Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon mortar) offers plenty of hiking routes and adventures for desert-lovers. The spectacular views, the unique geological phenomena, and the peace and quiet of the desert merge into one harmonious picture of total beauty in Makhtesh Ramon. Many of the trails are enjoyable, and I gathered here the "best" and "musts" of these trails in Makhtesh Ramon.
To enlarge your understanding of Makhtesh Ramon just discover the many trails which are hidden in it. The trails below are ring-routes, their difficulty level is suitable for all the family and I indicated their length at the beginning. Remember to take into account when you hike in the desert that you rarely walk in shadowed places so bring with you hats and water (I recommend that not less than 3 liters [101 ounces] per person for trip that lasts half a day). The best time for hiking is during autumn, winter, and spring when the weather is relatively mild.
How to Get There
Drive on Route 40 from Beersheva to Mitzpe Ramon. Follow the prominent sign at the exit from the town, before the descent to the Makhtesh. The sign-post can be seen from the road and it directs toRamon Visitor Center.
Before You Start Hiking...
Up until August 2012 the Visiting Center will be close due to development and refurbishing works and due to building a national commemorating center for Ilan Ramon [the first Israeli astronaut], of blessed memory, and therefore some of the next paragraph is partly irrelevant. Albeit visiting the center is not available right now, still it is warmly recommended to stop at the Visiting Center, and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes from the outlook and the hot coffee and beverages at the café. It is equally recommended for those who haven't visited yet in the Ramon Visitor Center to begin their trip there before driving down the ridges of the Makhtesh. The Visitor Center is located on the tip of the north crest of the Makhtesh, and wherever the eye rest when you take a view from that spot it drinks the unbelievable landscapes of this geological phenomenon. Enjoy the audio-visual light show in the Visitor Center that explains how the Makhtesh was formed and supplies additional information and illustrations. In 2004, the center was supplemented with an amazing observation point and with textual explanations along the panoramic view.
The HayRamon Wildlife Center is just adjacent to the Visitor Center, with its desert garden and models of various local habitats. Visitors to the Wildlife garden can learn about the unique, complex and diversified ecological systems of the desert. The zoological center hosts not less than 40 species of small desert animals. They are exhibited in the setting of their subsistence areas and natural environments. The display consists of various reptiles including snakes, lizards, chameleons, turtles, as well as varied arrayal of rodents e.g. spiny mice, fat sand rats, porcupines and also hedgehogs, snails and scorpions. Six typical fauna habitats of the area are planted around the Center, in a botanical-ecological garden. The garden includes a varied range of plants, displayed in their characteristic rockeries and surroundings. Hay Ramon is an excellent place to visit with kids.
· Ramon Visitor Center: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
· Hay Ramon: April – September: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Fri: 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM; October – March: 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM; Fri: 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Integrated entrance fee for Ramon Visitor Center and Hay Ramon: individuals: adults: NIS 27; children: NIS 15; groups: adults: NIS 23; children: NIS 13 (a separate ticket for each center is available too).
Phone no.: 08-6588691, 08-6588698
How was the Makhtesh Formed?
How was the Makhtesh formed? To illustrate this, firstly there is a need to differentiate this Makhtesh and others Makhteshim in Israel, e.g. the Makhtesh Gadol and Makhtesh Katan (and smaller, less impressive ones in the Negev and Sinai e.g. Makhtesh 'Arif al-Naka, Makhtesh Har 'Arif, Makhtesh Jabel Ya'alek, Makhtesh Ma'arah and Makhtesh Jabel Hal'el). They all differ substantially from other craters in the world. The Makhteshim were formed by a unique geological phenomenon. So how did it happen?
It is all about a small crack… Because of a geological folding, some small cracks were formed in the anticline. (A) Rainfalls have found a way to permeate into these cracks, which subsequently became wider. When the water met with the limestone at the ridges, it was widened slowly, according to the dissolution level of its chalk, but when the water met with the sandstone of the ridges, it easily and happily swept away with it the sand (B). Hence, this process resulted in a strange situation in which the limestone stratum was still standing on its place while the sand underneath it was vanished. When the burden of the limestone weight became too high it fell and collapsed, further enlarging thus the ridge that meanwhile became a small Makhtesh (C). This physical weathering process has been continuing for millions of years, and resulted in widening the surface of the Makhtesh.
Going down to the Makhtesh
After stopping at the visitor center, continue with route 40 southward and start descending at Ma'ale Atzma'ut (Independence Climb) to the Makhtesh. After driving for about 6 kilometers [3.7 miles] you should meet with a sign that directs to a good dirt-road, marked green in the footpath marking map; follow it to Ha-Minsarah [The Carpentry].
The Minsarah is a fascinating geological phenomenon, a sandstone hill with exposed symmetrical hexagonal prisms of sandstone laid in piles like wooden plates in a carpentry. This unique geological phenomenon is explained by a process in which magma had permeated into the hills, which resulted in the sandstone at the top of the hill being melted, liquefied and consolidated, and finally formed into columns of hard quartzite stone.
After a short drive on the dirt-road, park the car and start the short ring-trail which leads on top of special lifted wooden plates that allows walkers to pace above the quartzite prisms without damaging them. Please walk and follow the wooden platform.
After visiting this impressive site, return to the road and drive southward. After driving for 6 kilometers [3.7 miles] follow the sign that directs to a dirt-road which splits leftwards from the asphalt road. It is marked red in the footpath marking map and leads to Henyon Be'erot [Be'erot camping site] . Drive more 5 kilometers [3.1 miles] to a crossroad of two dirt-roads, and turn left to a black-marked road , and after 100 m [238 feet] reach Henyon Be'erot.
Be'erot is a camping site located at the middle of web spider of the Makhtesh Ramon routes. The camping facilities include toilets, sheds thatched with palm leaves, tables and benches, shadowed places, and facilities for cooking and dishwashing. This is the only certified camping at Makhtesh Ramon. Tents are allowed at the lodging area, and there is also an authentic Bedouin tent, for those who prefer lodging in a style of men of the desert. The Bedouin hosting includes tea, coffee, fatir [a Bedouin flatbread] and substantial dishes. Lodging for groups is available too but coordination is needed in advance. Call tel. 08-6586713, 0505-375265.
Hiking down at the Makhtesh Surface
It is optional to continue from Be'erot camping site to a number of easy and nice trails which are suitable for all the family. The most renown among them are Giv'at Harut [Harut hill] and to Metzad and Parsat Saharonim [Saharonim fort and Saharonim hoof]. Both are circular trails and hiking them is optional: sequentially or separately. But for completing both trails at one time, it is recommended to have a whole day for it, starting at morning.
Go north from Be'erot camping site through the black-marked dirt-road until a right turn toward a red-marked dirt-road . Drive 1 more kilometer [0.62 mile] on this road and arrive to another crossroad. There take the left branch of the Y-junction, a dirt-road marked black in the footpath marking map. This dirt-road leads to Saharonim day parking. Leave your vehicles and embark on the 2.5-km circular trail that might demand two hours to complete.
A dirt road goes down from the parking toward Nahal Ardon [Ardon canyon], which is a short and impressive canyon that drains the southern part of Ardon valley and converge with Nahal Nekarot [the crevices canyon] that digresses out from the Makhtesh. The black slopes of Giv'at Harut can be seen from the beginning of this trail. The color of the hill testifies for the immense heat of the magma that melted the sandstone in its way, gushed through it and thus the hill was formed.
After walking for 500 m [1,600 feet], and next to a big acacia tree, meet a ramification of the canyon that leads left and outside of the canyon toward a blue-marked path. This route leads northward to Har Ardon [Ardon mount], and it will lead you to the northern hillside of Giv'at Harut, which can be seen from just everywhere in the surroundings and which looks like a small volcano.
Go up on the mild ascent, and after about 500 meter you will come to a trail junction, where the blue trail turns to the left, while the red trail continues straight and slightly turning right. In this junction, there is an additional black trial, which is not marked in the map and climbs up to the head of the hill. Embark with the short but steep climbing to the pick of Giv'at Harut. Although climbing might be perceived as a difficult from the foot of the hill, it is actually quite easy and can fit everybody in the family, and it takes only few minutes to do it. The beautiful view on top of Giv’at Harut warrants every difficult second of the climbing …
The spectacular outlook from the top of this hill gives a panoramic view of the entire area – Saharonim height - in the south, Ardon valley - in the north-east, Makhmal valley in the north, and Makhtesh Ramon is north and east to you. Ardon Mountain in the north exemplifies what is called by geologists "relief inversion", and what does it means? Well, actually the Ardon Mountain that you see today was once a valley between two higher mountains. Gradually, through erosion and abrasion, these mountains washed away, until what were once two mountains can be recognized today as Makhmal and Ardon valleys – left and right to Ardon mountain, respectively. So Har Ardon, which is very prominent in the landscape of the Makhtesh, was once a valley.
The vastness of the Makhtesh, 40 km long and 9 km wide [24 X 5.5], is visible to the eye from the top of this hill. In a matter of fact, Makhtesh Ramon is larger than the big Makhtesh.
Relish the view, take some photographs and inhale the clean mountain air, and then return to the bottom of the hill in the same way as you arrived. After descending on the gradient of the slope, turn left with the red-marked trail and then encounter again the Nahal Ardon. Continue to walk 700 meters [2,300 feet] through the red-marked trial which after awhile joins again with Ardon canyon on a black-marked trail. It is the place of another amazing geological phenomenon, which is called "dyke", a bulge of a rock that brakes through existing rock strata, sometimes folding them and forming a distinct stratum line, which stands perpendicularly in a straight angle to its surrounding layers. There are some outstanding dykes down at the canyon, opposite to the route that returns to the vehicles at the parking lot. Those with the time and energy can continue and turn left, swerve from the red trail toward a black one and continue for 1 km [0.62 mile] to the dyke. Others can turn right and return to the vehicles and can have a nice break under the shadow of an impressive acacia tree that grows there.
After walking for 400 meters [1,312 feet] at the riverbed, you will reach a very unusual thicket. There is good chance to find some water among the reeds. This is Ein Ardon spring, a tiny one, but very significant around the context of desert life. You can also trace some animal marks and try to guess who the visitors to the spring were. After Ein Ardon, walk shortly to the parking and to your vehicles.
Metzad Saharonim and Parsat Nekarot
After Giv'at Harut drive back and follow a good dirt-road. Then it is intersected by a red-marked trail with which you arrived. Turn at this point left toward the day parking of Metzad Saharonim [Saharonim fort]  and leave the car. Continue with a circular 5-km trial [3.1 miles] for 3 walking hours.
The camping next to Saharonim fort is called Khan Saharonim [Saharonim caravanserai]. It used to be one of a chain of caravanserais that were used by camel caravans along the Nabatean Incense Route, from Petra to Gaza. Overloaded with spices and incenses, the camel caravans were bringing their merchandise alongside a path in the desert called the Incense Route. The Nabatean built along this line well-organized lodging places for night stay. Usually these places where in approximation to a water source, and in this case too, Ein Saharonim [Saharonim spring] is very close to the fort, about 100 meters away. There is a lot to learn from the 42 x 42 meter square caravanserai. If you find it interesting click for additional stuff about the Nabateans and for more itineraries of their cities, Shivta, Ovdat, Mamashit, and Nitzana.
After a short exploration of the fort, begin hiking eastward on the red-marked dirt-road. The road goes through Ma'ale Dekalim [the palm climb] on Saharonim heights. From this ridge there is an impressive view of the southern Makhtesh which unfolds during the hiking and descending. One of the geological formations that catches the eye is Karbolet Haririm [Haririm cockscomb], the edge of the Makhtesh that subterranean powers had bended it upward until its strata were raised almost perpendicularly to the ground level.
After walking for about 1500 m [4,900 feet] on the trail you reach the riverbed of Nahal Nekarot, a conjunction point of some trails . Take an almost a U-turn that winds toward Parsat Nekarot with the blue-marked trail.
Parsat Nekarot is part of Nahal Nekarot, a 3-km long twist that looks like a hoof on the map. At this area the canyon is relatively narrow and passes next to a beautiful crag.
During walking there realize the rich desert vegetation. Since this canyon drains water from the entire area, it facilitates the growth of plants during the long dry seasons that flourish on the riverbed because it supplies them more rain water. Among others species try to find there the acacia raddiana, acacia tortilis, and acacia strap flower that climbs on both of them, spiny zilla, taily weed, gnidium, and deverra tortuosa.
Those of you who are able to walk quietly and open their eyes try to approach a family of Nubian ibexes that may feed from a nice dinner on this vegetation.
After walking for 2.2-km [1.37 miles], locate a descent with black marking that goes down on your left side and leads down from Har Saharonim. Stick to the blue-marked trail that continues hitherto on the canyon for another kilometer until it comes to Ein Saharonim, Saharonim fort, and the parking. Note that another trail from Har Saharonim, marked green in the footpath marking map, adjoins to the canyon.
For further reading about the Makhtesh click here to UNESCO pages about this World Heritage Site.
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