Have you ever had your grandparents tell you stories? Or bought yourself a book on legends? No, not of the Titans or the Hercules—but perhaps, something a little more down-to-earth? This tale is about one such legend about The Red Canyons on the Eilat Mountains in Israel. As the story goes, the angels who were sent down by God to paint the mountains reached the Eilat Mountains last. By the time they arrived, they were short on paint, and so they decided to paint the surface with whatever colours they were left with: black, yellow and red, in abundance. Hence, the name—the Red Canyon.
On one morning at the tail end of my trip In Israel, my new friends, Sarah Appels and Amina Appu were visiting the Red Canyon. Sarah and Amina, a back-packing duo from Belgium, were my roommates at the Overstay Jaafa Hostel in Tel Aviv, and we formed an unlikely friendship over crispy cauliflower. When they asked me if I wanted to tag along with them, I chanced upon the first opportunity to strike the gorgeous canyons off my list. Neither exhaustion nor the extra weight I had gained during my travels in Israel (hummus, I’m looking at you) could stop me.
Eight hours later, I was in Eilat again. A city I fell in love with in my first few days in the country. From here I remember my first swim with the dolphins in the Red Sea, the food, Shay—the stunning waitress at The Beatles pub, the sunset along the walkway, and lest I forget, Yasmine, (remember Laila from Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara?) my diving instructor left me mesmerised.
Our journey to the Canyon was as exciting as the destination. We took a cab from one of the coral dive sights in Eliat towards the Uvda Valley along the Route 12 highway. As we drove north, our cab driver pointed towards the fence on the other side of the highway and said, “That’s Egypt.” If at that point, I picked up a stone from Eilat and threw it, it would land in Egypt. Hulk—another legend—are you reading this? I am as powerful as you!
Twenty minutes later, we took a right turn at Nahal Shani. After Sarah managed to roll her cigarettes, and we gulped down some food, applied sunscreen and walked down the gravel road. We stopped every car on their way out asking for reserve water. The wide wadi surrounded by steep walls started to close in and the pathway got narrow. As we went past a series of small waterfalls with the help of handles and something that looked like Jacob’s ladder hammered into the sandstones, the legend of Red Canyon dawned upon us. The sandstones, gravels, rocks, even the river bed had red, yellow and black painted all over it.
We were surrounded by colourful rocks that stood nearly 100-feet tall. There were layers of sedimentary rocks that revealed the geographical history of the mountains. The rusty colour comes from, well, rust. The iron oxides flirting with the sandstone emulates a beautiful array of reds, yellows, oranges and a little bit of pink too. Thanks to the magnesium deposits, parts of the canyon had a tint of purple too. Despite being a desert, the valley was filled with fauna and other small desert animals. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of sand partridges dwelling in the corners of the mountain.
The hike in the Red Canyons is divided into two routes. The one with green markings for two kilometres is the shorter route. The longer one, for five kilometres, is differentiated with black markings. Amina and I—Sarah decided to stay back—almost got ourselves killed as we ran out of water, missed a sign, hit a dead end and had nowhere to go on the longer route. But thanks to the map and Amina’s hiking skills, we managed to get right back on track.
Note: Despite being a desert, the temperatures were on the lower end, so pack accordingly. There is no source of water at the Red Canyons, so ensure you are carrying at least five litres of water per person.
Getting there: From Eilat’s main bus station, one can take a shuttle that goes to the Red Canyons on an hourly basis. You can also take a private shuttle from various tour operators in Eilat. Or you can simply rent a cab for 100 Shekels one way.