Makhetsh Ramon // © 2016 Mark Edward Harris
Feature image (above): Makhetsh Ramon // © 2016 Mark Edward Harris
After an exploration of Jerusalem, it was time to don my North Face ensemble and hiking boots for two days of outdoor adventure in the southern half of Israel, known as the Negev. Unlike other deserts, the Negev is not marked by towering sand dunes or cacti. Instead, visitors will find mountains, canyons, rocks, wineries, waterfalls, wadis (dry riverbeds), craters, archaeological sites, cities, Bedouins and so much more.
1. Wadi Qelt
With Uri Golani of Golani Tours Israel as my guide, I ventured east on Route 1 toward the Dead Sea. A slight detour brought us to a short hiking trail that led to the spectacular cliff-hanging complex of St. George Monastery, located in Wadi Qelt.
2. Ein Gedi
After a short roadside stop to gaze up at the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, we arrived at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and took in its dramatic scenery. The most popular of its nine trails is a circular trail to David’s Waterfall.
Continuing south on Route 90, a dramatic sight soon came into view: the mountain mesa of Masada (which translates from Hebrew to “fortress”). Hikers start an hour before dawn to avoid the midday heat during the summer months and to witness a spectacular sunrise.
4. The Dead Sea
Driving farther south on Route 60 brought us to the major Dead Sea resort area of Ein Bokek. I donned a GoPro and a bathing suit for a float in the hypersaline water, located about 1,400 feet below sea level.
5. Makhetsh Ramon
We then headed to the Central Negev Highlands town of Mitzpe Ramon, in four-wheel-drive country. After a jeep exploration, we tried out some heart-pounding rappelling. We also stopped at Makhtesh Ramon, the largest of the world’s seven erosion craters.
6. Ein Avdat
In Mitzpe Ramon, travelers can go wine tasting at Carmey Avdat; visit the grave of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, at Kibbutz Sde Boker; and hike through the desert gorge at Ein Avdat National Park. In the Negev, there’s no shortage of wonder.