The Ramon Crater
The Ramon Crater - a view from above



Ramon Crater is the largest one one of the three Negev craters. It contains geological formations unparalleled elsewhere in the world. Together with magnificent panorama, it presents a fascinating story of geomorphologic evolution. The Ramon Nature Reserve encompassing the crater and the Negev mountains surrounding it is the largest nature reserve in Israel.


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THE CRATER

MITZPE RAMON AND ITS ATTRACTIONS.

GETTING THERE

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The Crater

The Ramon Crater is 40 kilometers long and 2 to 10 kilometers wide, shaped like an elongated heart. It is a part of the Ramon Nature reserve that includes also the surrounding Negev mountains. The only settlement in the area is a small town of Mitzpe Ramon (Ramon Observation Point, in Hebrew) standing over the northern wall of the crater. The name Ramon comes from the arabic "Ruman" meaning "Romans", and probably linked to a track that Romans built here.

The crater formation began hundreds of millions years ago when the ocean that covered the Negev began to move north. First, there was a hump-shaped hill. Water and other climatic forces slowly and steadily flattened the curve on top. Much later (only some 5 million years ago), the Arava rift valley was formed and rivers changed their course. As they did so, they carved out the inside of the crater.

In the desert the erosional power of water by far exceeds that of the occasional rain hitting the sharp edges of the craters. The crater bottom deepens fast while the walls retain their vertical angle, gradually increasing in height. As the crater deepens, lower and more ancient rock strata are exposed. At the bottom of Ramon Crater some rocks are as old as 200 million years.

The crater is 500 m. deep, and encompasses the vast diversity of mountains and rocks having fantastic colors and forms. High and impressive mountains rise at the borders of the crater - Har Ramon in the southern end, Har Ardon in the northeastern end; two beautiful table mountains - Har Marpek and Har Katom are along the southern wall.

A black hill in the north, Giv'at Ga'ash, was once an active volcano. A long-ago eruption covered it by lava that quickly cooled in the open air and turned into basalt rock. Smaller black hills in the southern part - Karnei Ramon - also constitute a limestone covered by basalt.

The granite rock called Shen Ramon (Ramon's Tooth) has different origin. Made of magma which hardened while still underground, and later shot up through cracks in the earth's surface, This black sharp-edged rock stands in striking contrast with nearby creamy southern wall of the crater.

Ha-Minsara (The Carpentry Shop) is a low hill in the central part of the crater all spread with rather strange-looking black prismatic rocks. A wooden trail is constructed over it, so that visitors can walk around without damaging it.

At the bottom of the trail there is a big box of stones identical to the larger prisms on the hill above. They are left in the special "touching tank" for the tourists to feel their unusual form, instead of picking the real ones from the hill.

Unlike most rocks in the crater, the strange rectangular pipes on the hill are made of sand, the same kind found at the seashore. This is the only place in the world you see prisms made of heated sand that turned into liquid. In cooling, the molten mass naturally formed rectangular and hexagonal prisms, losing no space in the middle.

The most spectacular wadi in the crater is Wadi Nikarot (Grotto Riverbed in Hebrew) that begins in the northern Sinai and is 70 km. long. Erosion has gouged out softer portions of the rock and left rows of fascinating overhangs and crevices.


A riverbed in the Ramon Crater


Some clay hills have impressive yellow and red colors. Several hillsides in the northeastern corner of the crater were once entirely covered by ammonite fossils (ammonites were spiral-shaped sea creatures who lived under water 50 to 90 million years ago, ranging from the size of snails to that of tractor wheels). However, too many tourists passed these places that wished to pick a fossuil and a souvenir, and today there remained only a few small ones.

Ein Saharonim, to the north of ha-Minsara, is the lowest spot in the crater and contains its only natural water source. On a hill on the other side of the parking lot at Ein Saharonim stand the ruins of a large stone structure, Khan Saharonim. The crater lay along the ancient spice trail, a trade route used by the Nabateans 2,000 years ago. Traders and their camels spent the night at the inn before continuing on to Gaza port.

The water springs are visited by Asiatic wild asses (also called onagers) and by ibex - mountain goats. Ibex often climb from the crater to town and walk along the bordering streets paying no attention to people.

Mitzpe Ramon and its Attractions.

It is worth starting the visit to the area from the Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Center which is situated on the very edge of Ramon Crater. The visitors can learn about geography and geology of the place from large models. An audio-visual production describes the formation of Negev and its craters, illustrates the history of settlement in the Negev, its flora and fauna. Through the picture window from the center's rooftop observation deck there is a breathtaking view to the crater.

The Albert Promenade - a trail decorated with impressive environmeental sculptures - starts from the Visitors Center and goes aloin along the edge of the Ramon Crater. In the middle of the promenade there is a "bird balcony" which hangs above the crater and offers the best view around over the crater. Visitors can see birds flying under their feet rather than over their head. After the paved trail ends, a path continues along the crater edge and leads to a small observation platform installed atop of a rock resembling a camel.

Bio Ramon is a complex presenting a rich collection of desert plants and animals. It is divided into two parts. An outdoor area shows a reconstructed desert landscape, with desert loess, hamada, sand, cliffs, riverbeds and even a small spring. It demonstrates the relationship between plant environments, the flora which thrive in them, and animal life.

Most Negev animals and insects are active only at night (or are expert at hiding), and many people never get to see them. The second part of the Hai Ramon - closed and semi-open enclosures - provides visitors with a good look at nocturnal or hidden animals. The conditions are similar to those in nature. The inhabitants are small mammals, insects and reptiles, and they are rotated so none are held too long in captivity.

There is also an alpaca farm in Mitzpe Ramon. Visitors can buy a portion of animal food on place and enjoy feeding the animals from the hand.

Getting There

To get to the town of Mitzpe Ramon, drive by Road 40. It is some 85 km south from Beer-Sheva.


References:
Aviva Bar-Am, Israel Shalem, Israel's Southern Landscapes
Carta's Official Guide to Israel Geography of Israel


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Rosh Ha-Niqra -- Banyas -- Gamla -- Qumran -- The Western Wall

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