During my two-week stay in Israel we took a weekend to travel to the resort town of Eilat, the southernmost point of the country. The small city lies right on the Red Sea and the borders to Egypt and Jordan are just minutes away. To get there, we first had to traverse the famous Negev Desert. I absolutely adore the desert (see all of my Arizona and New Mexico postings), so I was stoked to visit some attractions along the way.
Our first stop was Makhtesh Ramon, an enormous, 220-million-year-old, 500-meter deep crater. It is not an impact or volcanic crater, however; it is actually a geologic formation called a makhtesh, unique to the Negev desert and Sinai peninsula. Makhteshes are formed by erosion, and the remaining rock holds thousands of ammonite fossils. The colors weren’t quite as vibrant as the red rocks of Arizona (I have high standards for beautiful deserts), but it was truly impressive to descend into a crater that you couldn’t see the other side of. Previously, the largest crater I had seen was Meteor Crater in northern Arizona, but you certainly couldn’t drive in it, or even walk in it!
A little over an hour past Makhtesh Ramon along Highway 40, we stopped at Yotvata, a kibbutz in the Arabah Valley. Established in 1951, this kibbutz in the middle of the desert is now, unexpectedly, a major dairy production site of Israel. Talk about a little oasis. We stopped by the store for some refreshing ice cream and shade.
After Yotvata, we continued our journey to Timna Park, one of my favorite experiences of the Negev (note that at the time of writing, the park website was not loading properly). Timna Valley is full of ancient copper mines dating to the 5th millennium BCE, and the beautiful rock formations and colorful sand are reminiscent of the United States Southwest. The park has a number of hiking trails leading to ancient mining shafts and the remains of smelting furnaces, and even a small lake with pedal boats. Guests are also able to fill small bottles with colored sand from the valley. We spent the better part of an afternoon exploring the park by car and on foot. It should go without saying that if you plan on doing any walking, you should bring plenty of water! The sun was relentless, even in October.
After exploring the Negev, we made our way into Eilat for the weekend. It felt very much like a party-atmosphere resort town, where there are more tourists than actual residents. There were an astounding number of Russians; I think I heard more Russian than I did Hebrew during our stay there. That being said, it was easy to see why Eilat became such a tourist attraction: endlessly sunny days and the calm, warm waters of the Red Sea ensured that we spent most of our weekend relaxing.
As I write this I realize I would have loved to do some hiking in the Negev. Some of these trails look incredible. Eilat would make a great home base, and a great site for recovering afterwards. For now though, I’ll just have to add it to my ever-growing list of places I’d like to visit and return to.