Returning to the desert trilogy of blog posts… After visiting Sde Boker, Midreshet Ben Gurion and the ancient ruins of Avdat I pushed southwards and stopped at Mitzpe Ramon. A town on the northern ledge of Ramon Crater, Mitzpe Ramon is where the Parks Authority office is, as well as other sites of interest.
After parking the truck I headed into the Visitors Centre and found out that I had missed the last opening of the day, that I’d have to come back another day but that I was free to look around outside. Here is the view of the northern ledge of the Ramon Crater that I photographed that day:
Not left with many options, the sun gradually sinking over the horizon, I called it a day and made up my mind to try to come back. Two days later, after a nice night in the desert where I had a near run-in with a dangerous little yellow scorpion, I found myself with plenty of free time and so popped on a bus to Mitzpe Ramon.
The first thing I noticed was the abundance of Nubian ibex wandering around the town. I overheard someone comparing ibex in Mitzpe Ramon to cats in the rest of Israel, that they are all over the streets. It’s true. Next I entered the Visitors Centre and booked myself for an afternoon tour. With some time to kill, and the spirit of adventure coursing through my veins, I visited Bio Ramon. A side attraction attached to the Ramon Crater (also known as Makhtesh Ramon), Bio Ramon is a small “desert zoo” hosting both wildlife and flora. Here is a horned viper (Cerastes cerastes), found in the Ramon Crater as well as other areas of the Negev:
After a partially-guided tour of Bio Ramon I had lunch and then eventually, as the hour of my Visitors Centre appointment approached, I made my way to the edge of the crater. The Ramon Crater is a whopping 38 kilometres long, 4-10 kilometres wide – the largest of Israel’s erosion craters. Along with the Small Crater and Large Crater to the north and two mini-craters at Mount Arif, the Ramon Crater joins two Egyptian craters in the Sinai Peninsula as being the only erosion craters on Earth.
Shaped like an elongated heart, the Ramon Crater has interesting rockforms, and a great variety of wildlife that come out mostly at night. Animals of interest include ibex, wild asses, gazelles, foxes, wolves, striped hyenas and even leopards. While the wildlife are hard to spot, the natural beauty is not, and from this balcony lookout, one can look straight down at the crater floor:
I had someone take my picture while I stood on the wooden planks separating me from the crater floor way down below; here it is:
At last I was admitted into the Visitors Centre and the tour began with Israeli hero Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and Israel’s first astronaut. I remember reading in the papers shortly after I moved to Israel about the death of Ilan’s son, Asaf Ramon, who was killed in a plane crash – himself an IAF pilot as well.
Ilan Ramon was a crew member of NASA’s Columbia space shuttle and was killed tragically, to the world’s horror, as the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003 just sixteen minutes before their scheduled landing. I never thought much about the story, nor the man involved, but I must say, the Visitors Centre did a great job at opening a window into the life of Ilan Ramon. But before Ilan became an astronaut, he was a fighter pilot in the IAF and was the youngest of the eight pilots to take part in Operation Opera – the daring bombing of Iraq’s unfinished Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981.
The film that led us into the life of Ilan Ramon came to a close with his death, showing footage from both the shuttle and NASA’s “Houston” space centre. Concluding with a connection of the Ramon Crater and space (Israel’s research telescopes are stationed on the rim of the crater), the curtains opened up and bright desert light filled the room, the vast crater directly before us:
After an exhibition on the creation of the erosion crater, including hands-on activities and a great flexible rubber model of the crater area, we headed on up to the roof for an even better view of the Ramon Crater.
And last but not least, a panoramic of the Ramon Crater:
And so ended my adventurous week in the desert.