Makhtesh Ramon - Nature Reserve and Visitors Center

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The Makhtesh (crater), above which the Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center is located, is part of the Matsok HaTsinim and Har HaNegev nature reserves.

The Visitors Center offers an experience combining the life story of the Israeli astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon, while enabling visitors to become familiar with the largest makhtesh in the world and its unique natural phenomena. 

Ramon Visitors Center


The makhteshim, looking like enormous basins opened up among the Negev ranges, are a natural phenomenon which is unique 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.

 

As you stand on the rim of the makhtesh, the beautiful and impressive desert scenery is spread out before you.  However, it is recommended not just to settle for a wonderful view, but to actually get into it - to go down into the makhtesh, to learn its pathways and unique sites close up and to enjoy the "window" which it opens into the ancient geological worlds of fossils, colorful sands, volcanic rocks, and more.

 

Major centers of interest:


  • Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center - offering an experience that combines the life story of the first Israeli astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon with the story of the largest makhtesh in the world and its unique natural phenomena.  The Visitors Center is built on the rim of Makhtesh Ramon, at the edge of Mitspe Ramon, overlooking the makhtesh scenery and serving as a center for visitors to the makhtesh.
  • Hay Ramon - live desert park.  Here is a fascinating encounter with the small animals of the desert, the majority of which hide and are concealed from our eyes.  About 40 species are represented on the site, among them:  lizards, snakes, turtles, porcupines, hedgehogs, falcons, sand rats (gerbils) and more.   The animals are in enclosures which simulate their natural environment.   With the help of the animals we can learn about their unique habitat and the biological and behavioral adaptations that enable them to live in a desert environment.  The purpose of the Hay Ramon is to raise awareness of the preservation of nature.

    Around the desert park there is a botanical garden of desert plants, representing six different habitats typical of the Negev with the vegetation characteristic of each one.  A shelter for species of endangered plants is presently being established within the park.
  • En Saharonim and Khan Saharonim - built on a hill near the En Saharonim camping area (north-east of the Be'erot camping area) is the Khan Saharonim, which served as a way-station on the Nabatean Incense Route in ancient times.  From here one can continue walking along a short trail to En Saharonim, a spring which in winter creates a stream hundreds of meters long (it often dries up in summer).  The spring is surrounded by rich vegetation, and the tracks of the many animals which come to benefit from its waters can be observed.
  • Be'erot Camping Area - at the center of Makhtesh Ramon.  The camping area is accessible to all vehicles and its location allows visitors a convenient departure point for tours.  The services provided are accommodation, water, light snacks (meals with prior coordination), toilet facilities and garbage removal.  There are a few other camping areas in Makhtesh Ramon where one can sleep overnight, but no other services are provided there.   The camping areas are designated to serve visitors and hikers, and simultaneously to reduce the disturbance of the animals' nocturnal activities by restricting people to defined areas in the makhtesh during night hours.
  • Ramon Colors Route - a scenic dirt road prepared by the Nature and Parks Authority.  It is suitable for all vehicles, and is the main entrance to the eastern part of Makhtesh Ramon.  Preparation of the dirt road was part of the process of rehabilitating the former mining and excavation area.  Along it can be seen the exposed rocks, colored sands and rehabilitated excavation sites.  The signs and explanations along the way help visitors to learn and understand the unique geological phenomena in the makhtesh.   The Quarry Rehabilitation Foundation also participated in the rehabilitation project, and the plan is to establish an open geological museum in the abandoned quarry.  A series of trails for pedestrians and cyclers is also planned, as well as leisure and recreational attractions.
  • HaNagariya ("Carpentry Shop") - a concentration of prism-shaped stones.  The prisms are the result of the "baking" of the sandstone in the high temperatures caused by fiery lava erupting from the depths of the earth.  The great heat transformed the rock which, when it cooled, created thousands of polygonal pillars, and these broken pillars form the "Carpentry Shop".
  • The Amonites Wall - at the southern part of the makhtesh is a rocky wall containing fossils of ammonites - marine creatures which lived millions of years ago in the sea that covered the entire Negev at that time.  The ammonites had eight arms and an exoskeleton.  When they died they sank to the sea floor, their exoskeleton filled with sediment which fossilized over time thus preserving the shape of the ammonites.  The fossils are a protected natural phenomenon and it is forbidden to collect them.

     

     

    Observation Points

    Along the makhtesh cliffs there are many impressive observation points.  Each one reveals another part of the varied scenery of Makhtesh Ramon.

     


Observation Points on the Makhtesh Cliff:


 

View from the Visitors Center and the Albert Promenade

The Visitors Center stands at the center of the northern cliff of the makhtesh, from which a view may be had of the makhtesh and its general shape.   From here it is possible to understand its elongated structure:  the southern wall can be seen at a distance opposite us, while its edges at east and west are outside our range of vision.  From this point we can see Nahal Ramon flowing eastwards and draining the makhtesh, and the black "volcano hill" which was an active volcano more than 100 million years ago.   Har Ardon rises in the east, giving the makhtesh its famous heart-shape.   From the Visitors Center one can walk along the Albert Promenade southwards, to Har Gamal, from which can be seen the spectacular views of the western part of Makhtesh Ramon.

View from the Visitors Center Northwards

Cross the bridge above the road leading to Eilat and walk northwards along the rim of the cliff close to the "Bereshit" Hotel, up to the Sculptures Garden.   The garden exhibits environmental sculptures that were created here during conventions of international artists.  Some of the sculptures utilize the wind blowing here to produce sounds.

Views from the West to Mitspe Ramon

View to Karney HaRamon - a new walking trail from Har Ramon, the highest point in the Negev, leads to the Karney HaRamon observation point on the rim of the makhtesh.  Karney HaRamon, seven impressive basalt hills at the west of the makhtesh, dedicated to the memory of the seven astronauts who died in the crash of the shuttle Columbia, with Col. Ilan Ramon among them, can be seen from this observation point.  From here one can enjoy the unique scenery of the western part of Makhtesh Ramon.

View from the Arod Observation Point

This beautiful observation point lies at the south-western corner of the makhtesh, where the northern and southern cliffs meet.  From here one has a view of the western part of the makhtesh.  The observation point is reached by a dirt road beginning opposite the turn-off to Borot Lots.  This road is also suitable for all types of vehicles.

 

Observation points in the heart of Makhtesh Ramon:

View from the Top of Har Ardon

This observation point is reached on foot only, but the effort pays off!  From Har Ardon there is a view eastward - towards the Mountains of Edom and the Arava, southwards - towards the east of Makhtesh Ramon and its southern wall, and westwards - a view of the makhtesh spread out in all its glory.

View from the Top of Har Gvanim

From Har Gvanim, close to the road crossing the makhtesh leading to Eilat, there is a view of the southern and northern walls of the makhtesh, and one can feast one's eyes on the desert scenery.

 

 



Identity:


 

Status:

In 1989, two nature reserves were declared in Makhtesh Ramon:  Matsok HaTsinim, which was expanded in 2009, and Har HaNegev, which was expanded in 2009 and in 2011.

 

Reasons for the Declaration:

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 Israel

Central Negev, about 70 kms south of Be'er Sheva, on Road 40.

 

 

Preservation activity by the Parks and Nature Reserves Authority​

  • Restoring the herds of Asian Wild Ass which had become extinct in this region, to the heart of the makhtesh, close to En Saharonim.
  • Operating feeding stations for raptors in the Makhtesh Ramon area, to solve the problem of the reduction in these birds' natural food sources and to help restore their diminished populations.
  • Preparing trails for hikers, cyclers and field vehicles.  Marking paths with stones to prevent field vehicles from deviating from the marked trails.
  • Developing parking and camping areas for the welfare of the many visitors to the region.
  • Reducing the areas of the quarries active in the makhtesh, declaring them a nature reserve and conducting rehabilitation activity in the damaged areas.
  • Rehabilitating vast areas that were used in the past for quarrying and excavating, and turning them into scenic roads in the heart of the Ramon Colors Park.
  • Conducting surveys and supporting studies in order to expand and update the knowledge of what is happening in the makhtesh:  studies of the mountain goat, nesting surveys, plant surveys, monitoring feeding stations, counting visitors to the makhtesh, studies connected with the restoration of the Wild Ass, and others.

     

     


Fauna


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 environment that is best 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 one of them 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 of which 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 the reserve, but we can find many signs testifying to their existence and activity.

Some of the animals living in Makhtesh Ramon:

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.

 

Flora


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.

 

History and Archaeology


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 Tumuli

A 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'acov

Systems 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.

 

Geology


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.

​​How to get there:


Address:  1, Ma'ale Ben Tor.  Drive along Road 40 on the section between Be'er Sheva and Eilat, follow the signs at the entrance to Mitspe Ramon.

​​Length of visit:


Visitors Center - at least one hour (impossible to shorten).
Hay Ramon - about one hour.
Makhtesh Ramon - from one hour to a number of days

Recommended season:​


Visitors Center and Hay Ramon - all year round.
Makhtesh Ramon - autumn, winter, spring

​​Insist on:


View from the makhtesh cliff together with the mountain goats at sundown 

What else is there?


Information station, observation platform, souvenir shop, nearby restaurant

Price List


Entry into Visitors Center:
Individuals:  Adult - NIS 28;  Child - NIS 14​​
Groups (over 30 persons): Adults - NIS 23;  Children - NIS 13​​
Students:  NIS 24​
Senior Citizens:  NIS 14​​

Entry into Hay Ramon:
Individuals:  Adult - NIS 22;  Child - NIS 9​​​​​
Groups (over 30 persons): Adults - NIS 19;  Children - NIS 8
Students:  NIS 19
Senior Citizens:  NIS 11​​​

 

 

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