Mabo‘a Pool, continues to En Qelt and from there to the plain of Jericho. The present-day aqueduct was built by the Husseini family in 1919, and based on agreements from the time of the British Mandate the water in the aqueduct still belongs to the Husseini family.
British pumping station:
In 1927, the British pumped water from En Prat upstream via a pipeline to Jerusalem. Over the years, Jerusalem grew and in 1931, the British built another pumping station at En Mabo‘a to convey the water to En Prat and from there to Jerusalem. A few years later, as Jerusalem continued to develop, they built yet another pumping station downstream at En Qelt, and channeled the water in pipes to En Mabo‘a. According to an eye witness account, six men carried each 6 m-long segment of pipe and thus they laid the line from point to point, segment after segment. Today a few remains of the British pumping station can be seen, as well as the foundation of the pumps, and above it the pipeline through which the water flowed to En Prat. At the square Spring Pool is a concrete ring. The ring was built at a depth of 4.2 m to prevent air from getting into the pumps when the spring pulsated. A few iron rails supported the ring from the inside. During Israel Nature and Parks Authority development work, most of the rails were removed for safety reasons, except for one, which was left in the water to stand on. It has been covered with a plastic pipe for the protection of bathers.
A number of marked hiking trails start at En Mabo‘a, all of which are one-way.
Use only marked trails in the reserve.
The trails are all for fit hikers only.
Set out on the En Prat trail until 11 A.M. only.
Set out on the En Qelt trail until 12 noon only.
Hikers must complete the trail and leave the reserve by 4 P.M. in winter and by 6 P.M. in summer (leave En Prat by 5 P.M.). On Fridays and holiday eves, visitors must leave the reserve one hour before the above times.
Hikers must have at least 4.5 liters of water per person, as well as walking shoes and a trail map (SPNI map 8, northern Judean Desert and Dead Sea).
The trails are closed on very hot days and when flooding is a risk.
Hikers must obtain updated information from rangers before setting out on a trail!
Hike at your own risk!
The En Qelt Trail:
Day-long trail for fit hikers only
Length of trail: 7 km
Hiking time: 5–7 hours
From En Mabo‘a, descend east down the Prat Stream in the trail with white-red-white markers. The trail descends along the northern bank of the stream below steep cliffs. In the first part of the trail, the stream undercuts the rock and creates several pools and lovely places to rest. Deeper into the trail is the “waterslide” pool. There, hikers descend a short ladder of hand and footholds embedded in the rock, and reach a pool that holds water from two waterfalls (not year-round). From the pool, continue along the stream, which becomes broad and shallow. Pass the confluence of the Prat Stream and Wadi Shuq el-Marbi‘a, which is dry except for sometimes in the rainy season. Leave the Prat Stream and climb up the spur, following the trail markings. After a challenging climb, walk along the cliffs – which afford a view of the stream and the area below. But be careful! You’re walking along a high cliff.
Finally, make the short descent to En Qelt. This is a charming spring, with water emerging from a number of points. Caution! Jumping into the lower pool is dangerous and prohibited! At En Qelt, cross the bridge and continue for about 15 minutes on the trail with the black-white-red markings, passing the remains of the impressive bridge from the Herodian aqueduct. From there, join the jeep road and climb for about an hour to the parking area at En Qelt. The ascent, which is about 1 km, is difficult.
Possible extension: : You can continue to St. George’s Monastery, a spectacular Byzantine monastery situated among the cliffs, active to this day. A visit depends on the monks. The walk to En Qelt adds about 5 km and about a 3-hour walk. There are a few options for this trail; for more information, ask the rangers at the En Mabo‘a visitor service center. Some of the walk follows the Ottoman aqueduct, in which water still flows, and some is along the stream. This part of the stream is dry for most of the year.
Trail to En Prat
Length of trail: 5 km
Length of visit: 4–6 hours
From En Mabo‘a ascend westward up the Prat Stream on the trail with white-red-white markers. The walk begins in the stream, which at this point is dry. Walking in the stream, you’ll pass below the road inside of large pipes that channel floodwater. Continue to the confluence between the Prat Stream and Wadi Mikhmash, which enters it from the north. This is an intersection where the one trail splits into three.
The trail to En Prat along the Prat Stream: This is the “wet” trail where you’ll pass several amazing, inviting pools for swimming or wading. Leave the trail with the white-red-white markers and continue south on the trail with white-blue-white markers. Now, climb a little above the stream and walk for a short segment along the southern cliffs. After that, go back down to the stream and from there on, you’ll find a flowing stream with many pools to swim in. The first of these is the Yonatan HaKatan Pool.
The slope trail to En Prat: If you choose this trail, continue following the red-white-red trail markers along the northern cliffs overlooking the Prat Stream. This trail is less challenging but there is no shade.
The Wadi Mikhmash trail: Wadi Mikhmash is a dry streambed, except on occasion during the rainy season. Continue to follow the white-black-white trail markers along Wadi Mikhmash. The trail ends with a climb to the community of Geva Binyamin (Adam).
Prat Stream Nature Reserve – En Mabo‘aUseful Information
Entry to the site is up to one hour before closing timeSummer hours: Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 17:00 - 08:00 Winter hours: Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 16:00 - 08:00 Holiday eves: 13:00 - 8:00 Yom Kippur eve: 13:00 - 8:00
Entry will be permitted only upon showing confirmation of reservation and only at the time shown.
Due to large numbers of visitors and safety issues entry to vehicles is prohibited on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays
Arrangements can be made ahead of time to descend by car to the level of the spring.
Accessible elements: the parking area next to the spring, the shop and visitor service center, toilet and a concrete path. There is access as far as the first waterfall, staircases with hand railings, a picnic area, a view of the antiquities and directional and informational signage. The descent to the En Mabo‘a spring is not accessible.
En Mabo‘a is located in the Judean Desert not far from the community of Alon.
Drive on Highway 1 from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, and turn left at the Kfar Adumim turnoff. At the gas station traffic circle take the second exit to the Alon Road (road 458).
Drive carefully! This road is winding with sharp turns.
About 1.5 km after the community of Alon, park in the site’s parking lot (signposted), to the right of the road. From the parking area, walk about 300 m, following the signs, down an unpaved trail leading to the spring.
Reserving a visit to Prat Stream Nature Reserve – En Mabo‘a