Off the Beaten Track: A geological wonder
Spring offers optimal trekking and camping conditions in the Negev southlands, including the Small Maktesh.
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
of my favorite things about Israel is the vast diversity of climate and
landscape in such a small area. Where else in the world can you ski at
6,000 feet in below freezing weather, effortlessly float in a salty lake
below sea level with the sun warmly shinning down upon you and then
scuba dive in some of the best coral conditions in the world all in the
same day without getting on a plane?
I know it would be tough to
do all in one day, but it is possible, and very easily done in three
days. Springtime in Israel offers a plethora of hiking options, from the
rushing waters of the streams and rivers in the Golan, beautiful flower
covered hills and valleys in the Galilee, to some warm weather (not
scorching hot) desert hikes in the Biblical wilderness. If you have a
few days, April and May offer optimal trekking and camping conditions in
the Negev southlands.
You’ll need two cars for this half day,
intermediate hike around the Small Maktesh area unless you plan to camp
out, in which case you can extend this hike to two days. If you have an
off-road vehicle, the area offers a plethora of options. Just make sure
to stick to the off-road marked trails.
There is a great app for the iPhone or iPad in Hebrew called Amud Annan,
which will feed you your GPS coordinates and updated marked trail maps
in real time, plus peoples comments at specific sites along the way.
Dimona take Route 25 east to Rotem Junction and then turn right going
south on road 206. Turn left at the next major junction about 10 km down
the road east on road 227. Travel another 10 km until the road
intersects with the multi-colored Israel Trail and turn left onto an
unpaved road and park a car in the overnight lot.
Return the way
you came all the way to Rotem Junction and turn right going east on
Route 25. Take this road about 18km to an unmarked semi-paved road which
will be on your right. It’s just after the really curvy part of Route
25 and just before it straightens out to Route 90. Take this road to the
night parking lot by the red trail. If you are doing a two day
excursion you will return to this spot, so take your camping gear with
Follow the red marked trail into Wadi Hatzera which drains
the entire Small Maktesh. When it rains in this area it pours and you
don’t want to be hiking through a canyon during a flash flood. This
point of the maktesh (crater-like feature) becomes a roaring river
during a flash flood. Imagine a flash flood emptying a 5km by 7km
crater-like formation roaring through a smaller exit. Huge boulders and
stones would be crushed at this point, and it has earned the name
“Satan’s Mouth." The walls of the canyon here are high and the millions
of years of erosion are layered on the walls of the formation. The views
from here are spectacular. Follow the red trail all the way to the far
side of the maktesh.
This is the smallest of the first three
makteshim (plural form of maktesh) discovered in the world. Today five
are known in Israel, two in the Sinai, Egypt and other possible
makteshim are being studied, but this subject remains controversial.
These incredible formations are commonly referred to as craters although
that is a misnomer. Craters are formed by impacts; these geological
formations are formed over hundreds of millions of years by erosion. A
mountain was pushed up through the sea which covered this area in a
bygone age. As the sea receded and the peak of the mountain poked out
above the surface, the waves lapped off the hard surface of the mountain
peak creating a mountain top lake which ate away at the soft limestone
core. This eventually broke through the wall, creating Satan’s Mouth
millions of years after the disappearance of the sea, draining the lake,
and collapsing the wall of the maktesh. It’s truly a geological wonder.
three and a half to four kilometers into the maktesh you'll come to a
unique multicolored sandstone formation which is a great place to crush
some of the stones and fill up a small glass or plastic bottles with the
sand if there is an artist among you.
Continue on the red trail
for another one and half to two kilometers and you will start a slow
climb of the southwestern wall of the maktesh, which turns into a steep
incline. This is the exit of the maktesh and is called Eli’s Ascent,
named after Eli Ben Tzvi. Ben Tzvi was a Palmah commander and son of
Israel’s second president, Yitzchak Ben Tzvi. Eli was injured (or
suffered heatstroke) in the maktesh during a training accident and
evacuated up this accent. Later during the War of Independence he was
killed in action.
There are many prehistoric fossils and pieces
of flint and other fascinating stones up this steep ascent, so keep an
eye out for them. Also keep an eye out for Egyptian Vultures which
circle above. Be careful on some of the steep parts and make sure to use
the handles and railings while maneuvering up the cliff.
view from the very top of Eli’s Ascent is truly breathtaking. Looking
back at the maktesh, one can see how the streambed drained the ancient
lake out to the east. Today the floods run in the same direction into
the Arava Valley and down to the Dead Sea. The shape of the maktesh is
like a giant soup bowl. This is a perfect spot to break out the picnic
baskets and coffee kits. From here, it’s two kilometers on the same path
to your dropped off car or the campgrounds. If you choose to stay the
night, a fabulous hike for the next day would be the nearby Scorpion’s
Ascent loop trail.
became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree
at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is
currently studying toward a PhD.