There are news in Makhtesh Ramon: Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority rehabilitated two quarries near highway 40, and added two new sites to the veteran HaMinsara (“the Prism”) attraction: the "Stone, Wind, Water" site with its multicolored rocks, and “the Eagles’ Lookout”. Each site can be accessed by car, or via the walking paths connecting them.
Main Points of Interest:
HaMinsara and “the floating path”
The Eagles' lookout
Hilltop of HaMinsara
The Eagles' lookout
The Nature and Parks Authority’s Actions to Improve Service to the Visitors and Preserve the Site
The Authority created a “floating” path at the hilltop of HaMinsara to protect the rocks at the site. It also rehabilitated the open quarries, created the Eagles’ lookout, marked a new hiking trail, and erected information boards.
Getting to the Site
Descend from Mitzpe Ramon to the bottom of Makhtesh Ramon (highway 40). About 6 km south of the town, turn right (westward) between the 91 km and 92 km marks, following the sign to HaMinsara. Drive about 600 meters until you reach the site parking lot. The road is suitable for cars.
During the first few years after its establishment, Israel treated Makhtesh Ramon primarily as a site for extraction of minerals. The makhtesh reveals layers of rocks containing kaolinite, which was the main raw material in the production of porcelain, and was quarried at several locations in the makhtesh for many years. The extraction of kaolinite required extensive excavation, leaving behind vast ditches with large piles of soil next to them.
When the Nature Reserves Authority was created in the mid-1960s (later to become the Israel Nature and Parks Authority), the eastern part of the makhtesh was declared a nature reserve. For many years the Authority worked towards expansion of the reserve in the makhtesh, and finally that goal was achieved. During the 1990s the Israeli government decided to reduce the extent of the quarrying at the makhtesh, and with the advent of the 21st century it was ceased completely. Since then, the Authority has been working, using financing from the Quarries Rehabilitation Fund, towards the rehabilitation of the makhtesh, by filling the ditches and exposing the beauty of the unique natural phenomena of Makhtesh Ramon.
The Trail Route
This site is one of the most impressive at Makhtesh Ramon. HaMinsara’s hill is made of sandstone. It seems that the hill was penetrated by an object from an extremely hot layer of the Earth, sharply raising the temperature of the sandstone rocks, and causing them to expand. After the rocky hill cooled off, it shrank back and fractured, assuming the current prism shape. During the heating episode the sandstone particles welded together into tough quartzite rock. The hot object penetrating the hill was made of minerals that after cooling became soft kaolinite clay. The kaolinite drifted over the years, causing the collapse of the prisms which are now lying on the slopes of the hill.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority invested a great deal of thought and resources into finding a way to allow public access to this unique site without damaging it. The solution that was adopted is the “floating path” – a pathway made of recycled materials hovering above the stones of HaMinsara.
The length of the pathway is about 250 meters. Visitors walking along the pathway can see the prism-shaped rocks after which the site is named. Most of the rocks have four, five, or six flat faces and straight edges. Some prisms remain in their natural state, close to each other, upright against the ground, while others lay scattered at random on the slope.
At the end of the floating pathway a ground trail leads to the top of the hill, with arrows indicating the way. At the top of the hill the prisms look different: they are mostly buried in the ground, with only their tops extending above. This phenomenon of fracturing in straight geometrical lines is familiar from other objects losing some of their volume – such as the basalt columns in the Golan Heights, or mud that dries out and cracks under the hot summer sun. The prisms now seen at the top of the hill are the lower ones.
From the hilltop the trail descends back to the parking lot of HaMinsara. You can complete the hike here, and drive about 700 meters south to the next site, or you can walk there along a short path marked in black.
2. Stone, Wind, Water.
The trail with the black markings bends to the south, passing a small stream bed where common desert plants are growing – such as the retama, the Mediterranean saltbush, and the zygophyllum. A pleasant walk among the sandstone rocks brings the visitors to a small valley, close to highway 40, filled with multicolored sand – this is the "Stone, Wind, Water" site. The rehabilitation works at the makhtesh revealed many layers of colorful sandstone. A large amount of multicolored sand was brought here for the enjoyment of visitors, both children and adults.
The Eagles' Lookout
Just across from the Stone, Wind, Water site is the new Eagles' lookout. To reach the lookout balcony, take a short walk south along highway 40 and cross it very carefully. The lookout barrier is made of rocks found at the makhtesh.
It is now hard to believe that the area below the lookout was once covered with ditches and quarries. The rehabilitation works smoothed out the surface of the site, returning it to its original eye-pleasing appearance. An eagle statue sits on top of a small mound next to the highway. A few hundred meters away from the lookout the Israel Nature and Parks Authority created a feeding station for eagles, with the intent of restoring their population in the Negev – which, similarly to other such populations in the country, has been dwindling due to frequent poisonings. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority places clean and nutritious food at the feeding stations, which is also intended for other predators living in the area, such as wolves, foxes and hyenas. With a little bit of luck, and especially in early morning, you may catch some of the eagles or other predators coming to the station to feed.