Category Archives: National Park or Forest

National Park or Forest

Saipan, Mariana Islands, FEB 19 2024

Overnight we sailed from Guam to the nearby island of Saipan, the largest island in the northern Mariana Islands. The island was formed millions of years ago by an underwater volcano. The island, has a population of 44,000, is 12 miles by 5 miles. 

Saipan has been under Spanish rule, German rule, Japanese rule and then after WW2 it was put in a United Nations Trust to determine its fate. Saipan and the Northern Mariana Islands have been a commonwealth of the United States since the 1980’s.

Hyatt Regency

We were told Saipan is only visited by three cruise ships a year! We were greeted by dancing ladies welcoming us to the island.

The water was several gorgeous shades of blue.

We decided to take a Holland American excursion to learn more about what happened there during WW2.  The Battle of Saipan from June 15 to July 9, 1944 was one of the major battles of WW2.  The United States Marines and United States Army landed on the beaches on the southwestern side of the island and engaged in heavy fighting with the Japanese for more than three weeks before capturing the island. The American casualty was 3,426 with 10,364 wounded. The Japanese casualties were 27,000 soldiers and 15,000 civilians, including 1,000 who jumped from “Suicide Cliff” rather than being taken prisoner. 

With the takeover of Saipan, the United States military was only 1,300 miles from the Japanese islands, striking distance for the United States’ B-29 bombers. The loss of Saipan was a big blow to the Japanese military, forcing the resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister. 

Visible from Saipan is the island of Tinian where the US Navy had shipped the atomic bombs. The Enola Gay B-29 bomber plane took off on August 6, 1945 carrying the atomic bomb to Hiroshima, Japan.

View of Tinian Island

Our tour guide was a native Chamorro. He gave us some background on the island. At one time it was a popular place for Japanese tourists to vacation and shop. It changed some time ago as Guam became the favored destination and Saipan has fallen on hard times. At one time a huge casino was built and now stands deserted. The roads were obviously in need of repair and our guide remarked they have been waiting over 20 years for infrastructure funding. In 2018, Saipan was devastated by one of the strongest hurricane/typhoons ever to hit the island . The island sustained widespread damage and is still struggling to recover. We saw tent structures sent by the United States that are being used as schools.

Typical House

Our guide took us to several WW2 sites. First up was a former Japanese jail. Built between 1929 and 1930, it was originally surrounded by a security fence and later a concrete wall.  During WW2, two U.S. pilots were held and died here. Some people believe Amelia Earhart was held here in 1937 when she disappeared on her round the world flight. From what I have previously read, I don’t believe Earhart was ever here.

We stopped at one of the beaches where we could see the remains of American tanks in the water destroyed during the battles.

A Pillbox or Concrete Guard-post

Tank in the Water


In the distance were two unmarked US ships that our guide said were supply ships stationed with supplies in case they are quickly needed in the Pacific region.

Our guide showed us a traditional Chamorro paddling canoe he is helping to build under a large thatched structure. When finished it will be able to hold eight or more people with supplies to travel to other islands.

All around Saipan are reminders of Japan’s air power. Massive concrete vaults were used as bunkers for Japan’s aerial bombs and as air raid shelters.

In the fields are old, rusted remains of tanks.

Underground Bomb Storage

The bus took us to the Saipan airport to use the bathroom facilities. First time that has ever happened on an excursion! The men and women bathrooms were accessed from outside the main terminal building and were very clean and well supplied.

Our final stop of the day was at the American Memorial Park Visitors Center. The park is run by the National Park Service. We found out when talking to one of the rangers that they are usually closed on Monday but they opened today just for the cruise ship passengers. We thanked her for their cooperation and thoughtfulness.

When we arrived back at the pier, once again security boarded the bus to check our ship cards. They even opened and inspected the lower bus compartments.

Since it was close to the time for the ship to depart, another group of Saipan performers had already arrived to give a farewell performance. This time the group included some precious children. After the performance ended they waited until the ship pulled away from the dock so the children could wave to all those gathered at the deck railings and balconies.

The captain mentioned later in his departure announcement that the governor of Saipan deeply appreciated our visit and said Saipan is working hard to bring tourism back to the island. 

Next up : Three days at sea and Ishigaki, our first Japanese port

Oahu Hawaii FEB 8 2024

After another rough night sailing from the Big Island to the island of Oahu, we arrived at the port in Honolulu in the early morning. We were welcomed with a beautiful rainbow.

Our goal today was to take the city bus from the port to Waikiki Beach to get Bill a shirt at Hard Rock Cafe. We then wandered around the area looking for a food truck on the beach that had garlic shrimp. When we were on Oahu in 2014 we found a roadside stand on the North Shore of the island that had the best garlic shrimp that Bill had ever tasted.  Unfortunately this time around, we didn’t find any garlic shrimp on Waikiki. To show you how wonderful the crew of Holland America are, that evening on the ship one of the chefs stopped by our table. He asked how our day in Honolulu had gone. Bill casually mentioned that he was disappointed he never found any garlic shrimp. The chef immediately pulled out his notebook and made a note to have garlic shrimp especially made for Bill the next night. He said just tell the waiter. Sure enough, the next evening Bill told our waiter, and sure enough the garlic shrimp was prepared for him. How nice is that!

We had a great view of Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach and even from the ship.

In 2014 we rented a car and spent a week on the island of Oahu. The following pictures are from that visit.

Houses are built everywhere

Houses are built everywhere

Diamond Head is the most recognized landmark in Oahu.  The actual name of the volcano is Le’ahi.  It is believed to have been formed about 300,000 years ago during a single brief eruption.  The broad crater covers 350 acres with its width being greater than its height.  The southwestern rim is highest because winds were blowing ash in this direction during the eruption.  Since the eruption the slopes of the crater have been eroded and weathered by wind, rain, and the pounding sea.

Diamond Head got its nickname because in the late 1700’s, Western explorers and traders visited Le’ahi and mistook the calcite crystals in the rocks on the slope of the crater for diamonds.  Imagine their disappointment when they discovered it was not diamonds!  Because of its panoramic view, Diamond Head has been used over the years as a site for coastal defense. Most pictures of Waikiki will have Diamond Head in the background.IMG_3223


Kalaniana'Ole Highway

Kalaniana’Ole Highway

Halona Blowhole

Halona Blowhole

Eastern shore

Eastern shore


Puu Ualakaa State Wayside Park is on a cinder cone with a breathtaking sweeping view of downtown Honolulu and Diamond Head.  IMG_3228

Overlook of Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki Beach hotels

Overlook of Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki Beach hotels

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is otherwise known as the Punchbowl.  The cemetery is located in the Punchbowl Crater, an extinct volcanic tuff cone that was formed 75,000 to 100,000 years ago.  The Hawaiian name is Puowaina which means “Hill of Sacrifice” because the area was first used as an altar where Hawaiians offered human sacrifices to pagan gods.  In 1948 Congress approved funding to make it a national cemetery as a permanent burial site for the remains of thousands of World War II servicemen.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

It is a very lovely, peaceful setting with beautiful views of Honolulu and Diamond Head.

How does one even begin to write about Pearl Harbor, such a hallowed place? The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the sunken hull and honors the 1,177 crewmen who died.  The memorial was dedicated in 1962 and the hull is a tomb for over 900 sailors who died inside. IMG_3242

Display of what the USS Arizona looks like underwater

Display of what the USS Arizona looks like underwater

The names of all those who died are on a wall inside the memorial

The names of all those who died are on a wall inside the memorial

Some survivors later chose to be buried inside the memorial

Some survivors later chose to be buried inside the memorial

Also nearby is the USS Oklahoma honoring 429 sailors who died when the ship capsized, as well as the visible hull of the USS Utah Memorial commemorating its 58 dead.

The ships in red were sank during the attack

The ships in red were sank during the attack

Bill took a tour of the Battleship Missouri Memorial which was docked nearby.  The USS Missouri was launched on January 29, 1944, and is the last U.S. battleship ever built.  She is three football fields long and towers over twenty stories tall.  Most importantly, after joining the battle of Okinawa, she became the site of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.IMG_3244 IMG_3253 IMG_3254 IMG_3255 IMG_3258 IMG_3259 IMG_3262IMG_3260

The attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,400 people and sank or damaged 21 vessels and 323 military planes.

The North Shore area of Oahu is made up of beautiful beaches with dramatic mountains  towering above the shore.  This area is famous for its “pipeline” waves, the massive waves you see at the beginning of the tv show “Hawaii 5-0”.  It is a surfers paradise.  We saw larger waves than we had seen on other parts of the island, but the massive pipeline waves usually occur during the winter months.IMG_3396 IMG_3402

Turtle Beach with no turtles

Turtle Beach with no turtles

Watching the world go by

Watching the world go by

Nuuanu Pali State Wayside Overlook which at an elevation of 1,200 feet had amazing views of Oahu from a stone terrace on the edge of cliffs.  The Hawaiian word “pali” means cliff.  This area is of historical importance to the Hawaiian people because on these cliffs in 1795 is where King Kamehameha won a battle that united Oahu under his rule.  The battle was fierce and during the battle hundreds of soldiers lost their lives, including some who were forced off the edge of the sheer cliffs.

Impressive view of windward O'ahu from Nu'uanu Pali State Wayside (cliffs) at 1200 feet elevation

Impressive view of windward O’ahu from Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside (cliffs) at 1200 feet elevation

A view of Waimea Valley and the northern shoreline from the Puu O Mahuka Heiau on O’ahu

King Kamehameha the first

King Kamehameha the first

The statue is of King Kamehameha the Great (1756-1819), perhaps Hawaii’s greatest historical figure.  There are four statues of the King; this one in downtown Honolulu, on the Big Island at his birthplace, another in Hilo, and in Washington, DC.

We sailed out of Honolulu at 11:00 PM, so no whale watching on our last sail away in Hawaii.

Next up: eight days at sea as we sail towards Guam, including crossing the International Date Line. What day is it????


Hilo Hawaii FEB 7 2024

As we sailed around The Big Island to get from Kona to Hilo, the rough waters continued throughout the night.

At 7:00 A.M. we were luck to see this fat rainbow and the nearby mountain appeared red in the early morning light.

In 2014 we rented a car and drove around the Big Island, including visiting Hilo. Many of these pictures are from that trip. We decided not to pay for an excursion on the cruise since we had already visited most of the places.

Widescreen view of Akaka Falls, 422 feet tall

Hilo is known as Hawaii’s Little Big City and is nestled on the slopes of three volcanoes. It has a population of around 41,000.  It is one of the wettest towns in the United States.  The University of Hawaii has a campus there as well as on other islands.  Hilo was hit by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960.  

We love the huge, lovely trees called Monkeypod we noticed around the town of Hilo.

The Monkeypod trees look like large umbrellas

The Monkeypod trees look like large umbrellas

Rainbow Falls usually make rainbows in the morning hours

Rainbow Falls usually make rainbows in the morning hours

There is a lighthouse on the easternmost point of the state of Hawaii called Cape Kumukahi.  Since this is where the sun first shines in Hawaii every day of every year, it is of spiritual importance to native Hawaiians.  In 1960 Kilauea erupted, destroying a town near the lighthouse and crops nearby.  Just as it appeared the lighthouse would be engulfed by the lava, it split into two streams and flowed into the sea on either side, sparing the structure.  People were amazed by this phenomenon and felt it was a message from the god Pele telling them of the lighthouse’s importance to the people.

This Cape Kumukahi lighhouse was saved in 1960 when the lava flow split and went around the lighhouse fence

This Cape Kumukahi lighhouse was saved on 1960 when the lava flow split and went around the lighhouse fence

Here is the height of the 1960 lava flow next to the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse

Here is the height of the 1960 lava flow next to the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse


Volcanoes National Park was established in 1916 and became a World Heritage Site in 1987.  The Big Island is the largest and the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands, home to the world’s most active volcanoes, and this park is a good example of why and how this is true.  The overcast sky is due to increases in gasses called “volcanic smog”, also called “vog”.  This vog blows west towards Kona during trade wind weather. The park is 33,000 acres of lava land on the slopes of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest mountain by volume and the world’s tallest when measured from the ocean floor.  Five volcanoes make up the Big Island. 

Mauna Loa is not only 56,000 feet above the ocean floor but also has a large volume.

Kilauea is a relatively young volcano estimated to be 600,000 years old and first erupted 2,500 years ago.

Kilauea Crater leaks lava through its top and side rift zones

Kilauea Crater leaks lava through its top and side rift zones

Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume at the summit of Kilauea Crater/Volcano

Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume at the summit of Kilauea Crater/Volcano

The newest Hawaiian island, already named Loihi, is being created 22 miles offshore from volcanic activity growing on the ocean floor.  It will be thousands of years before the new island emerges, so don’t let anyone try to sell you a cheap condo there!

Night view of Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume

Night view of Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume

Thurston Lava Tube is a 500 year old massive lava cave.  It was an easy walk through the well lighted cave.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Kilauea Iki Crater created in 1959

Kilauea Iki Crater created in 1959

Kilauea Iki Crater with Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume in the distance

Kilauea Iki Crater with Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume in the distance

Pauahi Crater

Pauahi Crater

Younger lava flows are dark

Younger lava flows are dark

Some of the newest coastline looks like this

Some of the newest coastline looks like this

Sea arch within the Volcanoes NP

Sea arch within the Volcanoes NP

The port is located in an industral area, not very attractive and not convenient to the city.

View of Hilo from the Ship

These are pictures we took of the city and breakwater that protects the harbor.

Once again as we sailed away from Hilo, whales were spotted off the back of the ship and they put on quite a show. Everytime one was spotted the crowd would cheer, making for a very fun, festive atmosphere.

Next up: Island of Oahu and Honolulu


Reykjavik, Iceland JUN 9, 2023

Our second port was in southwestern Iceland near Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The area where the ship docked was industrial and not at all attractive.

This Side Of Ship Was Scenic

The city of Reykjavik was about two miles from the port. Usually visiting a capital city is high on our list, but today we booked an excursion into the countryside to explore why Iceland is called “the Land of Fire and Ice”.

The popular eight hour “Golden Circle” excursion began with cold, windy weather and pouring rain. At times I wondered how the bus driver could see between the fog and driving rain. We really couldn’t see much of anything out the bus windows, but our guide entertained us with facts and stories about her home country of Iceland.

When the Mountains Were pushed up under a Glacier They had Flat Tops

By the time we arrived at our first destination, the Haukadalur Geothermal Valley (Geysir, the Icelandic spelling of geyser) Hot Spring Area, the rain had let up enough that we could get off the bus without getting drenched. Geologists estimate this geothermal field has a surface area of about 1.1 square miles. The area became active more than a thousand years ago and consists of boiling mud pots and more than a dozen hot water blow holes, with the oldest dating back to 1294.

Earthquakes in southern Iceland have caused changes in the geothermal area, creating new hot springs. The most famous and active geyser is Strokkur which spouts water 100 feet into the air every few minutes.

We walked around the area and waited for the geyser to spout. It felt very similar to what we saw at Yellowstone National Park and the geothermal areas in New Zealand. It was so cold and windy!! But since the rain had let up, we had hope for better weather the rest of the day. 

Next up we traveled to Gullfoss Falls for lunch. We were at 66 degrees north of the equator.

A Popular Clothing Line is 66 North

The closest we had been to the Arctic Circle was at our last port of Isafjordur. When we found the geocaches there, that was the furthest north we had ever found a geocache. For lunch, the hot tomato soup was most welcome followed by fresh salmon on a bed of rice and vegetables. Since I don’t eat seafood, lunch was not the greatest for me. After lunch we were supposed to walk down to the waterfall. By now the rain was coming down in sheets blowing sideways in the wind. Even with rain gear there was no way to walk there and not get drenched. Our pants below the knees were wet just walking from the bus into the restaurant. We watched people coming back completely drenched and freezing from the cold wind and rain.  Our guide said she would walk down to the waterfall with anyone who wanted to go. Some brave souls, or crazy people depending on how you look at it, wanted to go. Bill and I decided we had seen a lot of waterfalls over the years and this one was just not worth it. We knew there was no way to keep from getting soaking wet and we would then have to sit the rest of the day with cold, wet clothes. I was proud of us for making a wise decision. Sure didn’t want another bout of bronchitis. 

Those who walked to the waterfall came back to the bus with wet coats, umbrellas, hats etc and no place to hang them to dry. I noticed our guide sat on a plastic bag because her pants were so wet. 

After that ordeal we had one more stop which turned out to be the most enjoyable of the day. The skies began to clear and the sun actually made an appearance. This stop was at Pingvollum National Park.

The region is part of the Atlantic ridge that runs through Iceland.

You can see the consequences of the sliding of the earth’s crust in the cracks and fissures of the area. We walked along a path where we could see the huge walls where the earth had cracked. The sun was out but it was deceiving. With the strong wind, it was really cold.

Our guide did a great job keeping us motivated and happy regardless of the weather. When we were walking along the path where the earth had cracked, she said she could remember walking on that same path with her father and how happy her father was because Iceland had just achieved its independence in 1944.

I would guess her age at somewhere in her 80’s. She certainly was energetic and spry in all that rainy, cold weather. I guess doing all those tours and getting so much exercise keeps her young. The Icelandic people must be a hearty people to deal with all that cold weather!

We found a waterfall crossing under the path.

As for us, we’ll take Florida! 

Some Iceland facts courtesy of our guide :

  • Reykjavik, Iceland is the northernmost capital in the world
  • Iceland is one of the youngest countries on the earth, if not the youngest, because it was formed from relatively recent earthquake activity
  • Where we were riding on the bus was the ocean floor 10,000 years ago
  • 5.8% of Iceland is uninhabitable 
  • At the turn of the century, 90% people farmed and fished. Today 7%. Tourism has overtaken the fishing industry
  • Icelanders are Scandinavian and Irish. Their language is from Nordic and Celtic origin
  • Women are 65% Celtic bloodline and 35% Scandinavian, Men are 65% Scandinavian and 35% Celtic
  • Most houses are heated with geothermal water
  • In 2008 all the banks went bankrupt
  • In 1989 it became legal to drink alcoholic beer 
  • There is a waiting list to get into prison because they have small prisons 
  • Crime rate is increasing due to more gangs but it is still a relatively safe country 
  • 87% of their energy is renewable 
  • Most of the oil is used for fishing boats
  • There are lots of greenhouses and Iceland has the biggest banana plantation in Europe
  • Because of earthquakes there are strict building codes
  • In towns with geothermal activity, there are no basements and cemeteries because of what is hot underground. People are buried in nearby towns. 
  • Iceland was ruled by Denmark for a long time. In 1918 they became sovereign and in 1944 became a republic. 
  • In 1986 they elected their first woman president
  • The national parliament of Iceland is the oldest legislature in the world that has been abolished and subsequently re-established. founded in 930.

Next up:  Alesund, Norway


Israel, Day 4 MAR 25, 2023

Day 4 found us up early with another busy day ahead. After breakfast we loaded onto the bus for the trip to the amazing Masada National Park.

Masada is an ancient mountainous fortress in the Judean Desert on a massive plateau 1,500 feet above the Dead Sea. It was built around 30 B.C. by King Herod the Great and is the site of the Jews last stand against the Romans after the fall of Jerusalem in 68 A.D. It is thought to be one of the greatest archeological sites in Israel. 

You can access this mountain fortress either by cable car or by foot on the Snake Path Trail. Fortunately we were able to ride the cable car but we were packed in like sardines.

Our pastor, who is a marathon runner, decided to run up the trail to the top. This was after he had already gotten up at 5:00 A.M. and run seven miles! He has taken this personal challenge before and with his son.

Our Pastor Running up to Meet our Cable Car

The Trail Also Had A Group Walking Down

King Herod built two magnificent palaces, one of which was built on three terraces, a huge fortress, swimming pools, water reservoirs, huge amounts of storehouses and an armory all on this mountaintop with spectacular views.

Columns Were Covered to hide The Red Stone

Hot Water was Channeled From the Furnace

Black painted lines are everywhere to show the original wall (below the line) with the reconstructed wall above the painted line.

Painted Walls Were Preserved

A Model Of The Fortress/Palace

Original stones were used during reconstruction.  Masada had its own “watergate”, a path on which beasts of burden carried water from the channels at a gate up to some cisterns at the mountaintop. Stone paving at the gate prevented damage from the animals’ hooves.

Nice Walkways Made Exploring Easy

Decades later, in the last days of the Great Jewish Revolt when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D., a Jewish group took possession of Masada from the Roman garrison there and lived there for three years. This was the last stand for almost 1,000 Jewish Macabbean/Sicarii men, women and children who decided to commit suicide as free people rather than fall into the hands of the Romans.

The siege of Masada by Roman troops occurred from 73 to 74 A.D. The Roman army military camps appear as square areas on the surrounding countryside.

The Square Was a Military Camp

The Square Was another Military Camp

The Roman army (15,000) would not give up so they built a siege ramp to attack the upper wall.

As the Roman battering ram breached the fortress walls, the Jewish rebels realized winning was hopeless. Refusing to surrender and end up as slaves or killed, they set fire to their homes and warehouses and chose ten men by lottery who were to kill the other 960 men, women and children.

The Lots Stones Used to Select the Final Ten

The last ten men then committed suicide. When the Romans made it to the top, they found everyone dead except for two women and five children who survived by hiding. 

Masada was extensively excavated between 1963 and 1965 by an expedition led by Israeli archaeologist and former military Chief-of-Staff Yigael Yadin. One of the most remarkable archeological finds was the synagogue, built during the times of King Herod and one of the oldest on Earth. In one of the rooms they found the oldest parts of Torah scrolls ever found. 

They found perfectly preserved water reservoirs, cisterns, a Roman style bathhouse and the remains of a Byzantine church.  The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the fifth and sixth centuries have been excavated on the plateau.

The Church Wall

Another Wall in the Church

A Floor in the Church

Masada is a UNESCO site, a symbol of heroism and man’s struggle for freedom. A 1981 American miniseries starring Peter O’Toole described Masada’s last stand. Books have also been written about Masada. 

After lunch we visited the Qaser Al-Yahud Baptism Site, the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. It is also identified with the place where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River after 40 years of wandering in the desert. (Joshua 3)  Ancient traditions also associate this site with the place where Elijah the prophet ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. (2 Kings 2)

On the way we drove along the border of Israel and Jordan, with landmine warnings dotting the landscape. The Jordan River is the 1994 treaty line between Israel and Jordan.

Historic Greek Flag Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher

Years ago our pastor used to baptize people at this location, but over the years the water has gotten more polluted and dangerous. The last time he conducted baptisms here he slipped and cut his foot on some metal. He ended up in the hospital with a very serious infection. Since then his church group baptism site was moved to a different section of the Jordan River that is cleaner and safer.

This is Not Our Group

There were some people being baptized today in the coffee-colored water.

This is Not Our Group

Directly across from us was the country of Jordan with Jordanian soldiers keeping watch. Our pastor read scripture and we sang several hymns, all within listening distance of the watchful soldiers.

Across The River is Jordan with Two Armed Soldiers

This is an Israeli Armed Soldier

We ended the day earlier than usual since it was the Sabbath and many things were closed. The group was thankful because we were all feeling the effects of the long, arduous days. 

Next Up: Day 5, Bethlehem


Israel, Day 3 Part 2 MAR 24, 2023

Day 3 in the afternoon found us at Wadi Qelt, a deep, narrow gorge in the Judean Wilderness that extends 17 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho and is thought to be the location of the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4) During Jesus’ time, the Romans had built a road through this region, a road so well engineered that it is used by tourists today. The parable of the traveler and the Good Samaritan is thought to have occurred near here. Shepherds today still lead sheep and goats along the path to the spring fed waters of the Wilderness. It is thought that David wrote the 23rd Psalm while sitting in this area.

Today the monastery of St George, built in the late fifth century, is tucked within the walls of the gorge. It is one of the oldest monasteries of the Byzantine desert monks in the Holy Land. It was built around a cave that Greek Orthodox tradition associates with Elijah’s cave of Horeb (1 Kings 19) and the place where an angel revealed to Joachim that his wife Anne would bear the Virgin Mary. The central church of the monastery is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Next we visited Qumran National Park. In the 2nd century B.C., Qumran was settled by members of the Essene sect, the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. According to stories from that time, a Bedouin boy searching for a lost goat threw a stone into one of the caves along the Dead Sea and heard a jar breaking in the caves. After searching the caves he found first three, and then four jars, the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Great Isaiah Scroll is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. It is the largest and best preserved of all the biblical scrolls, and the only one that is almost complete. Dating from 125 B.C., it is currently on display at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

More Caves

This led to scholars scrambling to the neighboring caves where over the span of several years, scrolls were discovered in eleven caves, some in jars and some in fragments of jars. It is thought the scrolls were hidden from the Romans in jars in the caves. The scrolls are sections of some 800 books from Second Temple times. Other scrolls may have been brought by priests from Jerusalem for safekeeping when the Holy City was under attack. The scrolls comprise Old Testament biblical books, except for the book of Esther. The discovery of the scrolls led to the excavation of the area where ruins of the Essene and Qumran communities were found.

Water Cistern

It is thought possible that John the Baptist was either part of these communities or visited here, perhaps baptizing members of the communities in the Jordan River north of here. 

We finished the day at the Dead Sea where we would be staying for two nights. The Dead Sea is not a sea at all but a lake. It is 1,412 feet below sea level, making it the lowest elevation on Earth. It is 997 feet deep and 34% salt, making it the world’s saltiest body of water, 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. The salinity keeps any plants or animals from living there, hence the name. It has attracted visitors for thousands of years because of its health benefits. It was a health resort for Herod the Great and attracts tourists today from Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. Our guide, Mike, said his family loves to come here on the weekends because of the health benefits.

We had all been encouraged to float in the Dead Sea (because of the salinity you can’t swim, you float). We were also warned many times not to get the water in your eyes, mouth or nose because of the salt. In other words, keep your face out of the water. It was a pleasant but strange experience.

You walk into the water up to your knees, sit down and you immediately start to float. Getting your feet under you to get out is a bit of a struggle. Tap the picture below to see video.

The Dead Sea was a five minute walk from the hotel. On the walk back we saw a McDonald’s with a revolving sign.

Mike said the first McDonald’s came to Israel in 1997. Interestingly, we asked about Subway shops since they seem to be in every country we have visited over the years. He said there are no Subway restaurants in Israel. In fact we saw very few fast food restaurants of any kind in Israel. 

Next up: Day 4, a cable car ride and the site of Jesus’ baptism

Israel Day 2, Part 2 MAR 23, 2023

In the afternoon of Day 2 we went to Tabgha, Capharnaum (also known as Capernaum) and Mount of the Beatitudes.
The Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha is a replica built in 1982 of the original 5th century church, but much of the mosaic floor is original. Glass panels in the floor reveal remains of the original church. Beneath the altar is a rock, believed to be the rock in which Jesus performed a miracle with the multiplication of loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-44).

The mosaic in front of the altar is the most famous in the country. 

Mosaics that is preserved from the Byzantine period at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes July 23, 2009. Photo by Rishwanth Jayap

Capharnaum, also known as Jesus’s adopted hometown since he spent so much time there staying in Peter’s house, is where many events in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus took place (Matthew 4:13). He performed many miracles here including the healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof of Peter’s house, feeding of the five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and fish, as well as when Jesus preached the famous “I Am the Bread of Life” sermon.

Capharnaum was a key transit point between the land of Herod and his brother Philip and therefore earned substantial revenue from taxes and import duties. The  town was an important pilgrimage center for early Christians.

We visited the site of the House of Peter where a 5th century octagonal church was built over the archeological ruins.

The Mount of Beatitudes is a hill and the traditional site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is 82 feet below sea level and 656 feet above the Sea of Galilee, making it one of the lowest summits in the world.

The Church of the Beatitudes is an octagonal building built in 1938. The eight sides of the church represent the eight beatitudes or blessings recited by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount which are also shown in the eight stained glass windows on each side of the church.

Our next stop was Magdala and then Arbel National Park. Magdala is an ancient Jewish city believed to be the birthplace of Mary Magdalene.

The inside of the first-century A.D. synagogue at the ancient city of Magdala in Israel,

Archeologists found the Magdala stone which has a seven branched menorah carved on it. Presumably, the front and sides of the stone carvings represent the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the back side depicting wheels and fire represents the Holy of Holies.

the Magdala stone represents the oldest known sculpture of a menorah.

Arbel National Park is a mountain with a dramatic cliff where a cave fortress is carved into the rock, along with ruins of an ancient first century synagogue and the site of a famous battle. The fortification was built by the Galilean Jews who barricaded themselves here around 37 B.C. Herod’s army was sent to overcome the rebels and was only able to do so after he lowered his best warriors in cages suspended by ropes. Arbel has one hundred caves within its mountain slope, scenes of many bloody battles.

This area of Magdala and Arbel is the path Jesus took when he traveled from his hometown of Nazareth to his adopted home at Capharnaum. 

We finished the day walking in Jesus’ footsteps in the Valley of the Doves. Jesus traveled this route many times as he made his way back and forth from the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. It is called Valley of the Doves because as the wind blows between two mountains into the valley, it makes a sound like the flapping of dove wings. A beautiful, quiet, peaceful area where you could imagine Jesus walking beside you.

Can you believe we covered all this in one day? Spiritually enlightening and physically exhausting. Lots of prayers, Bible readings and hymn singing. Lots of walking and stairs. 

Next up: Jericho, the Dead Sea and so much more!! 

Israel Day 2, Part 1 MAR 23, 2023

Our second day touring Israel had us up for a 5:45 A.M. wakeup call and all aboard the bus by 7:15. Since we were staying at this hotel in Tiberias for two nights, at least we didn’t have to deal with luggage. An extra early wakeup call meant we had lots to see and do today. Many places we visited each day required reservations, so we had a tight schedule to keep.

It was a beautiful start to the day overlooking the Sea of Galilee. First up today was a drive into the countryside to Banias, otherwise known as Caesarea Philippi National Park, a region in the Golan Heights. This is a very fertile area of Israel with snow capped mountains in the distance. We drove very close to Israel’s border with Jordan and Syria and along the side of the road we saw many signs warning of land mines.

Here we found the cave of Pan and the remains of a temple built by King Herod to the Greek god Pan. The huge cave, where a spring is located, was thought to be the gates of Hades, a connection to the Underworld. Pan was thought to be a god of the wild, shepherds and flocks. Sacrifices to the gods were hurled into the cave.

According to the Gospels, after Herod Antipas of Galilee murdered John the Baptist, Jesus took his disciples into this territory. Amid the temples to Caesar and pagan gods, as well as the entranceway to Hades, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27) And Peter responds, “You are the Christ”. (Mark 8:29) Jesus answers, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The  gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-20).

Next we continued to the Yigal Allon Center which is home to an ancient 2,000 year old boat found off the coast of the Sea of Galilee. During a drought in 1986 the wooden boat embedded in silt was discovered. Archeologists, scientists and volunteers worked for ten days and nights to free the boat from the mud before the water table began to rise again and flood the boat.

A Model of the Boat

2,000 Year Old Rescued Boat

We then took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It is not really a sea but a lake. At 700 hundred feet below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on the planet. It is formed by the Jordan River on its northern shore and is approximately 13 miles long, 7.5 miles wide and 140 feet deep. Surrounded by mountains and valleys, there can be a rise of sudden storms. It supplies Israel with fresh water for drinking and irrigation, as well as a vibrant fishing industry today, as in the time of Jesus.

A Boat Like Ours

The boat ride took us offshore where we had a church service. Before the service, an American flag was hoisted as we sang our national anthem.

Pastor Harold preached a brief sermon and we sang hymns. What a beautiful experience on The Sea of Galilee. 

Many momentous events in the life of Jesus occurred on the Sea of Galilee:

  • Jesus calmed the sea (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25)
  • Jesus walks on the surface of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:45-53, John 6:16-21, Matthew 14:22-33).
  • Other miracles were, when Jesus feed thousands of people  (Matthew 15:29-39, Luke 9:10-17).
  • Jesus taught the crowds by the shore (Mark 4:1-34) and preached while standing in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 13:2)
  • Before his Ascension, Jesus appeared in His resurrected body to seven of his disciples for a final miracle catch of fish by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14)

After all this, it is hard to believe there was more on today’s schedule, but there was!

Next up: Day 2, Part 2

Israel Day 3, Part 1 MAR 24, 2023

Day 3 we were up early, this time with our packed luggage since it was moving day. After breakfast it was time to board the bus where we had morning devotions and sang hymns along the way.

First stop today was Beit She’an National Park. Here, excavations discovered the ruins of at least 15 Roman and Byzantine cities layered on top of one another, estimated at 4,000-6,000 B.C. It is believed the population here was around 40,000 to 70,000 during the first and second centuries.

Model of the City

David’s mentor, King Saul and three of Saul’s sons were hung here on the city wall at the hands of the Philistines. It is thought that Jesus may have visited this area on his way to pilgrimages in Jerusalem.

Heated Water was Under the Floor of the Bathhouse

Mike, our guide, told us the area would be crowded today because 50 busloads of Indonesians were also visiting. As we neared the 7,000 seat Roman amphitheater built at the end of the 2nd century, we heard loud music and singing.

We were surprised to see a large gathering of Indonesians singing and praising Jesus. I recorded part of it with my phone. Tap the picture below to see video.

Later while exploring more of the area behind the amphitheater, we heard them singing “How Great Thou Art”. Just  beautiful. It is these unexpected encounters that are so special! Tap the picture below to see video.

In 749 the city was completely destroyed by a powerful earthquake.

We began to see a distinct change in the topography from fertile valleys to desert as we made our way to the Dead Sea. 

Next was Jericho where we spent quite a bit of time today. At 1,300 feet below sea level Jericho is the lowest city in the world. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho, the first of which dates back 11,000 years.

With city walls built ten thousand years ago, it is the oldest city on earth. We could see some of the remains of the walls of Jericho. The ancient settlement was surrounded by a massive stone wall over 12 FT high and 6 FT wide at the base, inside of which stood a stone tower, over 28 FT high. The excavated tower in 1930, here is the oldest human structure in the world to date (Stone Age 8,000 B.C.).

This is an Excavated 28 FT Tower

From Jericho we could see Mount Nebo and the area where God showed Moses the Promised Land and Joshua brought the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Jericho was the first Canaanite city they encountered.

Mount of Temptation, is a northwest mountain over the town of Jericho, where Jesus went off to pray and was tempted by the devil.

Mount of Temptation

During our eight days in Israel we were kept so busy we were not given many opportunities for shopping, but we did visit a shop here where they were selling spiced nuts and fresh dates. They had special mud bath lotions from the Dead Sea that are supposed to make you look twenty years younger. One clerk rubbed some on our arms to try it out. He then used a magnet to easily remove it. Of course there were plenty of Dead Sea beauty products to purchase. I passed.

We had lunch in Jericho and then everyone was given an opportunity to ride a camel. Five dollars for a three minute ride around the parking lot. Bill and I had both ridden a camel before so we passed this time. I felt sorry for the one poor camel who had to give rides to two bus loads of people. Our camel in Missouri had stairs to get on/off the camel while this camel laid down and got up for each rider. Our guide said the camel was well cared for by his owner and was taken to the vet for checkups. Sadly he didn’t look that healthy to us.

We stopped at Zacchaeus’ Sycamore Tree. Whether this is the exact tree Zacchaeus climbed is not known, but tests have shown that this tree is over 2,000 years old and stands in the same setting as the Biblical sycamore tree.

Luke 19:1-10 tells how Jesus entered Jericho and encountered Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector. Jesus stayed at Zacchaeus’ home to the dismay of his followers who saw Zacchaeus as a sinner. Zacchaeus then offered half his possessions as a gift to the poor and to compensate anyone he had cheated by four times the amount of money. The story is another example of Jesus reaching out to a sinner and offering salvation. 

Next up: Day 3 Part 2 Valley of the Shadow of Death, the Dead Sea Scrolls and floating in the Dead Sea 

Israel, Day 1 Part 2, MAR 22, 2023

Continuing on with the afternoon of our first day, after leaving Caesarea, we continued on to Tel Megiddo National Park, an ancient fortress ranging from 7000 B.C. to 332 B.C. The word “tel” means a hill created by many generations living and rebuilding in the same spot. Megiddo was one of the strongest and most important cities of Canaan. The remains of the palaces, temples, gates, and the sophisticated water system of the city are evidence of its great power, including the days of David and Solomon.

The symbol of the lion of the tribe of Judah was found at Megiddo. The book of Revelation references this symbol.

Since 1903 different archeological excavations have revealed at least twenty cities buried here, one on top of the other. It is the location of the first major battle recorded in history. Many battles have taken place at this site, including the improbable victory of the Israelite over the Canaanite forces which was celebrated in the oldest poem in the Bible, “Deborah’s Song” (Judges 5). 

View of the Jezreel Valley from the hilltop

In order to make the water supply more accessible and less vulnerable to attack, a 98 foot shaft and 230 foot tunnel was built to the spring. We were able to access this shaft and tunnel using modern steps located to the right of the still visible ancient steps. Our guide, Mike, gave everyone the choice of taking an easy shortcut back to the bus, or taking the longer and more difficult passage through the tunnel. Of course Bill and I took the more difficult route. I just wish Mike had been a little more descriptive of what the harder route was like. We descended 187 steps that were narrow, worn stone steps into a dark vertical shaft. The stone stairs at some point were replaced by open metal stairs with just enough light to see down into the shaft which gave one a sense of vertigo. We exited by climbing up 77 steps that left us winded.

Megiddo was conquered 25 times so it is seen as the likely location of Armageddon, the last great battle between good and evil at the End of Days when the forces of good will triumph over evil as described in Revelation. The word Armageddon is a combination of two words, Har Megiddo. Har means mountain or in this case Tel. Thus, Armageddon is Tel Megiddo. The name Megiddo appears eleven times in the Bible.

Leaving Tel Megiddo we passed through Nazareth on our way to Mount Precipice. We walked on part of The Gospel Trail, a 40 mile historical path that Jesus is believed to have taken when he left his childhood home in Nazareth for Capernicum on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which became the center of his ministry. The main section of the trail begins at Mount Precipice, a steep hill on the southern outskirts of Nazareth. We climbed a steep path to the top, and with a beautiful view of Jezreel Valley, our pastor read scripture and we sang several hymns. For Christians, Mount Tabor is believed to be the place of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, where Jesus began to radiate light and conversed with Moses and Elijah.

Mount Tabor

Mount Precipice is the location described in the New Testament (Luke 4:29-30) where Jesus angered the congregation of the synagogue in Nazareth when he hinted he was the Messiah. The people led him out of the city and were going to throw him from the top of Mount Precipice but he managed to escape and reach safety. After this, Jesus left Nazareth and headed to the Sea of Galilee. This is where the beginning of Jesus’s ministry really began.

Our First View of the Sea of Galilee

Our last stop of the day was at a baptism site on the Jordan River. Anyone who wanted to be baptized or rededicated could have this done by our pastor, assisted by Pastor Don Piper. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, closer to the Dead Sea. Our baptism site was not the location of Jesus’s baptism.  Years ago our pastor baptized people at the actual site but that section of the Jordan River is more polluted and unsafe. The last time our pastor used that site he slipped on a metal rail and badly cut his foot. It became infected and he was hospitalized. Now he uses a different site that is cleaner and safer with nice facilities. For $15 per person we received the use of a baptism gown as well as clean dressing rooms with restrooms and showers. Bill and I had both been baptized before, so this was technically a rededicating of our life to Jesus. I went first and then stood nearby while Bill was rededicated and we walked out of the water together. We had all been warned the water was very cold, and it was! It was a beautiful, meaningful experience and 85 people from our group were baptized or rededicated!

Our first day ended at Tiberias, where we would spend two nights. As you can already tell, our days were very full, usually up at 5:45 or 6:00 A.M., finishing each day around 5:00 or 5:30. We had been told when we signed up for the trip that it would involve lots of physical activity. But I think everyone, us included, was surprised at the amount of physical exertion expected of us every day. Usually 5+ miles a day of walking over hilly or unlevel terrain, cobblestone walkways and many, many stairs.

Next up: Day 2: a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, the Beatitudes and City of Magdala