The World’s Most Beautiful Crater

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Mitzpe Ramon – Be’erot Campsite

Segment length: 38 km
Starting point:
Makhtesh Ramon Sculpture Garden, Mitzpe Ramon
Ending point:
Be’erot Campsite, Makhtesh Ramon
Services on route: None
Average riding time: 6 hours
Water: 5 liters per person
Level: Moderate

This day is devoted to one of the geological phenomena unique to the Negev and Sinai: the makhtesh. This crater-like formation is created when an uplifted ridge of soft sandstone layers covered by harder limestone layers comes under extreme erosive conditions. The water, whether from rain or flooding, penetrates cracks in the hard outer limestone layers of the ridge, usually along the crest of the ridge where the layers are the tautest and ready to crack. The water thus reaches the softer sandstone layers underneath the outer crust. The soft sandstone is then washed away, along the crack, which slowly widens into an oval shape as the hard limestone around the crack caves in. An oval crater, a makhtesh, gradually is formed at the top of the ridge, revealing the older geological layers. The oval has a single outlet through which the water continues to expand the makhtesh.
The Ramon Crater is not a young makhtesh like its other Negev brethren, whose cliffs are still fully intact. However, it is the world’s largest makhtesh, over 80 kilometers long, and many consider it the most beautiful and impressive of the seven craters of its kind. The first day of cycling, from the sculpture garden to the Be’erot Campsite, takes riders through this little-known geological world.
Itinerary:
The path starts at the Makhtesh Ramon sculpture garden located on the edge of the crater’s cliff on the eastern side of Mitzpe Ramon (just behind the soccer field), winding between the large stone sculptures. After three kilometers on the edge of the cliff, the route veers away from the edge and descends into the riverbed of Nahal Hava. After nine kilometers, the trail leaves the riverbed and ascends to the edge of the cliff at a vantage point overlooking the makhtesh bed and Giv’at Ga’ash. Then it continues eastward alongside a jeep track. Next it descends to the makhtesh bed, along the steep Noah Ascent, which should be descended on foot. Upon reaching the makhtesh bed, the route crosses the Mahmal Valley to the Be’erot Campsite.

 

  • Nahal Hava: This riverbed is one of the major tributaries of Nahal Zin. Its name is derived from the Arabic name of the riverbed, Wadi Al Hawa, which means “Wadi of the Winds” and is similar to the name of the windy plain a little north of here. The riverbed flows along the northern escarpment of the Ramon Crater. After crossing the Petroleum Road (under which the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline lies), it plunges into an impressive canyon, at the bottom of which is a group of deep potholes that fill with water after the winter rains. The largest, Bor Hava (Hebrew for the “Hava Cistern”), is 30 meters long and six meters deep and lies at the bottom of a 20-meter waterfall. Along the Hava Riverbed and around Ma’ale Noah, there is a particularly high concentration of fossils.
  • Giv’at Ga’ash Observation Point: The site, whose name is Hebrew for “Volcano Hill,” is a basalt hill high above the floor of the crater. It is probably an extinct volcano from the Cretaceous Period (600 million years ago). Scattered around the hill are round basalt blocks, a phenomenon that indicates that lava from the volcano once flowed into an ancient sea, quickly cooling and forming these round rocks.
  • Mahmal Fort: Some 30 meters east of the Mahmal Ascent are remains of the fort that protected the convoys that ascended the pass. Near the ruins of the fort are the remains of a pool, in which water was gathered for use by the garrison.
  • Mahmal Ascent: This was one of the major passes along the Nabatean Spice Route, which once traversed the deserts of the Middle East from the Arabian Peninsula to the Nabatean capital at Petra, and then across the Negev to Avedat and finally to Gaza. The ascent’s Hebrew name is derived from the Arabic name, “Nakb al Hamle,” which means Cargo Ascent. The route of the ascent, adjusted for the camel caravans of the Spice Route, ascends from the floor of the makhtesh via a small ridge to a natural crack in the cliff along which it climbs to the top of the cliff. Along the ascent is a concentration of Thamudic inscriptions, the works of nomadic tribes who lived in the Negev 2,000 years ago. Please note, to reach the ascent, one must leave the bike path and climb a few hundred meters to the cliff’s edge.
  • Noah Ascent: The ascent, in the northeast corner of the crater, offers a nice view of the Mahmal Valley below it. On a rock ledge just below the lookout point is a nice concentration of ammonite fossils. Descending the ascent on foot is recommended.
  • Mahmal Valley: There is a sandy valley on the eastern edge of the makhtesh. The Spice Route runs along the valley and not so long ago, Roman milestones still could be seen along the route. The IBT crosses the valley along its western side. A herd of wild asses and oryx that was reintroduced into the wild a few decades ago can sometimes be spotted in the valley.
  • Petroleum Road: The oil pipeline from Eilat to Ashkelon was built in 1968, following the blocking of the Suez Canal after the Six Day War. The pipeline was built following the signing of an agreement between the Israel Pipeline Company (EAPC) and Iran’s national oil company to bring oil from Iran to Eilat and then pump it to Ashkelon on the Mediterranean, thus circumventing the blocked Suez Canal. Following the Iranian Revolution, Iran severed relations with Israel, but the line continued to pump oil, now from the oil fields in Abu Rudeis in Israeli-held Sinai. In 1985, the Iranian oil company filed a lawsuit against Israel demanding compensation for the country’s share of the line. The verdict still is pending.
  • Be’erot Campsite: A group of shallow wells (be’erot in Hebrew) dug in the Nahal Ramon Riverbed gave this site its name. Above the campsite are the remains of an ancient guard post. The campsite includes sleeping accommodations, showers, and toilets.
  • Ramon Colors Park: A new park was created on the restored site of a former quarry in the Ramon Crater. The park includes several single tracks for bicycles. All that remains of the original quarry is a giant oven, which now serves as an interesting sculptural element.
  • Makhtesh Ramon Sculpture Garden: The park came into being following an international sculpture symposium that environmental sculptor Ezra Orion organized in 1962. Eleven world-renowned sculptors attended, each of whom designed a unique sculpture that was placed on the crater’s rim. The site was neglected for some 25 years, until 1986, when it was decided to revive the park by adding new works by Israeli sculptors to it. The section of the IBT that passes here runs along the edge of the cliff; it is not a place for people who fear heights.

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