Tag: Coloured Sands

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 1: The Negev Mountains

Click here to read about Day 2 or Day 3 of the campus

Time for the final campus of the course, one which I unfortunately missed last year due to sickness, but was eager to attend now – three days of touring in the area of the Negev desert.

The Negev, in the south of the country, consists of around 55% of Israel’s territory, but due to its barren nature and its relative inaccessibility, it is much less frequently visited than the tourist hot spots of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Judean Desert & the Galilee.

Indeed, there is much less history here than in the north of the country, but there are a great deal of stunning landscapes, fascinating geological features, and also the odd archaeological site for the historians among us.

The Yerucham Dam
The Yerucham Dam

Our first day was dedicated to the area of the peaks of the Negev mountains in the north east of the region. Our first stop was in the Yerucham Park. We visited the ancient well and then the more modern dam and man-made lake, learning about the modern history of the area and the struggles of Yerucham to break away from its development-town status. Unemployment is a major problem in the Negev in general and the government actively encourages business to relocate to the area in the hope of encouraging more people to move and improve its status.

From Yerucham, we travelled east to the area of the ‘Large’ Makhtesh. A makhtesh is an unusual type of crater, formed through a lengthy process of erosion and weathering. There are only around 8 in the world and 5 of them are in the Negev (others are in the surrounding area – the Sinai and in Jordan) and their unique nature means the word Makhtesh has now entered international geological parlance as the word to describe this phenomena.

View over the Large Crater (HaMakhtesh HaGadol) from Mt Avnon
View over the Large Crater (HaMakhtesh HaGadol) from Mt Avnon

Enjoying a stunning view from Mt Avnon over the ‘Large’ Makhtesh (in Hebrew: HaMakhtesh HaGadol), we learned about the theories about how these craters developed.

Fossilised / Petrified trees in the Large Crater (HaMakhtesh HaGadol)
Fossilised / Petrified trees in the Large Crater (HaMakhtesh HaGadol)

Descending into the makhtesh, we stopped to sit on some unusually shaped and coloured rocks, only to learn that these were in fact fossilised (or petrified) tree trunks. The huge size of these rocks are testament to a completely different climate in the area many tens of millions of years ago; indeed the large amount of the campus that was dedicated to geology helped put into perspective the tiny amount of time man has impacted the planet. One analogy was that if all of the earth’s history was represented by a calendar year, the time man has existed amounts to the final hour!

Ein Yorkeam oasis
Ein Yorkeam oasis

We continued our journey through the crater, nothing the different coloured sand layers and the rugged scenery. Exiting the other side, we proceeded to the spring at Ein Yorkeam, a desert oasis with ruins from the Roman period and an accompanying story of a grand Palmach trek in the 1940s.

View from the top of the Scorpions' Ascent
View from the top of the Scorpions’ Ascent

Our final stop for the day was a lookout over the Zin river bed and the twists and bends of the Scorpions’ Ascent which leads from the mountainous region of the Negev down towards the valley of the Dead Sea. Here we heard the tragic story of a terrorist attack on a tourist bus in the 1950s; this led to new roads being laid through the Negev down to the Red Sea at Eilat, meaning that today the area is almost deserted.

With the sun setting on our first day in the Negev, we travelled west to our hostel at Mitzpe Ramon to prepare for the following day’s adventures.