I’m finishing up my third trip to Israel. We have family near Haifa in the north.

This was my first time heading to the southern resort city of Eilat, on the Red Sea. As you enter Eilat, Israel comes to a point. Jordan’s on the left, Egypt’s on the right. Saudi Arabia isn’t far off.

We traveled through the West Bank to get there and that — along with hours of open desert — is an adventure unto itself. We’re not on a tour; we did all the driving, which was another adventure. (I’ll do an entire column on Israeli drivers when I scrape my nerve off the road outside Be’er Sheva.)

Eilat was a welcome sight because it’s a lot like home. All of Israel bakes this time of year, but the humidity up north can be stifling. Eilat? It’s a dry heat…

As we left the city, we stopped at nearby Timna Park. It’s about a mile north of nowhere, and felt like it. It also felt like Arizona. A few minutes after we entered, it really felt like Arizona.

Lots in common

Timna Park was a wonderful find. Some of the soaring rock faces look like a mini Grand Canyon. Others, like Solomon’s Pillars, made us feel puny standing in their shadow.

We were climbing over a boulder at The Arches about a quarter-mile from our car when we got to the top and looked back. Now picture this — we’re in a foreign country in the middle of nowhere with nobody else around. It’s a lonely, hot, dry place.

That’s when we saw a guy in the parking lot, just looking at us. And looking.

Then he started walking our way. I climbed off the rocks to see what he wanted. As he approached, I couldn’t help but smile. Meet Ron, a ranger at Timna Park.

He’s 65 and spent 41 years on a nearby kibbutz, but is an American from Texas (via New York). But if you ask me, head to toe, the guy was an Arizona cowboy. He wore cowboy boots, jeans and a weathered cowboy hat. He looked like he’d just walked out of Tombstone, bringing a lot of dust with him. He even had a Texas drawl (he goes back every year).

Ron — I’d describe him as somewhere between Dennis Weaver on “McCloud” and Festus on “Gunsmoke” — got to talking about what’s in the rocks. Turns out, he wasn’t the only one who looked the part of Arizona. So did the land.

There’s a copper mine nearby, he said, and plenty of archaeological evidence that the area had been mined for thousands of years.

Heat, cowboys and copper mines. Heck, throw in a pickleball court and we could call it Green Valley.

The peak of mining in the area has been traced to the 10th century BCE, during the time of kings David and Solomon; it continued through the Middle Ages. I checked out a smelting camp that, when discovered, helped reconstruct the history of mining in the area. It also debunked decades-old thinking that the mine had been founded by Egyptians. You could only guess that made the day of every Israeli.

The mine was reopened in 1955 by David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, and closed about 20 years later.

Israel is full of natural and historic wonders, but nothing beats running into a guy like cowboy Ron — a welcome surprise who made the world seem a bit smaller and a lot friendlier.

— Dan Shearer

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