Tag: Bio Ramon

Family Fun in the Desert Surroundings of Mitzpe Ramon

When we had an opportunity for a day off for all the family, we headed south for some desert scenery, flavours and wildlife.

I love the desert. Actually, I should probably refine that. I love the Israeli desert. I haven’t been in enough other deserts to compare.

Growing up in the UK, there were not really any opportunities to get to know desert scenery other than from TV. And because most deserts that I had seen on TV were of the Saharan variety, with huge sand dunes and not much else, I thought that’s what deserts were.

But it turns out that a lot of desert is not like that at all. Israel has two deserts, the Judean Desert in the east, the Negev in the south. And you’ll be hard pressed to find sand dunes in either. They do exist in the Negev, but you have to look pretty hard for them.

So instead, you have a rocky landscape, and a lot of it is spectacular, the results of millions of years of shifts in local tectonic plates and erosion from flash floods and other geological processes. It’s easy to disappear on hikes into this scenery where you won’t see another soul for hours and can enjoy the sound of absolute silence — apart from your own footsteps.

With tourism drying up, I hadn’t been to the desert for over a year, and my daughter had never been at all. I was excited to share this new landscape with her. Hiking with a 3 year old is challenging, so I opted to plan a day that she would love in and around Mitzpe Ramon.

Perched on the edge of the stunning Ramon Crater, Mitzpe Ramon is a small town that was originally founded with the idea that people would stay overnight on a drive to/from the Red Sea resort town of Eilat at Israel’s southernmost tip. That doesn’t happen so much these days (and I’m not sure it ever did), particularly as the most direct and quickest road to Eilat now bypasses the town, but there are a few fun things to do to grab the attention of passing tourists (and also one of Israel’s most luxurious hotels — Beresheet).

First things first though. On arrival, we wanted to get some food, and made a stop at Lasha Bakery. It’s a place with an interesting backstory, founded by someone who left the city to follow their passion in the desert, and everything we tried was absolutely delicious.

Bellies filled, we headed off to the local alpaca farm. Alpacas are native to South America, not the Middle East, but the owners of this farm have been tending them here for years. Our daughter loved feeding the alpacas and also seeing the other animals on the farm.

A view looking out over the Ramon Crater in Israel
Stunning look out over the Ramon Crater

Next, we headed down into the Ramon Crater itself. This type of crater is technically known as a makhtesh and is only found in Israel, the Sinai and I believe one or two in North Africa. The Ramon Crater is the largest, at 40km (25 miles) in length. These craters weren’t formed by meteor impacts, but by complex geological processes over millions of years. One of the by-products is lots and lots of beautifully coloured sands.

A glass bottle containing layers of different coloured sands collected in the Ramon Crater, Israel
We brought this bottle from home and filled it with layers of different coloured sands from the Ramon Crater, Israel

The crater is a nature reserve and you can’t just wander around taking the sand, but there is a specific area where it is allowed. Note: come prepared with your own bottle/jar and spoon/spade. We went around the different colours of sand and added different layers to our bottle. It was a huge hit with our daughter and a lovely souvenir to take home.

A group of ibexes wondering in Mitzpe Ramon, Israel
We came across these ibexes wandering in Mitzpe Ramon

It was time to scope out more wildlife. One of the most beautiful animals that can be found in the desert is the nubian ibex. And there’s normally a few of them hanging around Mitzpe Ramon. It’s not a big place, and after driving for a little while, we found some. We passed a good amount of time just observing these graceful, nimble creatures.

It seemed to be tortoise mating season at the Bio Ramon
It seemed to be tortoise mating season at the Bio Ramon

For a final stop, we popped over to the Hai Ramon nature reserve. This little park contained a host of small desert creatures and critters and a nice movie about the surprisingly large amount of animals that do live in the desert. It’s not a place that you’d spend a huge amount of time in, but again our daughter loved it, and many of the animals were very cute. Nearby is the Ramon Visitors Centre, which was closed because of the current restrictions, but is well worth a visit when open.

It was time to head home. I was thrilled to have got back into the desert scenery, and a super time was had by all. A fabulous day out all round.

Campus Negev Day 2: The Ramon Crater / Makhtesh Ramon

Click here to read about Day 1 or Day 3 of the campus.

An early rise to enjoy dawn breaking over the crater and a surprisingly good breakfast in the field school. Today’s tour was dedicated to the area of the Makhtesh Ramon, or Ramon Crater, the largest of these geological phenomena in Israel at a length of 40km.

View over the Ramon Crater / Makhtesh Ramon
View over the Ramon Crater / Makhtesh Ramon

We began our day at the newly refurbished visitors’ centre in Mitzpe Ramon. The refurb was funded by the family of Ilan and Asaf Ramon (the name being the same as that of the crater is purely coincidental) in memory of Israel’s first astronaut and his pilot son, who both died in separate tragic accidents.

Replica of Ilan Ramon's spacesuit in the Ramon Crater Visitors' Centre
Replica of Ilan Ramon’s spacesuit in the Ramon Crater Visitors’ Centre

As such, the beginning of the museum tells the story of Ilan Ramon, and a little about Asaf. It is not really connected to the crater but the tale is moving, and one cannot begrudge the family the desire to create a memorial to these two very impressive individuals, and it is done extremely well.

The rest of the centre has a fantastic film/moving presentation about the formation of the crater and another very good film about wildlife in the area. In short, if you plan to visit the area, I really think the visitors’ centre is a no miss.

Khan Saharonim in the Ramon Crater
Khan Saharonim in the Ramon Crater

It was now time to descend into the crater. We journeyed quite a way on dirt roads until we reached the area of Khan Saharonim. Here, next to a small spring, were the ruins of a Nabbatean khan (inn) along the famous spice route that they used to transport merchandise from the area of Yemen to the port at Gaza, sending it across the Roman Empire.

After exploring the area a little; learning about some of the local flora and fauna, we travelled a short distance to Nachal Ardon. It was possible to see the damp ground from the recent flash floods, and the plants that were newly blooming as a result of the rains.

Dykes in Nachal Ardon
Dykes in Nachal Ardon

We soon reached our goal during this short walk – the dykes that lined the walls of the river bed. These are formed by molten rock pushing into cracks in the existing rock; the magma cools and forms a different type of rock to that surrounding it, causing it to erode at a different pace.

The 'Carpentry Shop' in the Ramon Crater
The ‘Carpentry Shop’ in the Ramon Crater

We returned to the northern side of the crater, and the area known as the ‘Carpentry Shop’. Due to volcanic processes, this small hill has formed into a series of small pieces of rock that look similar to wood-chips, hence the name. We learned about the formation of the hill and enjoyed the view out over the landscape of the crater.

Porcupine in Bio Ramon
Porcupine in Bio Ramon

Our final stop was back in Mitzpe Ramon, at the Bio Ramon. A significant sample of the animals that live in the crater are kept here, and it is possible to see them up close and learn about their habits and lifestyles. Night was drawing in, and they were beginning to get active. For us, it was time to return to the field school and prepare for the final day of our campus which awaited us on the morrow.