Long ago, thick molten lava at a temperature of over 1,000 degrees centigrade streamed across the Golan Heights – then a flat expanse of plain. When it stopped flowing and began to cool, the solidified basalt rock started to crack. Six‑sided basalt columns formed as a result of the cooling and were exposed after strong waters forced their way through the basalt and formed a gully, the Hexagon Riverbed. Today, the Hexagon Pool is one of the Golan Heights’ most remarkable attractions, combining magnificent six-sided cliffs with chill waters and luxurious foliage.
The Hexagon River flows through the eastern portion of the Yehudiya Nature Reserve, named for the nearby ancient Jewish village of Yehudiya which flourished during the 4th century. Well-preserved Atlantic terebinth and Tabor oak lining the slopes from this portion of the trip onward are part of the Yehudiya Forest.
Christ thorn jujube trees can be seen along both sides of the road as you near the reserve. In areas where the Tabor oak covers the slopes there are far fewer jujube, but in this area human-made damage has thinned out the oak and the hills have been taken over by the quickly spreading jujube. This species of jujube is thought by some to be the source of the thorny crown Jesus of Nazareth wore on his last journey. It bears drupes that Israelis call domim, a tiny edible fruit whose taste is reminiscent of American crabapples.
A tropical tree that suffers from the cold, the Christ thorn jujube is replaced by the lotus jujube on the upper edges of the Yehudiya Forest. Looking far more like a shrub than its brother jujube, the bushy variety is lower, rounded and has a number of trunks.
Because the Hexagon River is the longest of the perennial Golan streams, stretching south in the direction of the Sea of Galilee for 35 kilometers, it provides an excellent habitat for a variety of water foliage. Visitors enjoy the sight of brightly flowering oleander, in a variety of shades of pink, along with wild raspberry, willow, Syrian ash and Abraham’s hemp.
Logically, you would expect to find reeds growing in the water but here they are located on the slopes instead. Their presence above the stream hints at additional water sources and indeed dozens of natural springs burst out of cracks in the basalt rocks; 30 of them flow all year long.
Along the trail that descends steeply to the pool, a side path leads to a bridge. From there, you look down on both sides to view an impressive series of gushing waterfalls.
Sometimes, if you stand above the falls which plunge into fabulous pool, you can see large barbell jumping upstream. Originating in northern waters, they are trying to reach the source of the river to lay their eggs. The barbells have unusual mouths in which the upper lip is covered by the lower, creating a chisel-like blade used to scrape algae off the rocks for dinner.
During the summer months a multitude of Jaffa scabious are in startling flower amidst the dry, yellow stalks of other plants. One of the only buds which blossoms in the Golan Heights in summer, it consists of minuscule white flowers clustered tightly together to form a slightly larger bloom on thin green stalks. Delicate lilac colored stamen surround the flower. The scabious contains very tasty honeydew and in summer beekeepers bring their hives to the Golan to utilize the flowers and produce high quality honey.
Remarkably large globe thistles line the path. Even their rich, purple color is unusually impressive here in the Golan Heights. Called kipodan in Hebrew from the word for hedgehog (kipod), it sports harsh prickles that can stick you painfully through your jeans before it blooms. Only when in full blossom do they become softer to the touch.
Wild carrot (gezer) is, like the scabious, made up of a cluster of smaller flowers meant to become more impressive to insects by uniting to form a large white blossom. But the wild carrot has an additional trick up its sleeve: at least one of the flowers, a barren bud, turns black and sits on top as if to announce to hesitating insects the attraction of the blossom.
Swimming in the Hexagon Pool – 20 by 25 meters in size and the high point of your walk – is a unique experience. Not only is the water invigorating (and over your head), but the landscape of hexagonal columns is superb.
In Arabic the hexagon riverbed is called wadi el hawa, or wadi of the winds. While it is true that there are often very substantial winds in the pool, they aren’t any stronger here than anywhere else. The Hebrew name of mesushim (six sides) is more fitting for although there are hexagonal phenomena in a few other riverbeds, nowhere are they as impressive and magnificent as they are here
Visitors driving in or out of the nature reserve may see gazelle wandering about.
Chukar partridges often waddle slowly along the road, as well. And just maybe, you will get a glimpse of the cumbersome, ugly wild boar, the largest mammal found in the Yehudiya reserve.
Baby boar are born in spring, so if you see an adult boar you may also spy a family group looking for the acorns of which they are inordinately fond. Families consist of mothers and their children, the latter walking in order according to age.
To reach the nature reserve, take Route 888 to a gravel road just north of Had Nes (there should be a big sign). The walk down and back on the trail takes about an hour.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Aviva Bar-Am’s book Israel’s Northern Landscapes: Guide to the Golan Heights, Eastern Galilee and Lake Kinneret.
Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.