Makhtesh Ramon (in Hebrew: Ramon Crater) is a geological feature in the Negev desert. This crater is located next to Mitzpe Ramon settlement (Mitzpe in Hebrew means “Observation Point”).
Map of the area:
The crater is 40 km long, 6 km wide (on average) and 500 meters deep, and together with the surrounding area it forms Israel’s largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve.
Our tour will include a hike along the edge of the Ramon crater and a visit to the Visitors center (official site). Let’s begin.
My wife, as a bonus for good performance at work, received a coupon for a one night in one of the hotels in Israel. After checking different options we decided to stay at the family oriented Ramon Inn hotel (Pundak Ramon).
This city break was a spontaneous decision and hence we started driving in the direction of Mitzpe Ramon only at noon. The drive from Israel’s center area takes 2-2.5 hours (depending on your original location and traffic) and I would recommend making this route during daylight (since most of this road isn’t illuminated at night).
Hike along the edge of the Ramon Crater
We checked into Ramon Inn hotel and drove back to the visitors center which was already closed, so we opted for a hike along the edge of the Ramon Crater.
I was planning to shoot star trails, but it was too cold. I did bring hot clothes but didn’t expect near zero temperature (in February) with freezing winds. Thus I had to cancel my plan. So, if you are planning to shoot stars, and Mitzpe Ramon is one of the best places for this in Israel, or you are simply going to stay in this area, expect cold temperatures and bring proper clothing. In some winters it is even snowing at Mitzpe Ramon.
Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center
Next morning we returned to the same place, but this time for the visitors center (official site).
I’ve seen footage of Nubian Ibex coming to Mitzpe Ramon in search of food. They open garbage cans and eat whatever they find. Anyhow, it’s not uncommon to see Nubian Ibexes on the streets of Mitzpe Ramon. So, drive slower than usual.
Col. Ilan Ramon
Col. Ilan Ramon was Israeli Air Force pilot who became the first Israeli astronaut. He joined the NASA Columbia mission (in 2003). Unfortunately, he and six other crew members were killed in the re-entry accident.
Ramon is the only foreign recipient of the United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
This story becomes even sadder in 2009 when Assaf, Ilan’s eldest son, died during a routine training flight (he also joined IAF (Israeli Air Force) and was an F-16 pilot).
What’s the connection between Ilan Ramon and Makhtesh Ramon? Ilan’s original family name was Wolferman. But, when he joined IAF (Israeli Air Force), he changed his last name to Ramon. Many people in those years changed their last names to Hebrew names and Ilan loved the Ramon area, thus the selection.
Next, we moved to an area where geology of Makhtesh Ramon is explained.
They were formed by a long process lasting millions of years, which included rock sedimentation, folding and weathering. At first soft layers of land rock sediment, such as sandstone, were formed. After the region was flooded by the sea, harder marine rock sediments were formed above them, such as limestone. An ancient geological fault caused the rock layers to buckle and fold, creating an anticline while the region was still covered by the ocean. The rise of the anticline and retreat of the water caused the anticline to be exposed like an “island” in the sea. The hard upper layers of rock began to erode, exposing the soft layers underneath them. Subsequently, a system of large streams flowing westward left alluvium consisting of pebbles and more sand stone, and at a later stage the anticline rose again, asymmetrically, inclining eastward to the Arava due to the movement of the Great Rift Valley. The river flowing on the ridge eastward eroded the soft layers of sandstone, and the lift and incline enabled the sand layers at the heart of the anticline to empty quickly, thus creating the Makhtesh: a valley surrounded by tall cliffs, usually drained by a single stream.
Source: official site
Then we saw a short movie explaining the geological process. A movie was projected on a 3D model that constantly changes its form. Here you can see the explanation how the crater was drained by two rivers (Nahal Ramon and Nahal Ardon).
Some exhibits allow interaction, like finding Ammonite (see: Ammonite Wall in Ramon Crater). Kids can operate the handles and “excavate” the Ammonite:
Animals at Makhtesh Ramon
Last part of our tour was a short movie about the flora and fauna of the Makhtesh.
We already saw Nubian Ibex just next to the visitors center, but there are other species as well. For example Dorcas Gazelle, Arabian Leopard, Wild Ass, predators and reptiles. And here you can see a family of owls:
Next to the Visitors Center
We got off from the roof and decided to make a short stroll next to the Visitors Center. But, this time we went in the other direction, towards Beresheet Hotel.
You can purchase tickets for snapling. They weren’t going down all the way, rather only about 20 meters, so this activity is suitable for even younger kids.
Some call Makhtesh Ramon as the Israeli Grand Canyon. And though this description is not accurate, it sums it up in a very short manner. So, if you like these kinds of things it’s definitely recommended. Moreover, there are many POI nearby (browse the map at the top of this post), so you can easily spend several days in this area.
That’s all for today and I’ll see you in future travels!