Han Hashayarot is situated in the midst of the flourishing settled Negev desert, an area that currently constitutes around 60% of the state of Israel. Today this is a prosperous, populated region, rich in tourist attractions and agricultural resources, but this was not always the case. At the time of the founding of the state, the Negev region was desolate and arid, and David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, viewed its development as a first and foremost national goal. As soon as he retired from his office, in 1953, he moved with his wife Pola to live in Sde Boker in order to set an example for others, and to realize his own vision. And Indeed, looking back today on those times, it is evident that the Negev has undergone a true change. New cities were born, existing cities expanded, and innovative agricultural methods were developed to suit the desert’s climate. In the 1960s various teaching institutions were established, among them the University of Be’er Sheva, the Sde Boker Field School, and the Institute for Desert Research. These institutions attracted many youth who came to the Negev from all across the country, and made it their home.
In 2005 the Israeli government founded the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, whose aim is to promote employment, settlement, industrial and educational projects. A significant stress is laid on the development of tourism in the region, part of which was the launching of the program to promote the founding of private ranches. These ranches, whose purpose is to develop and settle unpopulated areas, offer the visitors agricultural natured tourist attractions. Some say that their founders are the modern embodiment of the Israeli settlement project.
Due to its unique character, the Negev attracts many visitors and researchers. It offers nature lovers varied walking trails, such as those of Ein Avdat and Ein Akev. Even on full moon nights there are things to do in the area, and the crown of the lot is the walking trail in Havarim River. Moreover, for geology lovers the Negev desert holds the opportunity to behold its magnificent craters, notably the Ramon crater, with its numerous trails and attractions. Archeology lovers can also take interest in the Negev desert – the ancient Nabatean Incense Route has left its mark all over the region, and the Nabatean cities Avdat and Mamshit are fascinating tourist attractions which draw visitors from all over the world.
Indeed, there is no doubt that the Ramon crater is one of the Negev’s magnificent natural phenomena. The Ramon crater is one of five craters in the Negev desert, which earned it the name “Land of Craters”. This is one of the most impressive geological natural phenomena on the face of the earth. Erosion craters created following a unique and fascinating combination of geological phenomena. In the whole world there are only seven erosion craters, five of them are situated in the Negev desert (the other two are found in the Sinai desert). This is such a rare and unique natural phenomena, that it draws researchers and visitors from all over the world, who come just for the chance to see with their own eyes this natural wonder, and enjoy the spectacular beauty this geological heaven has to offer. Recognizing that these are not only national but also universal natural treasures, the Israeli government decided in the summer of 1994, to define the craters in the Negev desert as nature reserves, to exclude them from the IDF’s training field of fire, and to establish their preservation as a prime priority in the framework of the economic, landscape and touristic development of the Negev.
What is a crater? An erosion crater (as opposed to craters that were created by meteoric impacts), is a unique natural phenomena involving the erosion and dissolving of soft sandstone, which lies underneath layers of harder limestone. The dissolved stone eventually collapses into the cavity that gaped bellow, and this is what creates the craters, whose walls reveal the alternate layers of limestone and sand stone. The many fossils scattered in the craters’ walls are reminiscent of a time when the whole area was covered by sea.
The Negev has five erosion craters:
The Ramon crater – the largest of them all, its length is 40 km, and its depth some 400 meters. It is home to abundant vegetation and desert animals, some of which have faced extinction. For instance, the wild ass, a wild donkey which was never domesticated and has been brought back to the region, as well as hyenas, wolves, caracals, and various rabbits and rodents. The Nubian ibex, which also faced extinction, is particularly famous among the visitors to the Ramon crater. These friendly ibexes have become accustomed to human presence, and often tend to visit the vantage points, the sitting areas and the walking trails in the region. The brave ibexes dare to approach the visitors, who feed them right off their hands. But despite good intentions, feeding the ibexes stands a real danger to their health, and has often caused their death. For this reason visitors are asked to completely refrain from feeding the ibexes, so we could continue to enjoy their proximity and beauty in the future.
The Ramon crater also is home to unique geological sites such as “Hamansera” – the prism – a hill where sand stones have crystallized in prism like shapes; the Dikes in the Ardon River, and the Ammonite wall – a large rock wall which constitutes part of the crater’s southern side. Along this wall one may observe the rich variety of fossils and large sea snails, remnants of ancient times when the whole of the northern Negev region was covered by the sea.
The Ramon crater offers a range of trails for walking, field cars, jeeps and bicycles. Edron Mountain, the Nekarot River, and Gvanim River, are only a small sample of the many magnificent trails one may enjoy here throughout the year.
HaMakhtesh HaGadol (the big crater) – the second largest crater is located near the settlement of Yerocham, and is crossed on its southern part by the Israel national trail. This crater too has an abundance of plant and animal life, as well as interesting geological sites. In addition to wolf and fox packs and gazelle herds, there are cliffs where birds of prey, such as eagles and Buzzards, nest. The Large Crater also has some particularly interesting geological sites. One of them is the site of the fossil trees – fossil “trunks” belonging to trees 120 million years old, which the experts see as the remains of an ancient forest that existed in a time when the Negev desert had a much more moist environment. The second tourist attraction in the crater is the colored-sand site, an area of vast colorful sand stone, which crumbles to the touch. Visitors who wishe to take home a nice and colorful souvenir from the crater should bring with them a capped glass bottle in which to collect the sand stone in its various colors. This crater too offers trails for walking, jeeps and bicycle riding.
HaMakhtesh HaKatan (the small crater) – also known as Hazera crater, is the eastern crater and the smallest one (8 km long and 6 km wide), but some say also the prettiest of the three. Its small proportions make its vantage point the most impressive – because it may all be captured in one gaze. Only from the vantage point one may understand the scope of the phenomena. This crater is also known for its brightly colorful sand stone, and for its range of walking trails, as well as extremely challenging tracks for field cars and bicycles.
Arif craters – a couple of tiny adjacent craters which were discovered on the summit of Mount Arif. The layers of land which were exposed in the wear process are referred to the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods, as well as to various other periods.
The crater’s region turned the Negev desert into a touristic site attracting geology and nature lovers, but not only. The area offers a variety of attractions for family and groups: from ecological private ranches, wine tasting in local wineries, and fine goat cheese boutiques, to camel rides followed by traditional Bedouin hospitality. Visitors looking for a quiet spot to relax in could find it in visitors’ khans such as “Chan Hashayarot” which offers light meals in authentic Bedouin tents, as well as full meat meals for the hungry. The team in Han Hashayarot will be happy to arrange for you a daily excursion, and to assist and advice on any request or inquiry.