Monday February 19: What a wonderful day we had. Several weeks ago our airbnb host Guy was giving us tips on what to do, where to eat and sights to see. He suggested that we rent a car some day and drive to Mitzpe Ramon which is a town in the Negev desert of southern Israel. It is located on the northern ridge at an elevation of 860 meters (2,800 feet) overlooking a sizable erosion cirque known as the Ramon crater. He told us that it had beautiful views, colored sands and wonderful hikes into the crater. We rented the cheapest shitbox that we could find, of course it had manual transmission, and headed out at 8:30 for a purported 2.5 hour 102 mile drive following instructions from Waze in Hebrew. This was Jim’s first time driving in Israel and he did spectacularly well thanks to Sandy and Waze’s navigation.
The drive actually took five hours thanks to some unexpected detour opportunities. We were 35 miles from our destination when we saw a sign for David Ben-Gurion’s desert home at Sde Boker which is a kibbutz where Ben-Gurion and his wife Paula had a second home. In an earlier blog on Ben-Gurion’s home in Tel Aviv we alluded to the fact that he lived there off and on. This is referred to as his retirement home but he actually died at his home in Tel Aviv. The desert home was also willed by Ben-Gurion to the state as a museum. Of course we had to tour the house and grounds.
As we were leaving his house we noticed a plaque which referenced Ben-Gurion and Paula being buried side by side nearby in which he asked that no eulogies be read and no salvos fired over his grave. Of course we had to view their graves. It took a lot of dead ends, bad leads and even walking right by their graves once before we finally found them. The reason we missed them the first time was due to some visual distractions.
The Zin valley forms part of the longest Wadi (Arabic for valley or ravine) in the Negev stretching over 60 km. It is quite reminiscent of the Grand Canyon.
We finally arrived in Mitzpe Ramon at 1:30pm. We cruised this small town on the rim of the crater and elected to walk up to the Camel lookout first which we later regretted as it would have been the perfect place to be at sunset.
Never the less, the views of the crater were beautiful although not as spectacular as the Zin valley. Our next planned stop was the visitor center but we got distracted with more views, interesting sites and play.
Sandy had her sights set on seeing the Ilan Ramon Museum and Memorial. Opened in 2013, this memorial has a fitting setting, overlooking the unique lunar- like landscape of the world’s largest makhtesh (Hebrew for erosion crater), the Ramon Crater for which Ramon changed his name earlier in life due to his love for this part of the Negev Desert. Dedicated to the memory and presentation of the life of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first and only astronaut, who tragically died in the 2003 Columbia disaster when the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entering the earths atmosphere along with Christa McAuliffe a teacher from Concord New Hampshire. His son also died six years later during his service in the Israeli air force when his F16 jet crashed not far from the Mitzpe Ramon crater. Unfortunately we arrived too late to join a tour or even get in to see the movie presentation of his life. Oh well, now we have a reason to return here some day.
We then drove down into the crater and collected multi-colored sand for the grandchildren.
After a long day of driving and sightseeing we stopped at a luxury hotel overlooking the crater for an early dinner and drinks.
Unfortunately the hotel faces east so the sunset was not visible. After dinner we headed home in the dark arriving just about 12 hours after leaving.