The Jordan emerges from an area of stately date groves near the first kibbutz, Degania, flows past the Pilgrim’s Baptismal Site and becomes the peaceful border between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In fact, you can cross into Jordan at the Sheikh Hussein Bridge, just opposite the city of Beit Shean.
But even before you get to Beit Shean, with its fabulous biblical, Roman and Byzantine remains, you can learn about the region’s rich prehistory at the Kibbutz Sha’ar Hagolan Museum, and then drive up to the Crusader fortress of Belvoir to get an overview of the magnificent landscape. At the Kfar Ruppin Birdwatching Center you’ll discover that the Jordan Valley, part of the Syrian-African Rift, is not only a famed ancient highway; it is one of the world’s major bird-migration routes.
From ancient to modern history means just a short drive in this valley: South of Belvoir is Naharayim, where the Yarmuk River flows from the east into the Jordan, the reason the Middle East’s first hydroelectric power plant was founded here in 1932. At nearby Old Gesher you’ll hear the story of that technical wonder of its day, along with the saga of the area’s historic bridges and of Kibbutz Gesher in 1948. The Jordan River Peace Park is an exciting, future cross-border project of this area.
As you continue south, you’ll enjoy the gradually changing landscape, becoming increasingly arid as it eventually dips to around 400 meters below sea level. Thanks to modern irrigation techniques, the region is dotted with orchards, date groves, vineyards, and flower and vegetable greenhouses, and you’ll also see shepherds with their flocks.
Further south, you’ll pass the area where the Israelites crossed the Jordan, and you’ll see their first destination, the rich oasis of Jericho, the oldest city in the world. The road detours the city and passes the entrance to another Jordan crossing, the Allenby Bridge. Next, near the T-junction where you’ll decide whether to continue southeast to the Dead Sea or northwest to Jerusalem, a sign directs you to the inviting Greek Orthodox monastery of Dir Hijleh.