Hidden Treasure in the Desert: Makhtesh Ramon
In the middle of the Negev desert in Israel lies a natural wonder, brimming with life suited to the harsh climate in which it exists. It is a geologist’s dream, stargazer’s paradise and must-see attraction for any nature-loving tourist.
As I stood at the beginning of the trail that would guide my way down the sheer slopes into the gorge, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of Makhtesh Ramon. Various rock formations, shadows of passing clouds and an ancient volcano dotted the landscape. It was a marvel of nature, which only grew more wondrous, as I approached the valley floor. Here the ground came alive with vibrant hues – yellow, red and purple rocks and mineral beds created small hills and valleys of colour. I quickly adjusted my mistaken idea of a desert being a lifeless and barren place!
What Makes Makhtesh Ramon / Ramon Crater Unique
Although it is often referred to as the Ramon Crater, this demonstration of nature’s immense power and beauty is really a makhtesh, the largest of its kind in the world. A makhtesh is a valley bounded by sheer walls and drained by a single riverbed. Makhtesh Ramon, forty kilometres long and up to eight kilometres wide, is situated in the centre of two nature reserves.
The Ramon area is home to many animals that only come out at night and early morning, yet my first sight on arriving at the Makhtesh Ramon was two delightful Nubian ibexes nestled together, lying on a wall built on the edge of the cliffs. Other animals that make Ramon their home include the leopard, striped hyena, sand fox, Dorcas gazelle and the fat desert rat. A variety of flora has also acclimatized to the arid conditions, such as Atlantic pistachio trees, buckthorn, globe daisies and tulips.
The shaping of Makhtesh Ramon was set in motion when the ocean that covered the desert began to move north and water, as well as other climatic forces, slowly started to flatten the curve on top. Much later, the Arava rift valley formed and the rivers began to change their flow. As this occurred, it carved out a deep gorge, unearthing rock dating from as far back as 220 million years.
Accommodations and Things to do at Makhtesh Ramon
The only settlement near Makhtesh Ramon is the small, welcoming community of Mitzpe Ramon; it offers accommodations for every budget and activities for the adventurous, as well as the luxury, traveller.
Disguised inside a partially abandoned hangar lies a charming bed and breakfast, ideal for groups of travellers, especially avid cyclists. The owners of Ibike, Menahem and Aviva, are delightful hosts, personally welcoming each guest and providing a delicious breakfast. They offer guided tours on mountain bikes for any level of fitness. The bicycle tour along the Albert Promenade, decorated with impressive environmental sculptures, offered another magnificent view of the makhtesh. Despite the rocky terrain, which made for a bumpy ride, I enjoyed every moment of the tour. Website: www.ibike.co.il
Also hidden behind the hangar’s façade is a fancy, yet affordable, restaurant with sumptuous creations of European cuisine and a hint of Mediterranean inspiration. The restaurant, Chez Eugene, attaches to a six-suite luxury hotel decorated in French romantic style. The French appearance and atmosphere is authentic, as the owner, Arnaud moved from France in 2005, fell in love with the Ramon area and decided to create a small piece of paradise in the desert. The hotel offers lavish rooms, with a Jacuzzi on the balcony, massages “a la carte” in one’s room and hospitable staff to ensure that the stay is unforgettable. Website: www.mitzperamonhotel.co.il
Despite being located in the middle of the desert, there is a multitude of things to do and see in the Ramon area. For activities, besides the hiking and bicycling, one can enjoy desert archery, jeep touring and rappelling.
Israel’s Commemoration of a Hero
The visitor centre in Mitzpe Ramon is in the midst of renovations, designed to commemorate Israel’s first astronaut, who died during the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. His name was Ilan Ramon. I wonder if people will eventually forget that the name of the region predates this fallen hero.