Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center in Mitzpe Ramon tells the story of the first Israeli astronaut and the Ramon crater.
Note: you can find additional information at Mitzpe Ramon and Makhtesh Ramon.
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Mitzpe Ramon is a small town in the Negev desert, around 80 km south of Beer Sheva. Mitzpe Ramon is located on the edge of Makhtesh Ramon. And it is a good point to start exploring Makhtesh Ramon. Moreover, Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center is located in Mitzpe Ramon.
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Directions for public transport: Link to Moovit
Interactive map of the area:
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Here is a more detailed map from the brochure provided at the visitor’s center.
Note: you can click on the map to enlarge it.
You can find a free parking lot near Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center.
Our latest visit was early in the morning. And since it was quite chilly, a dozen Nubian Ibexes lay on the ground and warmed up in the sun’s rays.
Nubian Ibexes come to Mitzpe Ramon in search of food. They open garbage cans and eat whatever they find. It is common to see Nubian Ibexes on the streets of Mitzpe Ramon. So, drive slower than usual.
Here is a photo of Nubian Ibexes warming up and the “balcony viewpoint” in the background.
An important tip regarding parking, though my first instinct is to park in shaded areas, do not park the car near or under trees. Nubian Ibexes tend to climb on top of cars and use them as a step to reach the tree’s leaves.
Sunday – Thursday and Saturday: 8:00 – 17:00 (16:00 in winter).
Friday: 8:00 – 16:00 (15:00 in winter).
On holidays eves usually 8:00 – 13:00.
Note: since the pandemic, Israel Nature and Parks Authority has started to limit the number of people in each park. Thus, reservations are recommended through the official site (you can find the link below).
Adult – 28 NIS, child – 14 NIS, and student – 24 NIS. Free for National Parks annual subscribers.
If you visit several National Parks, then consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in March 2023. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
Colonel Ilan Ramon
My previous visit to Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center was about a decade ago, and since then, it was expanded significantly.
An entirely new section in memory of Colonel Ilan Ramon was constructed.
Colonel Ilan Ramon was an 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.
We took a lift to the second floor from the first floor, where we saw the shuttle model. There we saw a short movie about Ilan Ramon.
This story becomes even sadder when 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).
When the movie ended, the shutters opened, and you could see the beauty of Makhtesh Ramon:
What is 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 changed their last names to Hebrew names in those years, and Ilan loved the Ramon area, thus the selection.
The next exhibitions tell the story of Makhtesh Ramon. And it starts with geology.
The Makhteshim, looking like enormous basins opened up among the Negev ranges, is a unique natural phenomenon in the world. The 40-km long Makhtesh Ramon is the largest and most impressive, and visitors are provided a glimpse of the magic and secrets of the desert.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
We went to an area where the geology of Makhtesh Ramon is explained.
They were formed by a long process lasting millions of years, including rock sedimentation, folding, and weathering. At first soft layers of land rock sediment, such as sandstone, were formed. After the sea flooded the region, 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. At the same time, the ocean still covered the region.
The rise of the anticline and retreat of the water caused the anticline to be exposed as an “island” in the sea. The hard upper layers of rock began to erode, revealing the soft layers underneath them. Subsequently, a system of large streams flowing westward left alluvium consisting of pebbles and more sandstone. At a later stage, the anticline rose again, asymmetrically, inclining eastward to the Arava due to the Great Rift Valley movement. The river flowing on the ridge eastward eroded the soft layers of sandstone. 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.
Then we saw a short movie explaining the geological process. A video was projected on a 3D model that continually changed its form. Here you can see the explanation of 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.
The last part of our tour presented a short movie about the flora and fauna of the Makhtesh.
We already saw Nubian Ibex next to the visitors center, but there are also other species. For example, Dorcas Gazelle, Arabian Leopard, Wild Ass, predators, and reptiles. And here, you can see a family of owls.
Makhtesh Ramon has a broad range of rocks, soil, and climate. All these create a wide variety of conditions and plant biomes in a small geographic area and enable many animals to find the best environment for them. The cliffs of the Makhtesh, its mountainous slopes, the beds of the streams, the springs in the oases, and the sandy regions are all unique habitats, each containing different species of reptiles, mammals, and birds. The special conditions in the desert, particularly the lack of water and the extreme temperatures, have forced the animals to develop specific traits with the help they manage to survive and multiply. Due to the heavy heat prevailing in the desert during the day, we do not usually meet the animals themselves while walking in reserve, but we can find many signs testifying to their existence and activity
What Animals Can Be Found in Makhtesh Ramon?
Nubian Ibex, Dorcas Gazelle, And Wild Ass
The Nubian Ibex (Capra Nubiana) – a herbivore mammal very well adapted to life on mountains and cliffs. The ibex live in separate male and female herds, and the males have impressive curved horns. When the State of Israel was established, ibex in Israel were a threatened species. However, preservation efforts led to their rehabilitation, and they are presently widespread in the Judean and Negev deserts. Due to the efforts to preserve the ibex, Nature and Parks Authority chose that animal as its symbol. Ibex live in the vicinity of human habitation. They are habituated to humans and are not deterred by their proximity. It is important not to feed the ibex, as human food leftovers might be harmful to their health.
The Dorcas Gazelle (Gazella Dorcas) is a herbivore mammal living in herds in desert regions. Due to uncontrolled hunting, the Dorcas gazelle became extinct in most of its habitats in the world. In Israel, populations are living in the Arava and the southern Negev.
The Wild Ass – this animal disappeared from Israel at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1982 Asian wild asses (Equus hemionus) were released into Makhtesh Ramon, and due to natural increase, and the release of more of these animals, their population has grown, and their numbers are presently estimated at 250-300 individuals living in the Makhtesh Ramon and Borot Lots.
Note: if you want to find additional info about animals and wildlife, then check out Zoos and Aquariums in Israel.
The Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) – a feline predator living a solitary life in a defined territory. In the past, there were leopards in the Negev and the Judean Desert. But in recent decades, their numbers have dwindled, mainly because of the reduction and fragmentation of open areas and hostility by humans who felt threatened by them. The leopard population in Israel is presently estimated to consist of a very few individuals who live in the Negev Mountains region.
Predators. Some nocturnal canine predators live in the Makhtesh: wolves, foxes, and hyenas. Although there are many differences between them, they are territorial, living in a clear-cut social structure, dwelling in burrows or dens, and preying on other animals. Due to their size, the wolves’ prey animals are larger than those of the foxes. As well as hunting, hyenas also eat carrion, including their bones. They all eat fruit, vegetables, and food leftovers from the garbage left by hikers in the wild. The garbage endangers the health of these animals and causes them to get used to unnatural food sources and humans’ proximity.
Reptiles – a variety of reptilian species live in the Makhtesh: snakes, some of them poisonous, such as Field’s horned viper, the painted carpet viper, and some not, such as the diadem snake and the sand snake. Many lizards, among them Bosc’s fringe-toed lizard, the small-spotted lizard, the striped lizard, and the ocellated skink. Agama lizards living in the Makhtesh include the star lizard, the desert agam, the Sinai agama, famous for changing its color to blue during the breeding season, and the Egyptian mastigure, the largest of Israel’s agama lizards, reaching a length of 75 cm and a weight of 3 kgs. The grey monitor is another interesting reptile living in the Makhtesh. It is the largest of the lizards in Israel, attaining a length of 1-1.5 m. It is diurnal, preys on small animals, and hibernates in winter.
The Biblical vulture is one of the largest and most impressive of the raptors in Israel and the whole world. Vultures in Israel, including in the Negev, are almost extinct and even there the population has dwindled, due to various kinds of human activity, including poisoning.
One of the guides showed us a side door. This path leads to the roof. Here is the room where we saw the movie about Ilan Ramon and the crater.
Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center is a good place to start exploring the area. Besides getting familiar with Makhtesh Ramon, you can also ask the guides to help you plan the hike. Moreover, you can find additional information (including suggested hikes) in Mitzpe Ramon and Makhtesh Ramon.
Have you ever been to Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.