Vast but full of life: Explore Ramon Nature Reserve
Epic views, diverse wildlife and intriguing geology make this park a must-see desert wonderland.
Deep within the Negev Desert, a vast crater called Makhtesh Ramon seems lifeless at first glance. But this wide, dusty desert landscape is brimming with life, from the thriving creek-side plants to the charismatic, rock-hopping goats.
This is Israel's largest national park: the Ramon Nature Reserve. The 25 mile-long crater and its surrounding landscape attracts geology enthusiasts and nature lovers from around the world who seek an unforgettable desert adventure, by day and by night.
The reserve itself has many hiking trails and unpaved roads, making it a prime destination for mountain biking – but the only way to access it is by the highway that runs from Eilat to the only spot of civilization within miles of the crater, the small town of Ramon.
The makhtesh is the largest in Israel, and it's a special kind of crater – there are only seven craters of its kind in the world. This steep dropoff wasn't created by a meteor or volcano like most craters; it was created by hundreds of millions of years of erosion and shifting geological faults.
The view of the escarpment in Ein Saharonim shows the many layers of rocks and sediment throughout the millennia. (Photo: Topdog1/Flickr)
Believe it or not, this hot desert landscape was once covered with water. Over 100 million years ago, rivers and lakes dotted the region and in the following millennia, the sea completely flooded the area. Meanwhile, the geological fault running through the crater began reacting to tectonic movement, forming the beginnings of the huge ridge we see today. Sea levels dropped and the water receded, leaving behind a massive crater more than 1,500 feet deep.
Water flows through the wadi Ein Saharonim, attracting all kinds of plants and animals. (Photo: orientalizing/Flickr)
Today, the region still has spots of water around which wildlife thrives. Ramon Park is home to wadis that fill with water during the rainy season.
Beautiful flowers grow in the wadis in the region. (Photo: orientalizing/Flickr)
With an average of less than 4 inches of rainfall every year, the flora Makhtesh Ramon doesn't get much water. But these plants are hardy desert plants, impressively resilient against the hot desert temperatures. Late winter and early spring is the best time of year to see blooms like tulips and
Graceful prinia birds hop around the plant life at Ein Saharonim. (Photo: orientalizing/Flickr)
Ein Saharonim is one of the most beautiful wadis in the area, where visitors can hike along the stream (except in summer months) and see a wide variety of plants and animals.
Another point of interest is The Prism, also known as "The Carpentry Shop." A sandstone hill shaped by the sun's hot rays, it is a geological wonder reminiscent of the basalt columns of Israel's intriguing Hexagon Pool.
Desert Megalith sculpture by David Fein at the Desert Sculpture Park in Mitzpe Ramon. (Photo: Lina Nagano/Flickr)
Art meets nature at the Sculpture Garden, where geology is celebrated and interpreted in creative ways. The park even holds workshops called ArtsRamon that are both educational and imaginative, with activities ranging from inspecting sand and sediment to drawing, sculpting and molding with clay.
Miles of hiking trails traverse the park, and the most commonly seen animal is the nimble Nubian ibex. With its long, curved horns, the ibex is hard to miss.
A group of onagers make their way across the crater floor. (Photo: ShaharEvron/Flickr)
A rare and special sight in the crater is the onager, the smallest of all wild horse species. These donkey-like horses were reintroduced into the ecosystem here, where they get along as well as any desert animal can.
Other animals that make the crater their home include foxes, gazelles, desert mice, the beautiful caracal and the adorable hyrax. Though extremely rare, leopards also live within this part of the Negev.
Plant life thrives in many areas of the region. (Photo: orientalizing/Flickr)
Acacia trees are a familiar sight throughout the Negev, but in addition to the typical desert plants, Ramon Park plays host to Atlantic pistachio trees, daisies, fragrant shrubs and medicinal plants like marjoram and wormwood.
The Ramon Crater is the creative muse for many astrophotographers. (Photo: Aviram Ostrovsky/Flickr)
As hot days transition to cool nights, stars appear over the crater in a spectacular display like you've never seen. So far from civilization, the Ramon Crater is free from light pollution – a stargazer's dream.
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