Northeast of Van we took highway E99 toward Dogubayazit (pronounced doe-BYE-a-zit). We stopped to look at a beautiful waterfall at Muradiye. Some of the guide books say that this road is bad, but we found it to be one of the best we traveled. This may be because it is used by the military who patrol the area. For several miles the road runs parallel to the Iranian border. In the highest elevation it was cold and there was snow along the highway - we stopped for Curtis and Kyle to throw some snowballs. The highest elevation was 8,668 feet. The region seems to receive much rain and ideal for herding sheep. The lushness of the grass reminded me of Wales.
As we came down to an elevation of 5200 feet, our first view of Mount Ararat was disappointing because the mountain was covered with dark clouds. We continued through Dogubayazit east a few miles to the Sim-Er Hotel on the Iran transit road.
We were the only guests in the hotel that night so we got the best rooms available with wonderful views of the mountain. Some of the explorers who have searched for the ark have stayed here including former astronaut Jim Irwin, whose autographed photo of his moon walk hung beside the reception desk.
Mount Ararat: Did the Ark Land Here?
Shortly after our arrival the clouds began to move away from the mountain and we had a clear view for excellent photos. The terrain around Mount Ararat (Agri Dag in Turkish) is bleak and this makes the mountain all the more impressive. Mount Ararat is known locally as Buyuk Agri (Greater Ararat) and is nearly 17,000 feet high. Snow covered the top third of the peak. The mountain is connected to Kucuk Agri (Lesser Ararat), a lower mountain which is under 13,000 feet high, by a ridge seven miles long.
The keeper of the hotel offered the services of one of his workers, Mustafa, to direct us to places of interest in the area. We headed toward the Iranian border and made beautiful photos of the now-cleared mountain. Some clouds hang around the top of the mountain most of the time but they move constantly making every photo unique. When we came to gates across the road we turned north on a dirt road. We were at the border of Iran and only authorized vehicles, like the TIR trucks, continue east. Mustafa asked some shepherd boys for directions and we continued to see a huge crater which was made when a meteor hit the earth in 1920. More interesting at the moment was the fact that we were surrounded by Turkish soldiers with their guns pointed toward Iran.
We asked Mustafa, who was able to speak both Turkish and Kurdish but little English, to take us to a place about 17 miles south of the summit of Mount Ararat about two miles from the Iranian border, at an elevation of about 5,200 feet, where some explorers have sought the ark for the past 35 years. We saw there a formation of 515 feet by 138 feet in a streamlined "boat shape." Several "ARKeologists", including David Fasold, Ron Wyatt and Marvin Steffins, have been initially convinced by their investigations that this site holds promise. The Learning Channel broadcast a film July 31, 1995, about the work of Fasold, Wyatt, and John Baumgardner. The following statement was added at the end of the film: "In 1992 the boat-shaped object was finally declared an official archaeological site by the Turkish Government. The site will be excavated in the summer of 1995." We saw no indication of any excavations when we visited on June 18.
Both William H. Shea and Clifford L. Burdick wrote articles in the Creation Research Society Quarterly about this site in September, 1976. Dr. John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research, who has headed a number of expeditions in search of Noah's ark, cites Dr. John Baumgardner, a geophysicist, who disproved the hypothesis that this formation might be the ark and found nothing of archaeological significance (Impact, Sept., 1992). Baumgardner wrote an article about the "boat formation" in 1986 in which he stated that a manmade, boat-shaped object containing an organized pattern of metal underground, with location and dimensions consistent with those of the biblical ark had been found ("Noah's Ark-Have We Found It?," Mission Journal, May, 1986). I have not yet located any more recent statements by Baumgardner.
When we returned to the hotel and cleaned up, we gathered in one of the rooms for a period of worship and study. Curtis directed our thought in a study about Noah and the ark. We looked at, and commented on, numerous passages which make reference to these subjects (e.g., Gen. 6-9; Mt. 24:37-39; Lk. 17:26-27; Heb. 11:7; 1 Pet. 3:18-21; 2 Pet. 2:5; 3:6).
The ark could have landed anywhere in Urartu, the mountains of Ararat. Traditions seem always to seek the highest point. One must remember that Agri Dagi is a large volcano which last erupted in 1840. Some have suggested that the ark, had it been hidden in the glaciers of this area, could not have survived. Discussion of the universality of the flood traditions and a history of efforts to locate the ark must wait for another time, place or person to develop.
We Saw a Rainbow at Mount Ararat
Kyle commented about what a wonderful trip we had enjoyed and especially how exciting it was to see Mount Ararat. He said the only thing more exciting would be to see a rainbow. Curtis and I opined, "That would be exciting." An hour or so later I heard Kyle yell, "There's a rainbow!" There was. We rushed out to photograph it, and I am pleased to write that I got a fairly good shot.
"And God said, `This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. And it shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. And God said to Noah, This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth'" (Gen. 9:12-17).
Agri Dagi may not be the exact place the ark landed, but the land of beginning again for Noah, Ham, Shem and Japheth was certainly in the region we had traveled through today - the mountains of Ararat.
During the night, I woke up about 12:30 a.m. and looked out toward the mountain. The sky was clear and star-studded; it reminded me of the night I climbed Mount Sinai. The shepherds were already moving their sheep to pasture by about 4:30 a.m. Before 5 a.m. the sun peeked over the mountain to herald a new day. The temperature outside my window was 51 degrees. In the hotel lobby was a display of rocks that had been brought from the mountain. There were also several fossilized sea shells in the collection. The men said these also came from Mount Ararat!
On the eighth day we drove north along the west side of the mountain to Igdir. This gave us an opportunity to see more of the mountain. Efforts to climb the mountain, which are presently not permitted, begin on the north side of the mountain. We were able to see into Armenia, part of the former Soviet Union.
Upon the return to Dogubayazit we encountered some rain. When we turned west on highway E80 toward Agri and Erzurum, Mount Ararat was covered with black clouds and rain. We had enjoyed a wonderful visit of the area.
A Satisfying Journey Completed
We decided to spend our last night in eastern Turkey at Erzurum, a much more modern town than we had seen for several days. The next morning we said goodbye to our rental car, in which we had traveled 1600 miles, at the airport and headed for Istanbul via Ankara. Shortly before landing in Ankara we saw the Halys River which marked the western boundary of the ancient Hittite Empire. In Istanbul we had time to visit the modern Galleria mall near our hotel. It looked just like any new mall at home; it even had a food court with McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Baskin Robins. We were nearly home!
Traveling with Curtis and Kyle was a real pleasure. Kyle was keeping a journal in preparation for a college course he was taking. Curtis, with his special interest in and knowledge of church history as well as biblical history, provided innumerable insights throughout the trip. The adventure continues in our minds and hearts.
Index of Articles on Biblical Sites in Eastern Turkey.