In the area between the east of Makhtesh Ramon and the Arava [plane] is a hiking route which is almost second to none in this country. Wilderness is maybe the best definition for the feeling that will accompany you during this route. The trail is suitable for good walkers only and is about 30 km [18.5 miles] long. The route will lead you from the eastern slopes of Makhtesh Ramon and the spectacular landscapes seen from their tops, through the streams and wadis that intersect the Tzinim Cliff [Matzok Tzinim] Nature Reserve toward the Arava.
The hikers that take this trail will enjoy the landscapes, plants, and geological phenomena which are inaccessible unless you hike by foot. This itinerary is designated only for good walkers and can be accomplished in 2-3 days. There are no sites where water and food supplies may be replenished, thus you must coordinate having food and water left in the area for you ahead of time, or otherwise you will have to carry all the water on your backs. Please read the following Management paragraph.
Management – Tips for the Trip
The length of this itinerary is 28 km [17 miles] which are divided to 12 km [7.5 miles] during the first day and 16 km [10 miles] during the second. The beginning of the trail is in Metzad Saharonim (Saharonim Fort) in Makhtesh Ramon (please see the Makhtesh Ramon itinerary) that can be reached by car.
Since water is unavailable throughout this trail, all gear for 2 days, including staples and water should be packed. Consider bringing with you a minimum of 5-6 liters [1.3-1.6 gallons] of water per person, assuming we are not talking about summer. For those who prefer not to carry this amount of water on their backs, you may coordinate having water and wood brought to the camping area with Itzic Ma’oz of Moshav Hatzeva, telephone 08-6581453.
This trail must be coordinated ahead of time with the army’s Southern Command by telephone 08-9902394/ 08-9902294. It is highly recommended to take the enclosed page of emergency numbers along with you .
It also possible to get to the Ramon Makhtesh with the bus to Eilat that goes through Makhtesh Ramon. In such an event, you should have to take a lengthy walk toward the beginning of the trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit other sites in the Makhtesh Ramon area . You can learn more about them from the Best of Makhtesh Ramon itinerary. When returning from the Sapir community [ending point] you can take the bus thatleaves from Eilat and heads toward the center of Israel. It is best to find out the schedule of this line with the Egged bus company , and plan the pace of your walk and stops in advance.
If you are going to use a GPS, click here to get the coordinates for this trail.
How to Get There
The sites which are described below are marked on thr map accessed above.
Follow Route 40 from Beersheba [Be’er Sheva] to Mitzpe Ramon and continue south to Mitzpe Ramon. After about 9 km [5.6 miles] you’ll come to a sign that directs you toward a dirt road heading left off the road . This dirt road, which is marked red in the footpath marking map system, leads toward Haniyot Be’erot . Drive along this dirt road for 5 km [3.1 miles] until you meet up with an additional dirt road with black markings at which you turn left. After another 800 m [2,625 feet] turn right, back to the red trail that leads to the car park next to Metzad Saharonim  where the trail begins.
The First Day
The car park next to Metzad Saharonim is called also Khan Saharonim. This was one of the caravansaries used by camel caravans that travel on the Petra-Gaza line in the time of the Nabataeans. The packed camels, overloaded with incense and perfumes, carried their goods along this desert footpath which is known better by the name the Incense Route. Along this trail the Nabataeans built safe places for lodging overnight. Those places were mostly in the vicinity of a water source. In this context Ein Saharonim [the Saharonim Spring] too is located less than 100 m from the fort. The 42x42 m quadrate khan can teach us many things about the Nabataeans and their way of life (you can learn more about the Nabataeans from the itineraries of the Nabataean cities – Shivta, Mamashit, Avdat, Nitzana).
After a short tour of the fort, start eastwardly walking along the red-marked dirt road . The path passes through Ma’ale Dekalim [the palm ascent] of the Ramat Saharonim [Saharonim highland]. While walking and climbing, the impressive landscape of the southern side of the Makhtesh will start to emerge. One of the formations that captures the eyes is that of Karbolet Haririm [the crest of cavities] - a Makhtesh wall that has been lifted up by subterranean geological forces in a way that its layers stand almost horizontally to the ground. Soon you'll be climbing this wall on your trail.
After 1.5 km [0.932 mile] you'll reach a footpath intersection. If you would like to settle here for the night and to sleep in Mif’ar Nekarot, continue along the red-marked footpath another 400 m [1300 feet] . If not, the trail continues via the black-marked dirt road that ramifies after 500 m [1,600 feet] when there is a split in the blue-marked trail . This trail with the blue markings (the turn to which may be easily missed) will accompany us throughout most of the trail.
Karbolet Haririm. After walking in the Makhtesh, the trail starts to climb up the ascent of Karbolet Haririm. This is not an easy climb at all; none the less, the landscape which awaits you afterwards is worth every droplet of sweat. After another 2.5 km [1.5 mile] walk you will reach elevation point 583 . The Makhtesh Ramon in all its glory will unfold in front of your eyes. From the north you will see Har Ardon [Ardon Mount] which geologists call relief inversion. And what do they mean by that? The current Ardon Mt. was a deep valley between two higher mountains once. With time these mountains eroded and were washed away by the rain and erosion until what was once mountains had turned into valleys which are currently known as the Machmal Valley (north of Ardon Mt.) and the Ardon Valley (south of it). Therefore, the very prominent Ardon Mt. was once no more than a valley. To the northwest you will see the Harut Hill which resembles a tapered point and subsequently to it the northern slopes of the Makhtesh.
After taking a rest and observing the area, continue on the Karbolet through elevation point 530 and 489. After 3 km [1.8 miles] the trail descends towards the Ma’ok Stream [the gorge stream]  in which it continues for 1.2 km [0.740 mile]. From the Ma’ok Stream  the trail begins to climb north toward the “saddle” of the Geled stream which is called ‘Ukaf HaAmonitim [the ammonite col]. If you have the time you can continue with the Ma’ok Stream an additional 300 m [980 feet] eastwards to search for ammonites on the bed of the stream.
An ammonite is a fossil of an animal that existed 65-90 million years ago during the Cenomanian- Turonian geological period. The ammonite was a mollusk enveloped by a shell that was created by cells with separating walls called septas. The cells were linked together by a vascular duct. The mollusk itself lived only in the last cell, of which lumen was the furthest from the seawater and tangential with it. From the exterior cell the mollusk controlled pumping the water inside and outside of the empty lumens of the shell, a monitoring mechanism that facilitated its movement by sinking and floating. The ammonite ceased to exist many million years ago and probably its extinction was simultaneous with that of the dinosaurs; notwithstanding, a family member, the nautilus, exists to this very day.
The desert fauna. All along the trail you will see the desert fauna emerging from out of the heat. Desert plants have different and varied mechanisms to cope with the scarce water and high temperatures. Usually you will see these plants in the middle of streambeds, areas that drain larger quantities of rain compared to other surfaces. Thus, you will come across many types of fauna on the trail: acacia raddiana sari, acacia tortilis, acacia strap flower, aethel, white broom, zilla spinosa, taily weed, guidium, deverra tortuosa and more.
The Geled Stream
The Geled Stream. Whether you find ammonites in the stream or you don't bother to look for them, continue with the trail with the blue markings toward the Ammonite Col  where you will see more ammonites, some of which may be broken. From the spot start the descent toward the Geled Stream. After 1.5 km [0.930 mile] you'll come to an impressive waterfall . The cleverly delineated trail goes down the fall through the range and returns to the fall. At the foot of the fall, you will witness the gigantic natural forces that bent and twisted these rocks. These immense forces have been working ever since the Ramon Rift reached this region. The resulting outcome of the folding, at the bottom of the waterfall, is called, ”the finger of God” by many hikers.
Four-hundred m [1300 feet] after the fall is a left turn (north) that diverts from the marked trail. Should you walk it, you will encounter Ein Geled [the Geled spring], a rare headspring in this region which, even during the last days of summer, is noticeable because of the moist soil surrounding it – you can dig to find its water. Furthermore, the footprints of animals that come here to drink water can be traced here too.
After visiting the spring, return to the blue-marked trail, continue an additional 1.5 km until you come to an 80 m high waterfall [262 f] . The trail will lead you to the foot of the fall, and to a water cistern which fills whenever flash floods gush through the stream. At this point you will be aware that north of the Geled Stream, is the junction of the Kamai and Geled streams, the water of the former also contributes its share. From this point onward, the stream is called the Kamai Stream. From the bottom of the waterfall you'll walk 600 m [2,000 f] to the camp site.
The camp site. It is located at the intersection of the Kamai and Nekarot streams. Lighting fires is allowed only on the circumference of the camp, and local tree or bush wood is not allowed to be used for this purpose since they serve as the habitat of many species of animals.
The Second Day
After breakfast you will leave the Kamai Stream and turn left (north) on a red-marked dirt road that passes through the Nekarot Stream. Follow its path for about 3.5 km [2 miles] until meeting with a splitting that leads back to the blue trail  - and be careful not to miss this split! The blue trail will lead you to the bottom of Har Yahav [Mt. Yahav] and climbs to its head in a safe and clever footpath. Any other trail that climbs Yahav Mt., apart from the blue-marked path, might be very dangerous and not time-saving, even if it seems shorter.
The ascent to Yahav Mt. takes 1.5 km and climbs up the two rather difficult levels and the plateau between them where you will be able to catch your breath. Here too at the peak of Yahav Mt.  the elevation is of 372 m above sea level and the landscape of the Nekarot Stream and the streams that converge with it is breathtaking. It is also the perfect place to have a quick meal.
From Yahav Mt. the blue-marked trail continues about 5 km [3 miles] in a streambed that flows down from Yahav Mt. into the Tzvira Stream where it joins, for short time, a 4WD road . At this point, in the middle of the Tzvira Stream (elevation point 108), there is another car park which is marked on the map. Continue on the jeep road for 200 m [650 f] to a point where the footpath splits again leftward [southeast]  and start climbing the 200 m toward Ramat Tzvira [Tzvira Highland] .
Ramat Tzvira and the fissures. The ascent to the highland will leave you breathless but after few sips of cool water you’ll recover your breath and enjoy this wilderness that seems as if it has been rediscovered for the first time. The bare mountains, winding streams, and the glory of the desert are all so breathtaking. At this outlook the Yahav Mt. can be seen from afar as well as the great distance you have hiked on your path to the Tzvira highland.
After this beautiful outlook it’s optional to leave the footpath and continue 300 m [984 f] north toward the phenomenon of the fissures (marked on the map).
The fissures are a fascinating geological phenomenon. While the upper layer of the Tzvira Highland is made up of hard calcareous rock which does not erode, the layer below it is made of soft chalkstone which has been very easily swept away by the rain and wind. Thus the harder calcareous layer remains superimposed on a frail foundation. The lack of a sound basis results in fissures that have gradually become wider until they break off and fall to the canyon below them. Some of these fissures might be immensely deep, and if you’d like to visit such fissures you should be very careful.
After visiting the fissures, you shall go back to the trail and proceed toward the eastern side of the Tzvira Highland where impressive fissures can also be found. The trail will lead you down the highland toward the Eshboren Stream [the plateau stream]. There, after a 1.5 km descend from the highland, near an acacia tree, the footpath turns to the south in the Eshboren Stream  in order to circumvent elevation point 178. After walking another 1 km the trail will head north in the direction of the Karkeshet Stream .
In this region you can sense that you are coming closer to the Arava [plane in Hebrew] when the area becomes flatter, with mainly low hills and wide streams implanted with desert plants.
In the Karkeshet Stream you’ll witness a geological phenomenon which is rare in Israel, it is called caldera –a mouth of an inactive ancient volcano that its sides have collapsed inwardly. This fact can hardly even be noticed while passing there; however the remnants of tuff and scoria, rocks created by volcanic eruption, testify that it is indeed an ancient volcano. A volcanic intrusion is drawn from the caldera toward Sapir for 1 km and it looks like a black line that was drawn with a ruler along the caldera.
The trail leads toward the outlet of the caldera  while the spectacular view of the Arava and Sapir are seen for the first time. From here you continue on the blue-marked trail that flanks from south  the fence of the Communal Settlement, and proceeds another 3 km [1.8 mile] until it reaches the entrance to the settlement  near a gate which is located close to a calotropis procera, which is otherwise known as Sodom’s Apple.
The Sapir community is named after Pinchas Sapir, a former Minister of Finance. It was established in 1976 as the communal center of the settlements of the northern Arava. The place hosts the local school, council, a convention hall, and dwellings for the administrative personnel.
The itinerary ends at the gate of the settlement; however it’s very advisable to walk the extra mile to Sapir Park outside the settlement and enjoy its lake of high groundwater and lawns.
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