The makhteshim are a unique geological feature on a world scale. Makhtesh Ramon is the largest of the makhteshim in Israel.
The nature reserve contains geo-morphological phenomena which are unique in the world.
There is a variety of desert habitats in the reserve and a unique biological range.
Rare species of plants grow here, and of the many animals living here some are unique to this reserve. Location in IsraelCentral Negev, about 70 kms south of Be'er Sheva, on Road 40.
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 very common in the Judean and Negev deserts. Due to the success of the efforts to preserve the ibex, the 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) - a herbivore mammal living in herds in desert regions. Due to uncontrolled hunting, the dorcas gazelle became extinct in the majority of its habitats in the world. In Israel there are populations 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 Asiatic 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 about 250-300 individuals living in the Makhtesh Ramon and Borot Lots
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 all 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 to the proximity of humans.
Reptiles - a variety of reptilian species live in the makhtesh: snakes, some of them venomous, such as Field's horned viper (Pseudocerastes persicus fieldi), the painted carpet viper (Echis coloratus), and some not, such as the diadem snake (Spalerosophis diadema) and the sand snake (Lytorhynchus diadema); many lizards, among them Bosc's fringe-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus boskianus), the small-spotted lizard, (Mesalina guttulata), the striped lizard (Mesalina olivieri), and the ocellated skink (Chalcides ocellatus); Agama lizards living in the makhtesh include the star lizard (stellagama),the desert agama (Trapelus pallidus), the Sinai agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus), famous for changing its color to blue during the breeding season, and the Egyptian mastigure (Uromastyx aegyptia), the largest of Israel's agama lizards, reaching a length of 75 cm and a weight of 3 kgs; the grey monitor (Varanus griseus) 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 in 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.
The great differences in elevations between the rim and the floor of the crater and the variety of rock, soil and climate conditions in Makhtesh Ramon create a broad range of biomes and types of vegetation in a small geographic area. 486 species of plants grow in the makhtesh, 71 of them are rare; eight of the rare plants are classified "endangered". 25 of the plant species are endemic, i.e. their worldwide geographical distribution is limited to this area only.At the top of the northern cliff of the makhtesh, rising to 900-1,000 m above sea level, is the biome of the white wormwood (Artemisia herba-alba) together with the jointed anabasis (Anabasis articulate) and the thorny saltwort (noaea mucronata). On the cliffs, at around 800 m, are the Saharo-African biomes: the jointed anabasis, the Gymnocarpos decander and the bushy bean-caper (Zygophyllum dumosum), which are very well adapted to arid conditions. At the bottom of the crater, the plants are concentrated along the stream beds, among others - the spider flower (Cleome droserifolia), bristled anabasis (Anabasis setifera), lavender cotton (Achillea fragrantissima) and white broom (Retama raetam). Downstream, where the runoff reaches optimum quantities, grow trees - twisted acacia (Acacia raddiana) and the red thorn tree (Vachellia gerrardii). On the basalt outcrops on the floor of the makhtesh the biome of the Gymnocarpos decander together with the jointed anabasis can be found. At the eastern end of the crater there are sandy areas where water conditions are better, and plants can grow over extensive areas and not just along the streams. Close to the water sources (En Ardon and En Saharonim) grow the common reed (Phragmites australis), the sea rush (Juncus maritimus) and the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). The further away one gets from the water sources, the greater the salinity of the soil, and that is where other plants grow - the camelthorn (Alhagi maurorum) and the Nile tamarisk (Tamarix nilotica).Among the endemic species growing in the Makhtesh Ramon region, the desert rhubarb (Rheum palaestinum) - a perennial plant growing on the Central Negev Mountains, on Mishor HaRuhot (literally - "Plain of Winds") and at the western end of the Makhtesh, can also be found. It is 30-50 cm. high, and has very large round leaves attaining a diameter of 70 cm. In the spring, the stalks emerge from the center of a cluster of leaves, and bear broad blooms.
Since the dawn of history nomads have lived in the desert, exploiting the few resources for seasonal grazing for their herds. Due to the difficult climatic conditions, not many people settled permanently in the Negev, and therefore there are very few archaeological remains. At the same time, the Negev served as a transition area, and roads utilizing the natural topographical contours were in use over a number of periods.One of these roads, traversing Makhtesh Ramon, is the Nabatean "Incense Route". This road started out from the Arabian Peninsula, crossed the Saudi Desert and reached Petra, the capital of the Nabatean kingdom. From Petra the route descended to the north of the Arava valley, continued westward to Makhtesh Ramon and from there to the Northern Negev Mountains, along Nahal HaBsor up to the port of Gaza. The length of the road was about 2,400 kms, and it served the trade caravans that carried incense (myrrh and frankincense) and other luxury goods, such as spices, jewelry, silver and gold, and costly fabrics. The route was in use from the third century BC until the third century AD at least. In Makhtesh Ramon there are some remains of buildings that served as way-stations, for rest and replenishment of provisions, along the Incense Route. The road ascended westward to the Negev Mountains along Nahal Nekarot, up to Metsad Nekarot, consisting of four buildings, and in the nearby riverbed there is a well that served as a water reservoir ("Nekarot Well"). From there the road continued along Nahal Nekarot to Ma'aleh Dkalim, through which it entered Makhtesh Ramon. West of Ma'aleh Dkalim is Khan Saharonim - a square building containing rooms around an inner courtyard, in which there is a baking oven and a water reservoir. From Khan Saharonim the Incense Route continued northward in the direction of the Mahamal Valley. This stretch of the road is marked by stone columns, with milestones along the way. When the road reaches the foot of the northern cliff of the makhtesh it ascends and climbs Ma'aleh Mahamal, which was built in order to overcome the topographical obstacle. Metsad Mahamal overlooks and defends the ascent. In 2005, UNESCO declared the Incense Route and the Nabatean cities a "World Heritage Site", which includes Metsad Nekarot, Khan Saharonim, Metsad Mahamal and the section of the route connecting these sites. There are also a number of prehistoric sites in Makhtesh Ramon whose function is not altogether clear: Nawamis TumuliA system of stone mounds in two parallel columns that apparently served as burial places. Such systems can be seen at Ramat Saharonim, the Ardon Valley and at the top of Nahal Haririm. Sulam Ya'acovSystems of stones arranged in proximity to ancient roads. It is assumed that they are the remains of military camp sites or of ceremonial sites. Shiniyot (Battlements)Stone mounds that apparently served to mark routes or as altars, whose shape is reminiscent of the tops of ancient fortress walls. The Shiniyot were usually built on the skyline so that they would be visible from afar. More than 100 such systems were found in the Negev, and in Makhtesh Ramon they are scattered at great distances from one another. Afifonim These consist of two long walls of stones whose ends almost meet, forming a funnel. The funnel leads to a pit or animal pen. Such devices have been found in the desert regions of the Middle East, and it is thought that they served as traps for animals. Two of these were found in Makhtesh Ramon.
The makhteshim are a unique geological phenomenon. Craters formed in such a process are found only in the Negev and Sinai regions. 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. Apart from the unique shape of Makhtesh Ramon itself, it reveals to the visitor an abundance of geological phenomena:The "Nagariya" (Carpentry Shop) - a concentration of elongated stones in the shape of prisms created by the high temperature of fiery lava flowing out of the depths of the earth; The Amonites wall - fossils of creatures that lived millions of years ago in the sea that covered the whole of the Negev at that time;Colored sands - layers of sand in various colors that have been exposed in a few places in Makhtesh Ramon; Dykes - in the eastern part of Makhtesh Ramon there are many dykes (volcanic intrusions). These are igneous rocks formed by hot magma intruding among the layers of sedimentary rocks.Basalt Hills - Giv'at Ga'ash and "Karney HaRamon" are hills made of volcanic material that formed from lava flows, perhaps even from an ancient volcano.
Entry into Visitors Center:Individuals: Adult - NIS 28; Child - NIS 14Groups (over 30 persons): Adults - NIS 23; Children - NIS 13Students: NIS 24Senior Citizens: NIS 14Entry into Hay Ramon:Individuals: Adult - NIS 22; Child - NIS 9Groups (over 30 persons): Adults - NIS 19; Children - NIS 8Students: NIS 19Senior Citizens: NIS 11
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