Hiking memo: King Talal Dam and its lake
21 March 2018
What could you do with your family, during a week-end already packed with several birthday celebrations? What about enjoying its time in this greenish month of march, before the flora will turn dry and yellow in a couple of months?
Answer : by finding a nice spot in the north, not too far away from Amman, to the prospective of getting fresh air and pretty views. The King Talal dam hike is an ideal package : you can wake up late (if you consider that getting up a 9am is actually a late wake up), take your car for a short drive (45 minutes from Amman), have lunch on the lake banks, and get back to Amman before 3p.m.
Before getting into the usual debrief of the hike, here’s some figures and facts on King Talal dam and its lake ( “سد الملك طلال” (“sad al malik Talaal” en arabe! ). Talal was the father of king Hussein, thus the grand-father of King Abdallah 2. He only reigned for a year, from 1951 to 1952, because of a disease.
KING TALAL DAM, WHAT IS IT EXACTLY?
Much more than many other countries, Jordan is very aware of the strategic stakes of getting access to fresh water . With less than 250 mm of rainfall per year in Amman (3 times less than in Paris), this is quite understandable… And in a country with only 3 persistent rivers, of which 2 are shared with neighbouring countries (Israel and Syria), the Zarqa river was the only one that could be used as a “national asset”, without having to be shared with other nations…
So, in 1971, with emirati fundings and an Yougoslavian support, the erection of the dam started. The construction project took 7 years, and the dam began to operate as of 1978. Now why UAE and Yougoslavia? Probably because at that time, Jordan was very concerned with major crisis…(remember the Yum Kippur war in 1967, or the “black September” of 1970 against the palestinian activists), which could explain a form of arab solidarity. Furthermore, at those times, Jordan didn’t have the full support from USA, and the country was still technically in war against Israël…
The dam is 92 meters high, which make the flood control system look like a pretty nice ski jump ! Check it out from above:
The lake can contain 90 millions of water cubic meters (equivalent to a 1X1 square kilometre, with a 90m depth). It also includes 2 X 2 MW turbines. Actually, it isn’t that much, as it basically represent the equivalent of 2 industrial windmills. It enables the dam to provide electricity to approximatively 4 000 houses. Thus, the key interest of the dam has few to do with hydro-electricity. It has though very much to do with water managing and supplying. According to a 1999 study, the dam enables to irrigate 17 000 hectares, and to support the livelyhood of more than 120 000 people!
All in all, for all those who feel a passion for the water issues in the Levant 🙂 , please check out this very good post from the Institut français du Proche-Orient (IFPO) – in french language, sorry – , under the theme of the “chronologie hydropolitique au Proche Orient”.
- Lenght: from 0 (“all-car” option) to 9km back and forth if ou leave the car at the entrance gate ;
- duration : from 2 hours (including the lunch), up to the whole day if you feel like walking 🙂 ;
- the map (no .gpx file but the itinerary is pretty obvious). Please ask us if you want further advice;
- Difficulty : easy, even for young kids. Just be cautious around the dam area : the railings are not secure. Lake banks can be exposed at some points;
- Access: from North-East, you hae to cross the motoway bridge upon river Zarqa. The site is closed with a fence…and guardians…You can park, but you have to negociate to go on by car. Feasible though.
What we liked:
- A perfect hike for the spring: youll see blue, green, freshness! :-);
- An awesome and surprising view on the lake, especially compared to the south;
- A nice and familial atmosphere, and only few people in general.
What we didn’t like:
- the garbage dumping on the lake banks, which can spoil the picnic : definitely, some urgent effort should be done regarding education and environment;
- various waste (plastic, polystyrene…) carried away with the current, and floating on the surface of the lake…;
- Absolutely not a single sign of touristic development (restaurant, rest house, garbage, coffee shop…).The absence of infrastructure is just fine, as long the users of the site respect the environment…which is clearly not the case for some of them. And the touristic potential is not exploited at ALL…too bad!
Once your dropped you car at the entrance parking lot (or once we successfully managed your negociation to enter the site with your car 🙂 ), there is a nice road heading west, along the north bank of the lake. The road is empty, except a couple of technician or military cars…. The views on the lake are truely splendid (and no, this is not Switzerland, but Jordan, for good ! 🙂 )
The lake is perfect blue from a distance…and its color suddenly becomes brown when you get closer :-). But to be honest, both colors are fine, as you don’t get used to observing so much water in Jordan in general. Oh, and by the way, the lake also contains most of the waste-but treated- water coming down from Amman…After 3 kilometers, the dam itself is visible:
Speaking of “garbage dumping”…What you actually see on the picture is not a white sand beach…it is a layer of various waste, floating on the surface of the water. This is the (only) bad point of this hike, and the issue is fortunately focused in specific places.
Once you’re here, it would be a pity to forget to visit the dam evacuation, 92 meters below. 2 water turbines actually produce electricity 24 / 7. This is what you could expect to observe, when the water gets out of the turbine outlets:
For sure, the 30-ish meters water jet is very good for skin -peeling, but probably a little less for the kid’s heath. This is why you want to be cautious with them at this point of the hike.
If you walk a little bit, most of the banks can be reached by foot. But if you have young kids, it is better to go to the entrance area to find an appropriate place, as the banks are less steep there…So the parents can also enjoy their meals there, instead of keeping an close eye on the kids!
And finally…make sure you have time to WASTE all around the lake…. The surroundings are full of flowers, flora, fauna…Just enjoy !
There is a great potential for hiking. The best option would probably be to visit the place with a mountain bike, beacause all the hills around the lake are furrowed with paths and trails!
Quite a big altitude difference to take into account. A mountain bike hike will be scheduled in the next months :-). Wanna be part of?
Enjoy, share…and ask questions !