North Negev hiking (***). Makhtesh Ramon is the main attraction of
the North Negev and there are several tourist hotels right by the rim of the Makhtesh.
But on our 2005 visit to the area we did the "slightly-off-the-beaten-path experience" basing at the Ben Gurion College, which is 40 km North of the
Ben Gurion College is a center for desert agriculture and research and
includes a "Field House" B&B. (As best as we can tell a
"Field House is a cross between a traditional B&B and a kibbutz.
Whatever you call it, it's a great accommodation.) Breakfast is in the
school dining room. The staff is very friendly.
Trail maps are provided at Mitzpe Ramon visitor center.
wonderful as the Makhtesh is, we discovered equally spectacular scenery and
desert hiking opportunities at our back door at the Ben Gurion's University.
There are several well marked hiking trails on the canyon floor, below the
bluff where the University is situated. There is a paved road (with a
toll!) from the bluff down to the canyon floor. The
best hike, however, is the Mt Zaror route that starts near the campus.
We did this as a day hike, following the following directions: through the residential village adjacent to the campus, into an
field towards the airstrip, continue past the airstrip (don't take Ma'ale Zin ascent) to "flat top"
Mt Zaror [***]. After taking in the breathtaking view from Mt Zaror,
continued on the stream trail [***]
down to the valley. This section includes cliff hangers and is the
most spectacular section of this hike. Back down in the
valley we connected with and a series of 4WD roads for the return to Ben
Gurion, 1st Prime Minister of Israel lived his final years here.
His grave is on the college
campus, overlooking the valley (see photo). Nearby is Ben Gurion's desert home [***]
, which has been turned into a museum about Ben-Gurion's inspirational life and love of
the desert. (Here you learn the Ben Gurion preferred a working the
sheep pens at the kibbutz than running the country from Jerusalem.)
The home is in Sde Boker, about 5 km N of the campus.
There are family farms in the desert and a few do
direct business with the public. On our 2005 tour we visited
cheese, cactus, and camel milk farms along Routes 40 and 204.
The most interesting was the Matnat Midbar camel milk operation on Rt 40
near Telaim junction - well actually not operational because the
family owners were still waiting for a permit license to sell fresh camel
milk. In the meantime they are building up their camel herd and
running a delightful "tent" restaurant. We highly recommend it for
atmosphere, a friendly hostess, and delicious food. See photos.
We'll come back someday to see how the camel business is going.
Above: Makhtesh Ramon (Israel's
"Grand Canyon" - but not really a canyon). Below: the
"other canyon" 40 km N of Ramon, site of Ben Gurion's grave.
Matnat Midbar [** $$] - a yet-to-be camel milk producing farm - now a
"tent" restaurant. Right: the sign for the restaurant posted
along Route 40. Highly recommended for dinner.