Mitzpe Ramon – In the “Makhtesh”
A 4×4 Jeep is what it will take when you want to visit the crater at Mitzpe Ramon. Uneven gravel roads strewn with large stones and steep slopes is what you will get when descending into the crater… Adventure guaranteed!
Formation of the Ramon Makhtesh
After a 15-minute drive from our hotel, our guide took us off the main road and we drove at 70 km/h on a narrow gravel road… I had never been shaken that hard in my life before (but I’m still young J)… After a few minutes of demonstrating his driving skills, he halted the Jeep. We all got out and our guide fell on his knees in the sand. Would he be the first one that fell victim to the heat? On the contrary, he started digging in the sand with his bare hands and created a pile: time for some geology! He explained us how the Ramon crater was formed by using water and sand to visualize the geological processes that took place millions of years ago.
At first, I thought the crater was a remnant of a meteorite impact or an inactive volcano. However, the origin of the crater is much different and one shouldn’t really call this phenomenon a crater, but rather a “Makhtesh”.
110 million years ago, the Ramon area consisted of lakes and rivers where mainly sandstone was deposited. 20 million years later, a shallow sea was formed, which was home to many sea organisms. Carbonate-rich remains and skeletons were deposited on top of the sandstone, creating a thick limestone layer. Later on, due to geological plate movements, the area was folded and raised, causing the tip of the anticline to be exposed to the weather elements. As a consequence, erosion flattened the top and partly removed the limestone layer to uncover the sandstone layer. As sandstone erodes much faster than limestone (erosion of limestone is limited by is solubility in water), the middle part of the anticline was “washed out” and a “Makhtesh” was formed. Though I need to highlight that this is a simplified version to explain the Makhtesh formation. For those who want to know more of the exact geological processes that took place, please check some of the references below.
A: Initial landscape was dominated by lakes and rivers, depositing sandstone.
B: Area was submerged by a prehistoric sea in which carbonate-rich remains were deposited, forming limestone.
C: Plate tectonics cause bending and formation of the Ramon anticline. The top of the anticline was exposed to erosion.
D: Difference between the speed of erosion of sandstone and limestone resulted in the formation of a Makhtesh.
Please note that this is not the full and exact geological history of the Ramon Makhtesh, but an illustration to explain the principle behind the formation.
Survival and manicure hints
After our brief stop, we continued our shaky trip through the desert. Despite the drought, this area still has some interesting wildlife like small horses, ibexes, gazelles, etc. If you would ever get lost in this area, the first thing you would need to do, is finding water. You can clearly see the trails these desert animals follow when going to one of the few water sources. Once you’ve found several trails, you look in which direction they converge and this is your road to water. Though we have been driving through the Makhtesh for several hours, we haven’t seen any animals.
Besides animals, our guide also showed us some of the local flora. “I’m going to show you a secret”, he said. “This might even be a great idea to start up a company”. He picked some leaves of a nearby plant and started to crush them with a mortar and pestle. “Give me your hands”, he said. Meekly we showed our hands and he put some of the green paste he made on top of them. Next, he poured some water on our hands and instructed us to rub them. To our surprise, foam was formed as if we were rubbing a piece of soap. Afterwards, we washed our hands with water and our skin felt very soft and squeaky. Our guide shared with us that extracts of the plant are responsible for exfoliation of dead skin, resulting in very clean and squeaky hands. After some research, the plant our guided showed us was called Anabasis Articulata and was typical for the area. Some traditional medicine practitioners use the leaves of this plant to make anti-diabetic decoction.
Meeting the Bedouins
We continued our trip and went to the highest point of the Makhtesh and had some stunning views on the area. While we were taking some pictures, our guide was very diligently making some phone calls and after finishing our photo shoot; he asked us if we wanted to meet the Bedouins, who have been living in this area for ages. We agreed and after a while driving, we saw a procession of camels, guided by Bedouins. They just had picked up tourists for a tour through the desert, so they didn’t have time for a long chat. Interestingly, our guide shared some insights on the Bedouins living in Israel. Despite the fact that the Bedouins had quite some issues due to Israel’s land policy, I was shocked to hear about the life of the head of the Bedouin family we’ve met. He went to college but preferred the Bedouin life after all. He has been married several times and all of his marriages resulted in more or less five children. Once his offspring was of age to start working, they weren’t allowed by the family to pursue college degrees and had to take low-paid jobs. The money they earned, needed to be handed over to their father, who on his turn, used it in the way he thought was best. A nice side effect for him was that he didn’t have to work himself as his large family was bringing in the money for him… Although in general I try not to judge other cultures and habits, this situation didn’t feel right in some way, as it gave me the feeling that people were being exploited and limited in their own development.
We left the Bedouins behind us and it was time to finish our 3-hour drive through the Ramon Makhtesh. We headed back to our hotel and gratefully thanked our guide to share this fascinating place with us.
- Information pdf – visit parks.org.is
- ” Makhteshim Country: A Laboratory of Nature: Geological and Ecological Studies in the Desert Region of Israel”, 2001, B. Krasnov and E. Mazor