Makhtesh Ramon - an open book in stone going back to creation
Israel Nature and Parks Reserves
Geography and geology:
Eons of erosion at Makhtesh Ramon in the Negev - a very special geological feature even in global terms -have stripped away the upper layers of the Ramon anticline, creating a window deep into the layers of rock, including even volcanic activity. Thus it is like an open book where visitors can 'read' the geology of the region. The fascinating geological attractions in Makhtesh Ramon include the "carpentry shop" - a hill where sandstone has formed prisms that appear sawed; dramatic dark, upward intrusions ‘frozen’ into the light rock the Ardon Stream canyon walls; and the ammonite wall - a great vertical rock surface on the southern side of the makhtesh that consists of large, fossilized marine snails.
The Ramon region is the richest and most varied region in the country in terms of plant life due to its many and varied habitats, the result of difference in climate between the top of the Ramon ridge and the floor of the makhtesh far below. In the higher areas of the Ramon ridge, around the town of Mitspe Ramon and near the Lotz Cisterns, a steppe climate prevails. Very cold winters ‘push back’ the main blossoming season of a host of spectacular wildflowers to the end of winter and to spring. In contrast, arid conditions prevail on the floor of Makhtesh Ramon, making it a home for Irano-Turanian species centered in the Saharan desert and the Arabian Peninsula. The desert springs also create special habitats. There, the moist ground sprouts southern cattail, common reed and spiny rush, signaling the presence of ground water is close to the surface, even if it cannot be seen.
The variety of habitats in the Ramon park also means rich and varied animal life. The size of the makhtesh, its isolation, and the INPA’s meticulous management of nature protection have made possible the reintroduction of animals that had become extinct or nearly so, such as the wild ass. Nubian ibex, another formerly engendered species, thrive in the cliffs near the top of Makhtesh Ramon. Other large mammals in the Negev highlands include the spotted leopard, hyena, Dorcas gazelle, wolf, red fox, Blanford's fox, caracal, Ruppell's fox and hyrax. Rodents, such as the fat sand rat, the garden dormouse, and the golden spiny mouse are more difficult to spy in the wild, as are the many reptiles. Visitors can enjoy a peek at these elusive creatures and many others at Hai Ramon. In addition to touring these and other sites in Makhtesh Ramon by car or on foot, the visitors center with its fascinating displays and view of the makhtesh and the Hai Ramon zoological center, where small desert animals can be seen close at hand, and opportunities for hands-on activities geared to families round out the visit.
The INPA Ramon Visitors Center:
The visitors center, located on the edge of Makhtesh Ramon in the city of Mitspe Ramon is the gateway to the makhtesh, the largest formation of its kind in the world. As visitors ascend the ramp through the building, they view displays that present ‘windows’ on to the geography, geology,flora, fauna and history of the region from prehistoric to modern times.The display leads upward to a breathtaking view of the makhtesh through a floor-to-ceiling window and the rooftop. A film explains how the makhtesh was formed and a three-dimensional interactive model helps bring home an understanding of the topography of this unique region. The visitors center personnel provide information on trails, conditions and other aspects of a visit to the region.
Hai Ramon offers an exciting peek at the rare and shy creatures that inhabit the makhtesh, in surroundings that simulate their natural desert homes. Hai Ramon has some 40 species of small desert creatures, as well as snakes, rodents, porcupines, lizards, scorpions and turtles. Guided tours are offered to all visitors. Its botanical-ecological garden presents six characteristic habitats including typical plants, rock formations and landscapes.